AASLH Meets in Phoenix

Debbie Ann Doyle, November 2006

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) held its annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona September 13–16, 2006. Over 300 historians employed in museums, historical societies, historic houses, state museums, government agencies, and colleges and universities attended the meeting.

The theme of the meeting was "History's Enduring Voices," reflecting both the diverse history of the host city and the need to preserve and interpret the past for future generations. Keynote speaker Peterson Zah, special adviser to the president of Arizona State University on American Indian Affairs and former president of the Navajo Nation (1990–94), spoke movingly of the importance of education and community service in preserving Navajo values and creating a future for young people.

Several sessions updated members on the status of AASLH projects. Terry Davis, AASLH president and CEO, and David Crosson, AASLH chair, both acknowledged the heroic efforts the teams of volunteers who traveled to the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help local museums and historical societies salvage collections damaged by the storms. Volunteers assessed collections at 177 institutions and assisted with conservation, grant writing, and relocation efforts. Rick Beard, chair of the AASLH Professional Standards and Ethics Committee, led an open forum to discus the committee's draft white paper on the ethics of closing a museum. The statement is the second in a series intended to supplement the association's Statement of Professional Standards and Ethics (www.aaslh.org/ethics.htm). The draft calls on the staff and boards of history museums forced to close by financial or other difficulties to preserve the integrity of their historical collections, which are held in the public trust and which should not be sold under any circumstances to satisfy debt. Another session reported on the status of the effort to secure federal formula grants for museums and archives, similar to the existing grants distributed to libraries through the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Many sessions addressed the practical aspects of museum work, including disaster planning, training volunteers, and developing quality web sites and audio tours to attract new audiences. Some sessions addressed the professional issues confronting historians employed in a variety of settings, such as corporate museums and historic houses, and offered professional development advice for curators, museum educators, and others. Other sessions discussed new approaches to presenting historic content in museums, including interpreting domestic service in historic house museums, addressing religion at government sites, and preparations for the upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Tours to local museums and historic sites were a popular feature of the meeting. Attendees visited the Maricopa County Emergency Operations Center, a Cold War-era Civil Defense facility; the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art; the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden; and a progressive dinner hosted by the Pueblo Grande Museum (a prehistoric Ho-hokam site), the Arizona Historical Society Museum, and the Tempe Historical Museum. Tours before and after the conference offered historians the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon, Tucson, and Nogales, Mexico.

The meeting closed with an awards banquet at which 85 individuals and institutions from all regions of the United States were recognized for their contributions to state and local history. Award-winning projects included exhibits, oral histories, educational programs, books, and historic preservation. The awards committee also made the inaugural WOW! award, which recognizes projects of exceptional creativity, scholarship, and inclusiveness that build new partnerships or collaborations or creatively tap new funding sources. Recipients included the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (Juneau, Alaska) for the Montana Creek Fish Trap Project; the La Pilita Association (Tucson, Arizona) for the La Pilita Student Docent Education Program; the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Historical Society (Pasadena, California) for the Judge Cecil Poole Biography Project; and The History Project: Documenting GLBT Boston, for outstanding efforts in documenting the history of Boston's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. A complete list of award winners will be posted at www.aaslh.org.

—Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA's Public History Coordinator. She was a member of the AASLH Program Committee for the 2006 meeting.