Curating from Home

PHMC's Trails of History sites remain closed to the public until the Green Phase in accordance with Governor Wolf’s Process to Reopen Pennsylvania plan. During the Yellow Phase, the grounds can be accessed for passive and dispersed recreation. Visitors are to follow the governor’s guidelines regarding masking and social distancing, and gatherings are prohibited.

The May program page lists a couple of virtual programs at this point, and it contains a full list of links to Trails of History Facebook pages so that you can continue to enjoy our online offerings. You'll also find some of those offerings in the Trailheads Rec Room (see links in the sidebar to the right of your screen); new material gets added so that you can see the most recent examples. This week there's a new page for Videos, Virtual Tours, and Playlists.

Today's post is the third in a series from Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums curator Rachel Yerger. Rachel has been sharing insights and behind-the-scenes peeks at PHMC collections and the work that goes into caring for and learning about them ("A Glimpse Into Our Collections" on March 27 and "Focus on Collections - Mining PPE" on April 10).

Seated woman to left is entering info in a laptop computer as man standing to right describes a ceramic pitcher
Rachel Yerger, left, working with David Dunn to inventory collections at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum in 2018 (I think)
How has the coronavirus changed the way a PHMC curator works? One big change is that many of us don’t have regular physical access to artifacts (total bummer). Don't worry, we are working with our site colleagues to make sure that the collections areas are secure and the environment is stable. But, since we don't have easy access to artifacts, our daily functions have pivoted slightly. Some curators have taken this time to work on research projects, write blogs, and update collection records. While many of these things aren’t quite as much fun as working with artifacts, this time at home has given us the opportunity to move forward with a major PHMC initiative, creating a publicly available online artifact database (which you can find by clicking the "Museum Collection" icon on PHMC's homepage).

Screenshot of the landing page for PHMC's online collections portal - headline text reads Explore PHMC's museum collection
Landing page for the Museum Collection portal (link to landing page)
A few years ago, the PHMC shifted to a new web-based collections management system. One major benefit of this system is that it allows us to publish artifact records online. Many curators are using this time at home to publish records for your viewing pleasure! Since our sites themselves aren’t currently accessible, we hope that these online collections will be a way for us to stay connected with the public, provide some comfort, and most importantly, allow us to share the story of Pennsylvania with a broader audience.

Screenshot of an online collections record for an iron stove plate - there is a small image in the upper left corner, to the right is information about the object
This is what a typical record looks like, with a thumbnail image and information about the object
Generally, when creating a record, we try to make sure to include a photograph of the artifact, a physical description, dimensions, date, and manufacturer/artist. When possible, we add some background information on the object, such as who owned it, how it was used, or why we think it is significant. This isn't always possible for each artifact, but we try to include as much information as we can before the record is published. We hope that the information provided in these records will help both researchers and history enthusiasts alike. The most exciting part of our online catalog is that many of these artifacts might not ordinarily be seen on exhibit, so it provides a behind-the-scenes look at PHMC's collections.

Screenshot of the search bar for the online portal - there are small images for featured items and instructions for how to search
This is the search page - you'll find featured objects and instructions on how to begin your search
There are over 4,500 records currently available, and that number is continuing to grow. You can use the search bar to search for specific types of objects, or you can peruse by site or featured object groupings. The site is a work in progress, and we welcome feedback and suggestions about what we have published, or what you might want to see published. So, take a look and let us know what you think!


Laura Klotz said...

Curating the objects looks like so much fun!

Amy Killpatrick Fox said...

I think our curators really enjoy their work. Thanks for reading!

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