How does the North Carolina History Museum decide what to collect?

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The long shadow of Confederate monuments

A century and a half after the end of the Civil War, the Confederate army is once again on the move and strategists continue to disagree on where to place the representations of the statues. At least 22 monuments have been demolished in North Carolina. Some have been resettled and others have been locked up. As the movement to remove the statues has intensified in recent years, North Carolina officials face legal and ethical questions about what to do with them. This is the N&O special report.


The removal of any Confederate monument from a public square creates an immediate problem: what about now?

Many people have suggested sending monuments from North Carolina counties and cities to facilities such as the NC Museum of History, in the hope that they could be placed in exhibits explaining the different views on what they symbolized when they were installed and how people see them now.

In general, however, museums have not hosted monuments on the grounds that they do not fit into the mission or even into the buildings, as they can be 30 feet tall and weigh several tons.

So how does a place like the NC Museum of History decide what to include in its collection, which currently has around 150,000 artifacts? The museum receives at least one call or e-mail each day from someone offering an item they deem useful. At the same time, curators preparing for future exhibitions can actively research items to help tell particular stories.

Here’s how the museum’s membership process works.

The first step is to call the museum at 919-814-7024 or email Raelana Poteat, chief curator of the NC Museum of History, at [email protected] and be prepared to describe the object in detail. . Email is especially useful, Poteat said, because it allows potential donors to include photos of items.

You will be directed to a curator who specializes in the type of object you are offering and who can determine whether the object meets the museum’s collection criteria. These include:

Was the object made or used in North Carolina?

Is there written or oral documentation of its history?

Does it need to be fixed?

Would this work with the museum’s current collection? Does the museum already have a similar artifact?

Would it help tell a story through an exhibition?

Is there room to store it?

Right now, the museum has a wish list of items such as items related to the experiences of minority communities in the state, those related to the Wright Brothers and the origin of manned flight, and those related to the colonial history of the state. He also wants articles that will help future historians understand the pandemic and the social justice movement that began in 2020.

If an article seems well suited, the curator will present the article to the museum’s acquisitions committee, which will vote on its acceptance. After that, it is put to a vote before a committee of the State Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and finally to a vote by a committee of the Historical Commission of the NC.

As they are approved for membership, items are placed on the agenda of Historical Commission meetings.

Once an item has been accepted, the Registrar of the Collections Section sends the donor a “deed of gift” form, which certifies that the item belongs to the donor and that the donor agrees to cede all rights to it. the object at the museum.

Once signed, the item becomes part of the collection and can enter and leave exhibits or be kept until needed.

Sometimes the museum reverses the process, gaining approval from the same committees to abandon items that are no longer deemed necessary for the collection.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter for The News & Observer who writes about the culture, religion and social issues of North Carolina. She has held jobs in the newsroom since 1987.


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