Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
SOME NOTES ON ETHNOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS FOR PARK MUSEUMS
By Frank T. Been
In treating this subject I have considered archeology with ethnology in the manner that we are primarily interested in these subjects as they deal with the history of the national parks. There is available to all the parks some material to illustrate the history of primitive man as he was associated with the park area both before white man came and after white man appeared. Because there is this division in history, the park exhibits may be arranged with this in mind so that one section of exhibit may deal with life of Indians or aborigines and another section with the white man. There will be a dove-tailing of the late Indian history with the early white man, resulting in a natural sequence of presentation.
Perhaps, with the arrangement of historical specimens there is greater need of logical and orderly arrangement than with any other people, whether past or present, so that they will normally inquire more closely into how people lived at a certain period than they would into animal or vegetable life of a given era. For this reason careful arrangement is required, as people can then follow the change in man’s mode of living. The extent to which this arrangement can be carried depends entirely upon the amount of material available. In a general way exhibits are arranged in the following divisions, illustrating:
1. Ordinary mode of living, food, and clothing.
2. Social life, sports, and war.
Unless a park is very rich in historical material, the above arrangement cannot very well be adhered to, but it can be kept in mind as a possibility.
A great deal of the material suitable for historical exhibits may be obtained from private sources. People whose hobby it is to collect are frequently willing to contribute, and descendants from pioneers often have heirlooms which can be made to fit into the scheme. These contributions may be articles of dress, cooking utensils, money, implements of war, conveyances, pictures, documents, and models. Besides objects obtained from this source, former Indian places of habitation, burial and warfare may yield material. In the latter case, however, a line must be drawn as to the amount of material to transfer to the museum and that which should be left in its natural location, if we can consider a region of human interest “natural.”
This brings us to the problem of quantity of display. Because much historical material is contributed, we may feel obligated to display specimens which are mediocre or duplicated. For the best effect, however, only enough should be exhibited to tell the story thoroughly. Dr. Walter Hough, Curator of Ethnology at the United States National Museum said, “An exhibition is valuable as much for its omissions as for its inclusions. ……The chief idea of exhibit is not quantity but perspicuity. ……The museum is a place of impressions. ……A museum is not a place for a studious grind, but a temple of the Muses where knowledge may be acquired through a gratified application of the higher senses.”
Efforts should be made to have historical mountings inclosed in cases because dust quickly accumulates upon them and detracts from the effectiveness of the display. Cases also protect the property as articles of historical consequence are tempting to collectors and those who may hope to realize on the monetary value of the specimens.
The principles of labelling, as discussed in another meeting, may well apply to history exhibits, but they should be very brief if referring to an object the purpose of which is generally known. Implements, the uses of which are known only to archeologists, may well deserve a careful explanation as to use, and possibly also methods and materials of construction should be treated.
Because a properly arranged exhibition should be limited to produce the maximum result, a mass of material may necessarily be stored. In storage, however, the labels should be carefully attached because specimens acquired later may be used in the exhibition with storage material. It may be that articles in storage can occasionally be used in temporary exhibits; a place for such exhibits should be reserved among the permanent displays. Often displays may be loaned for a limited time or the celebration of a special event may be illustrated by showing reserve exhibits pertinent to that episode in history. Stored specimens can also be used in exchange and for loan.
Boas, Frank – Methods of Ethnology – American Anthropoligist N.S. Oct. Dec. 1920.
Bumpus & Cummings – Plans for Science Exhibits – Hobbies, Dec. 1925.
Coleman – Manual for Small Museums – 1927.
Hough, Dr. Walter – Installation of Ethnological Material – Proc. A.A.M. 1918.
Parker, A. C. — Method in Archeology, Toronto, 1913.
Following Mr. Been’s paper he presented for discussion the question of whether or not the exhibited material in the field of ethnology should be limited to that from within the borders of the park. It was the consensus of opinion among these present that the ethnology and archeology exhibit should be limited to the cultural region within which the park is situated but not necessarily within confines of the park, although material within the park boundaries would be of greatest value.
It was agreed that occasionally it would be advisable to exhibit comparative material from other nearby cultures so as to demonstrate differences and similarities between related or different aboriginal stocks. It was proposed that it might be highly important to have a specialist in archeology and ethnology on the headquarters staff of the Educational Division — a man who would during the summer work with individual park naturalists in their own parks in collecting and preparing exhibits and who would work during the remainder of the year at Educational Headquarters preparing exhibits of archeological nature. Mr. Russell pointed out the fact that the National Park Service has already appointed a Chief Archeologist and that he can be called upon to assist in an advisory capacity. Also, assistance can be obtained from other specialists in this field for the time being, although ultimately it would be highly advisable to have a specialist in this line working in cooperation with the other scientists on the headquarters staff.