Last week I (Dulce, museum curator) had the good fortune of attending the Idaho Heritage Conference in Boise. The conference was a first-of-its-kind gathering, co-sponsored by the Idaho State Historical Society, the Idaho Heritage Trust, Preservation Idaho, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Idaho Archaeological Society, and the Idaho Association of Museums. This broad-based coalition of organizations brought together professionals and volunteers from dozens of heritage organizations across the state, along with a number of independent historians, to discuss topics ranging from building preservation to educational programming to digital humanities. Experts led panel discussions on issues like engaging a younger audience and how to write successful grants. After just two and half days, I came away from the conference with countless new ideas for enhancing the experience of visitors to LCHS and strengthening our mission of preserving and sharing Latah County history.
For those interested readers, I’d like to share just a few of my favorite moments from the Idaho Heritage Conference, along with some snapshots.
On the first afternoon of the conference, I got the chance to tour Idaho’s State Archives. What an amazing collection and terrific resource for anyone researching Idaho history! We have an impressive selection of personal correspondences, records, publications and photos here at our own Centennial Annex, but the volume of material preserved in the State Archives is truly remarkable. Their map room alone houses thousands of historic records, which have been utilized by genealogists, scholars, and lawyers, just to name a few of the groups that benefit from the good work of the Idaho State Historical Society. If you’d like to learn more about the resources available at the State Archives, see http://www.history.idaho.gov/archives-collections
Later that evening, conference attendants were invited to an opening session at the Idaho State Historical Museum where we could make new connections. This also provided us with an opportunity to check out “Essential Idaho – 150 Things that Make the Gem State Unique,” an exhibit that commemorates the sesquicentennial of the Idaho Territory. I absolutely adored this showcase, and I encourage everyone to visit it before it comes down in December. The exhibit is so wonderfully curated, with installations from across time and place. Latah County is particularly well represented, with notable mentions of Frank Robinson (Psychiana), Carol Ryrie Brink (Buffalo Coat), agriculture on the Palouse, and Dan O’Brien (UI decathlete).
I enjoyed listening to all of the panel presenters I heard from during the conference, but there was one contributor who really inspired my creativity and imagination. During the session titled “Get Out of the Classroom,” the communications director for the Boise Department of Arts and History and the curator for downtown Boise’s Sesqui-shop, Rachel Reichert, discussed the ways in which she and her team have been drawing on an existing enthusiasm for history within the community to develop a dynamic space to tell the story of the city. I was fascinated by her examples of how the Sesqui-shop has consistently engaged a diverse audience with programs and exhibits. By moving beyond any “traditional” concept of what a museum should look like, the folks at the Sesqui-shop have both commemorated Boise’s first 150 years and fostered new relationships throughout the city, which will no doubt benefit it’s next 150 years. I hope to explore how we here at LCHS might be able to capture some of that same energy to draw in a larger audience through innovative events and programs, and through-provoking exhibits that allow Latah County community members to take ownership of their history. If you are in downtown Boise, please check out the Sesqui-shop, http://www.boise150.org/sesqui-shop/
Thursday evening’s plenary speaker, Dr. Brent Glass, director emeritus of the National Museum of American History, also provided some wonderful food for thought. As he noted, museums are among the most trusted sources of history for most Americans, and with that comes a significant responsibility to provide visitors with accessible, engaging, and meaningful experiences. In light of this week’s government shutdown, which has forced institutions like the Smithsonian and National Parks to close, the value of our nation’s heritage institutions has been on the minds of many.
Also on Thursday evening, conference attendees were treated to a delicious dinner and delightful entertainment on the Basque Block in downtown Boise. The Basque population of Boise has a long and rich history, which was shared with us that evening. While most people might think of archaeological digs taking place in open fields or old battle sites, archaeologists working in the Basque Block continue to make new discoveries and learn more about the history of that neighborhood through excavations in and around the Jacobs Uberuaga House.
Finally, both the venue of the conference and my traveling companions were of the highest quality. I had never been to the State Capitol before, and so I enjoyed the opportunity to explore both the building and the grounds. Two of our Board of Trustee members joined me at the conference, and I know that Harriot Hagedorn and Lynne McCreight are equally as excited to share what they learned with our members and the communities we serve.