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Planning a Historic Furnishings Report
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Historic furnishings are the combination of historic spaces, objects and themes. They evoke a powerful interpretive experience for visitors who can sense that "history happened here."
Historic interiors are, in a sense, witnesses to past events and personalities. By entering these spaces visitors likewise become witnesses to history. More than establishing a sense of place, these interiors are, in many cases, the real places of history. As such, they give form and dimension to history.
"Historic furnishings" can be original or reproduction furniture, floor coverings, wallcoverings, window treatments, clothing, uniforms, firearms, shop items, glass, ceramics, books and accessory items used to represent the appearance of an area to a date or era specified by a site’s interpretive plan.
We use historic furnishings to:
- preserve original objects in their original settings
- recreate the scene of a specific historic event
- create a period setting for original objects
- create a period setting to enhance interpretation
- create a period setting for visitors to use, using only reproduction objects.
Historic Furnishings Reports
We research and document the historic appearance of a wide range of furnished historic structures. These structures include houses, shops, ships, military barracks, courtrooms and taverns.
The document we develop is a Historic Furnishings Report (or HFR for short). A historic furnishings report consists of four parts:
- administrative information
- analysis of historical occupancy
- evidence of original furnishings
- recommended furnishings
An HFR usually includes illustrations, a bibliography and appendixes.
A staff curator or a specialist hired on contract researches and writes the HFR. The person who drafts the HFR is commonly called the planner. The planner submits drafts to the park superintendent for review by park staff. After review by a park, the planner incorporates suggestions from the park into a final draft. An editor reviews a final draft for clarity and consistency and a designer prepares a manuscript for printing, binding and distribution to the park and other interested persons and offices. Often, the completed plan is placed on the web in PDF format.
As approved by the park superintendent, the HFR then serves as documentation for the furnishing and interpretation of the historic structure.
The principal curator assigned to the project:
- reviews site resource studies, planning documents, and other pertinent documents for their suitability to the project
- visits the site, inspects historic furnishings (when they are part of the park’s collections), examines archives and museum records, and studies other resource materials at the park
- evaluates spaces to be furnished and their condition (whether, for example, the spaces have environmental controls or need to be rehabilitated)
- with the park staff, determines requirements for visitors with physical impairments
- measures and photographs rooms to be furnished
- consults with park staff on any other issues relevant to the project.
The principal curator then:
- conducts research using primary and secondary sources
- identifies tentative themes and approaches
- recommends, or confirms the recommended period of interpretation
- evaluates objects in park collections for their suitability to the Historic Furnishings project
- suggests interpretive objectives
- suggests how to transmit themes and goals
- drafts a list of references (documentary and objects)
- examines documents and collections in the local community (where appropriate)
- reviews general research sources
- reviews visitor surveys and other pertinent visitor research
- identifies sources of photographs, graphics or other potential illustrations
- prepares a draft Historic Furnishings Report (HFR)
- coordinates development of draft for review with HFC editorial assistant
An HFR may also be prepared by a contract curator when special expertise is needed, when the cost of using a contractor is lower than using someone on staff, or when an HFC staff curator is not available to undertake the project. The Deputy Associate Manager for Planning and Research at Harpers Ferry Center will discuss who will undertake a project (staff member or contractor) with a park before an assignment is made.
If a park agrees to a contract curator, HFC will:
- prepare a scope of work statement to accompany a requisition
- forward the requisition to the Harpers Ferry Center Office of Acquisition Management
- evaluate responses of potential contract curators
- oversee the contract to completion; the contract curator will perform the same duties as a curator on staff (where applicable)