History to the People: Outreach at the AHC

Nellie Taylor Ross, campaign poster, 1926.  From the AHC's exhibit "In Pursuit of Equality."

Nellie Taylor Ross, campaign poster, 1926. From the AHC’s exhibit “In Pursuit of Equality.”

The AHC does many things to bring the contents of its collections to those individuals who are not able or interested in doing their own research here in our building.  For example, we have digitized over 100,000 texts, images, audio, and video in our collections, mostly entire folders and series (related groups of folders) rather than single items.  Most of the material is also accessible as links from the respective collections’ finding aids online.  We support two named fellowships, where scholars undertake deep research in our collections but also present public presentations, to ensure a lay audience can have the benefit of their study and analysis. We are also able occasionally to assemble major symposia, exploring a topic related to our holdings at some length, often with a well-known keynoter.  And speaking of well-known, we frequently take advantage of the opportunity for regional writers to give readings at the Center—best-seller C. J. Box has launched three of his book tours from our facility.  Often these authors have done research in our collections.

Author C.J. Box at launch of 2012 book tour.  Photo by Rick Walters.

Author C.J. Box at launch of 2012 book tour. Photo by Rick Walters.

Each fall we mount a public exhibit, in a gallery generously loaned to us by the UW Art Museum.  Topics of these exhibits always derive from our collections, and are curated by one or more of our faculty and staff.  From those “in-house” exhibits comes one of our most successful efforts, our traveling exhibit program.  Since 1991, each in-house exhibit, once dismantled after a semester in the Centennial Complex, has been reconfigured as a traveling exhibit, for shipment throughout Wyoming and beyond.  Reconfiguration in this instance meant replacing original texts, photos, images, etc. with high-quality facsimiles, and standardizing the size of item frames and text panels to assist in constructing crates for transportation.  Insisting on using facsimiles rather than originals was a decision made in order to ensure that as many venues as possible could welcome the exhibits—had we retained original material there would have been a concomitant requirement that any borrower be able to provide very high levels of security, specified (low) levels of light, and carry significant insurance protection.

Instead, the traveling exhibits can be borrowed by a wide range of institutions—local historical societies, public libraries, community colleges, even banks and other commercial enterprises.  Costs are extremely low—only the charge for shipping the exhibit one-way (either to its next destination or back to the AHC).  While exhibits are retired when they are no longer popular, the Center currently has 19 titles available for borrowing:

  • Images of Black Wyoming
  • The Bozeman Trail Diaries of Robert Dunlap Clarke
  • Japanese-American Girl Scouts at Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, 1942-1945
  • Home Front on the Frontier: Wyoming During World War I
  • Landscape of the Range (currently on semi-permanent installation in UW Union)
  • Thomas Kennet-Were [English watercolorist touring the West, 1868-69]
  • J. K. Moore [post trader and Indian trader at Fort Washakie]
  • Photographers of Wyoming
  • More Pronghorn Than People
  • In Pursuit of Equality [Women Leaders in Wyoming History]
  • Rural Images [The Cartoon Art of J. R. Williams, Ace Reid, and Jerry Palen]
  • Terror in the Theater: Fifties Fears
  • Hell on Wheels: Union Pacific Railroad Towns in Wyoming
  • University of Wyoming (currently on semi-permanent installation in UW Union)
  • The Virginian 1902-2002
  • [Chief] Washakie: Through the Lens of Time
  • Wyoming Water (currently on semi-permanent installation in UW Engineering Bldg)
  • Wyoming Women
At Pine Bluffs, 1868. Pine Bluffs was the easternmost Union Pacific Railroad Station in Wyoming. This is one of the images from the "Hell on Wheels" exhibit. (Clarice Whittenburg papers)

At Pine Bluffs, 1868. Pine Bluffs was the easternmost Union Pacific Railroad Station in Wyoming. This is one of the images from the “Hell on Wheels” exhibit. (Clarice Whittenburg papers)

The exhibits travel to the far corners of Wyoming, to northern Colorado, even as far as Missouri.  Viewers of the displays at all venues average approximately 50,000 per year—roughly one-tenth the entire population of our state!  Interested in bringing one of these exhibits to your area, or want to learn more about them?  Check out our digital brochures!

So next to our online presence the traveling exhibits are by far our most effective means of showing and interpreting some of our collection material for a wider audience.  Of course, the number of our actual researchers, which runs 5-6000 per year, is not to be made light of—we are one of the busiest repositories on a university campus.  Overall, we do a notable job of making our primary sources as accessible as possible to as wide an audience as possible.  This also includes sponsoring and administering such programs as History Day, which invites students in grades 6-12 to explore original documents, in a repository or on-line.  Whether they use our primary sources is ultimately not the question; our overarching goal is to improve historical literacy and enjoyment of history…period.  If you’d like to help us do that, to reach hundreds of thousands of individuals a year through various outreach programs and in-house services, there is a convenient “Giving To the AHC” link on the left of our home-page.  Small gifts or large, any and all support is welcome.  Questions are gladly received, and we certainly hope that you can make a visit—to our building, to our website, to our traveling exhibits.  Welcome!

–Mark Greene, AHC Director

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