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Thought Pieces

TIERING AT WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Amelia Whitehead

by Paul Bourcier, Chief Curator, Division of Museums & Historic Sites Wisconsin Historical Society

For decades, the Wisconsin Historical Society has collected materials to further its mission to connect people with the past.  The Society has long recognized that objects help do this in a variety of ways and that long-term preservation isn’t always the objective.  While some artifacts have enduring value for historical documentation and research, other objects are acquired to furnish period settings that are not climate controlled and appropriately have no museum-quality standards for pest control or security.  Still other authentic artifacts are meant to be used in hands-on educational activities.

A number of years ago, the Society’s historic sites developed a tiered system of collections management that outlined different expectations for the care and use of collections depending on the purposes they serve.  Recently, that tiering system was streamlined.  New acquisitions are targeted specifically for the “permanent collection” or “education collection” and donors understand the Society’s intended uses for the objects they donate.  The Society even developed a deed of gift form and acknowledgement letter for education collections with wording that makes its intentions clear (see below).

Retroactively applying the tiered approach to collections that have been held for decades will be a challenging task involving a major documentation initiative.  In the end, some of our historic sites and museums will emphasize permanent collections while others (such as the immersive, living history site, Old World Wisconsin) will concentrate on education collections managed by program staff.  Many will have a mix of both types.

The goal is to have a model for collections management that is sustainable and responsible, one that allows for different standards of stewardship that are appropriate for the value specific objects have in furthering the Society’s mission.

 

DEED OF GIFT LANGUAGE:

I/we hereby assert that I/we am/are the lawful owners(s) of the above-listed property and, as such, have absolute authority to and hereby do irrevocably and unconditionally give, transfer, and assign to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (d.d.a. Wisconsin Historical Society) all right, title, and interests in, to, and associated with that property, free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, for use in its education collection.  I/We understand that this property is not intended as part of the Society’s permanent collections but may be used or handled by the general public or subjected to other educational purposes or environments that may lead to the gradual deterioration of the property.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENT LETTER LANGUAGE:

The Wisconsin Historical Society appreciates your generous gift to its education collection.  The Society relies on its education collection to share the past with the public in a variety of ways.  Education collection items may be used in hands-on programs, demonstrations, or interactive exhibitions, or to furnish authentic period buildings that lack climate control and other conditions that help ensure long-term preservation.  Your gift will not be managed as part of the Society’s permanent collections, but it will play an important role in our mission.  Thanks to the generosity of people like you, the Society will help foster a better understanding of and appreciation for history.

DIVISION OF MUSEUMS & HISTORIC SITES TIERING GRID


Paul Bourcier in the Collections Department at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Paul Bourcier in the Collections Department at the Wisconsin Historical Society.