In honor of Historic Preservation Month, we feature a guest post from Barbara Lloyd McMichael of the Association of King Country Historical Organizations. McMichael coedited King County Collects: Treasures of Our Historical Organizations, a volume that highlights the best holdings of historic organizations in the Seattle area. Here McMichael describes the valuable role historical societies in King County play in preserving the historical riches of the Pacific Northwest.
With May designated as Historic Preservation Month, this is a good time to take note that in the United States alone over 4.8 billion artifacts are held in public trust by more than 30,000 archives, historical societies, libraries, museums, and other repositories. Stewardship of these holdings can be a painstaking and expensive task. Whether it’s photographs, textiles and documents, or large-scale holdings such as historic houses or farms, careful attention needs to be paid to proper maintenance, respectful restoration work, and appropriate cleaning and storage techniques.
Around the nation, many historical organizations are taking part in the Standards and Excellence Program being offered by the American Association of State and Local History. This Standards and Excellence Program helps small- and mid-sized history organizations, including all-volunteer operations, assess their practices and identify ways to improve. Other organizations such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services offer grants for collections management and conservation assessment.
The point is, an awful lot of effort is going into preserving our nation’s history for people today and in the future to learn from and enjoy.
A new book being distributed by the University of Washington Press suggests the magnitude of the task, as seen through the lens of just one county. King County Collects was produced by the Association of King County Historical Organizations. The image-laden volume traces the history of the most populous county in Washington State through the holdings of the scores of heritage societies and museums located within that county alone.
Some of the organizations included in this book focus on specific religious or ethnic groups, such as the Seattle Buddhist Temple, the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, or the Nordic Heritage Museum. Photographs from these kinds of organizations convey moments of work, play, and purpose. There are fishmongers and loggers, schoolchildren and newlyweds—people who aspired then, as we aspire now.
Other historical societies are organized around a certain community or even a single noteworthy house—hoping to tell the larger stories of migration, settlement, war years, and peacetime through the particular artifacts in their keeping. Imagine the stories contained in a woven suitcase that was carried to an internment camp, or in the beaver top hat worn by a 19th century politician. Think of the tales behind each piece of fabric sewn into a crazy quilt. Marvel at the images of those early feats of engineering that led to the urban infrastructure of today.
From fire engines to ephemera, King County Collects encapsulates the story of America, a familiar story told in a myriad of ways. These tales are waiting to be discovered in thousands of museums and historic sites across the land—just waiting for you to step across the threshold.
Sweeping from Seattle to the summit of the Cascades, King County covers a varied slice of land and people. King County Collects tells their stories through historic photos combined with color photos of artifacts from the collections of over sixty heritage organizations. Authoritative but informal captions give snippets from the colorful past of this region, weaving a picture of an ethnically diverse population pursuing many occupations. This book will appeal not only to art lovers and history buffs, but to the general reader and to tourists looking for authentic Northwest flavor. It can be read cover to cover, or dipped into at random. Edited by Lorraine McConaghy, Vicki Stiles, Barbara McMichael, and Alice Winship.