Over the last two weeks I have been helping out some of my University of Delaware Museum Studies colleagues on this year’s Museum Studies “SWAT team” project. The Project is funded by a grant from the IMLS Connecting to Collections program and seeks to help small museums and historical societies get a better handle on their collections. In the past, the Museum Studies Program has sent a group of graduate students to a location to help accession, label, catalog, and assess whether artifacts should be retained or discarded. They have also done conservation, preservation, developed inventories and finding aids among a host of other collections management tasks. It’s a win-win for both sides: the students get valuable collections management experience and the hosting institution gets a head start on developing a strong foundation for managing their collections into the future.
Readers of PrimarySourceCode will recall that I also helped with a SWAT team program two years ago at the Laurel (DE) Historical Society and had the honor to present our findings at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association of State and Local History.
For this year’s project, the UD Museum Studies students chose the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society. Located in Vineland, New Jersey, VHAS has been collecting artifacts and paper documents since 1864. Their eclectic collection covers a wide range of subjects related to Vineland and South Jersey history in addition to American history in general. Among their assortment of materials are Civil War artifacts, Native American artifacts, a huge collection of buttons and glassware manufactured in Vineland. Some of the wilder items include an 1890s “longhorn chair” (a decorative armchair with armrests made out of actual Texas longhorns), and a Civil War saddle with a bullet hole in it. The goal is to try to catalog as much of VHAS’s collections as possible, attempt to cull materials that do not have some kind of local provenance, and develop a workspace where the Society can catalog and conserve materials on their own. It is a big task, one bigger than the two weeks allow, but for VHAS and other societies every little bit helps. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience, helping my colleagues catalog materials and getting to know the members of the VHAS who came to offer moral support and baked goods as we sifted through collections.
I have included a bunch of pictures I took in Vineland in the gallery below, but be sure to check out the Museum Studies Program’s Facebook page for more photos of our work in Vineland and of some of the amazing materials VHAS has to offer.