Bag, Nez Perce National Historical Park, courtesy of the
National Park Service Museum Management Program.
National Park Service Museums
The National Park Service (NPS) is the steward of the largest network of museums in the United States and is responsible for the welfare of over 43 million museum objects and more than 72,000 linear feet of archives. NPS staff in over 360 parks, 7 centers, 7 regional offices, and the Washington office manage collections in over 1,200 NPS facilities and coordinate care of NPS collections in over 600 non-NPS partner institutions.
NPS museum collections document American, tribal, and ethnic histories; park cultural and natural resources; and other aspects of human experience. These collections have unique associations with park cultural and natural resources, eminent figures, and park histories. Diverse collections voucher the conclusions reached in scientific studies, resource studies, and planning documents. They provide the foundation of park interpretation and education programs. They document and confirm the administrative histories of park units and the relationships with park stakeholders, and they provide the raw material for future studies by park and public researchers.
There are close ties between many NPS museum collections and Native Americans. Because NPS collections are site specific, they are often located near the tribal communities that have direct association with the objects and archives. Park collections are used by Native Americans to research particular objects, photographs and oral histories. Native education classes come to parks to see the objects in the collections, listen to oral histories or use the archives resources for class projects. In some parks, tribes are actively involved in interpretation projects. Indian tribes, Alaska native villages and Native Hawaiian organizations also consult with Park museums regarding their collections that fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
Museum Management Program
The Museum Management Program shares information and promotes preservation and use of the NPS museum collections through various web-based finding aids, selected catalog records, park collection profiles, virtual exhibits, and Teaching with Museum Collections lesson plans.
This searchable online database provides access to thousands of images and records from NPS museum collections. Online visitors can perform simple or advanced searches by keyword, park name, object name, people, places, and date. Visitors can also browse or search collection highlights and park summaries. This project is an ongoing initiative. The records found in this database will vary in the level of detail. Records and images will be updated and added on a continued basis.
Virtual Museum Exhibits
Virtual Museum Exhibits is an ever expanding series of searchable, online exhibitions based on NPS museum collections that focus on various aspects of American natural and cultural history. Each exhibit is based on a specific NPS park or historic site. Native American history is featured, particularly in the American West and the American Heritage series.
Lesson Plans for Educators
The Museum Management Program has developed a series of lesson plans for teachers related to exhibits at specific national park or historic sites, some which focus on Native American history and culture including Death Valley National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Nez Perce National Historic Park. All lesson plans are available to the public for download.
The Conserve O Grams series was designed to provide information on issues related to museum collection preservation including the organization, housing and storage, protection, environmental monitoring and control, maintenance, proper exhibition, and conservation treatment of museum objects. This series is regularly updated and each Conserve O Gram can be read online or downloaded. Both experienced and inexperienced museum staff responsible for the care and use of museum collections will find this series beneficial.
Additional guidance on museum collections practices can be found in the Museum Handbook, a reference guide on how to manage, preserve, document, access and use museum collections.
Ron Wilson, Chief Curator, Ronald_Wilson@nps.gov or 202-354-2012