Museum Tutorials: Archival Collections

Archival Collections

Museum archival and manuscript collections include all types of documentary records that contribute to the understanding, interpretation, and management of park resources (cultural and natural). These collections also are important resources in their own right and are managed as part of the park’s museum collection. Each collection is maintained, arranged, and described by provenance (creator/historical context) and according to the NPS standards. Format of materials is secondary to the key archival principles of provenance, original order, and historical context.

Both NPS and outside scholars and publishers use archives and manuscript collections for management, education, outreach, publication, and research purposes. These collections are the site’s memory. They contain information essential for understanding the site’s past natural and cultural interrelationships, its events, and its changes over time, as well as the human impact on the site.

Museum archival and manuscript collections are divided into five non-mutually exclusive categories: personal papers, organizational archives (acquired collections), assembled manuscript collections, resource management records (including associated records), and sub-official records (copies and duplicates).

Personal Papers

Personal papers are records that have been created or accumulated by an individual or a family. Personal papers that are associated with the history of a park (e.g., with a park’s founders, formative staff, or eminent associated individuals) may be acquired for the museum collection.

Example from the Parks

The Susie C. Esterline Papers were donated to RORI by her daughter. They include personal photographs of Susie and a vocational training record card showing that Susie received two hundred and forty hours of fabrication training. Susie worked the 7:30pm to 5:30am shift at Douglas Aircraft in 1942. A vocational training record for the Susie Esterline papers, showing fabrication training for 240 hours

Organizational Archives

Organizational archives are organic collections created by an organization as a routine part of doing business, such as correspondence, fiscal, and personnel records. A park may acquire organization records that are related to or associated with its mission or history before its establishment.

Example from the Parks

The Gettysburg National Park Commission, Engineer’s Department Bound Blueprints and Drawings, contains over 1,200 drawings documenting the landscape of the battlefield from the months following the battle into the first decades of the 20th Century. These drawings describe maps, plot plans, architectural drawings, engineering plans, avenue layouts, monuments, and land tracts within the park and surrounding area. A drawing of a storage building fro the Gettysburg Engineer Departments Bound Blueprints and Drawings collection

Assembled Collections

Assembled collections are accumulations of documents such as manuscripts assembled by a collector and are generally unrelated by provenance (creator). Documents in these collections usually are on a single topic, in a single format, or associated with a single individual. Assembled collections are also called special or manuscript collections.

Example from the Parks

The Merritt C. Mason Papers at LIHO, includes papers, programs, postcards, photographs, and letters of and about Abraham Lincoln. Collected by Merritt C. Mason, an avid Lincoln collector, from the 1930s through the 1940s. Abraham Lincoln postcard from 1908

NPS Resource Management Records

NPS Resource management records include documentation created or acquired by a park to record information on cultural and natural resource. Resource management records are valuable, continuously active records that document all cultural, natural, and information resources that are found within every unit of the National Park Service.

NPS resource management records document park resources and serve as information bases for their continuing management. Resource management records are the documentary products of archeological surveys and excavations, natural resource surveys, historic structure and cultural landscape research, scientific projects, and various natural and cultural resource maintenance projects. Resource management records include but are not limited to artifact and specimen inventories; computer disks, tapes, and other electronic media; drawings; field notes; films; laboratory reports; maps; manuscripts; oral histories; printouts of computerized data; photographic negatives, prints, and slides; reports; and audio and video tapes.

Resource management records may or may not be directly related to museum objects (artifacts or specimens). For example, an object obtained from an archeological excavation relates directly to the records of the excavation. If associated with other museum objects, these documents are also known as associated records. All associated records must be managed as part of the museum collection.

Example from the Parks

The Environment Planning and Compliance Records at Yosemite contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, meeting and field notes, workbooks, publications, maps, graphics, architectural drawings, construction plans and photographs, all collected in the environmental planning and compliance process. Images of letters acquired during the Yosemite environmental planning and compliance process

Sub-Official NPS Records

Sub- official NPS records are those non-official files of copies or duplicate documents (e.g., carbon copies, copies of internal policies and procedures, desk files, reports, or subject files of individuals or offices) that are useful for reference, administrative histories, interpretation, research, and other informational purposes.

Museum Tutorials

Museum tutorials are provided through the Collection Connection, a group of NPS experts offering advice on how they successfully manage their park collections. Join the Collection Connection Group in the Commons to find experts, ask questions, get advice, and read success stories.

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