The Texas Military Forces Museum (TMFM) is a bit of a second home for me. I’ve been interning there off and on since summer of 2014, and it has been an indispensable resource for me as I learn all about the museum field that I hope to enter into after my time at the iSchool is complete. Military history is something close to me, as I am the child of two army officers, one who is still currently active duty. The opportunity to plan and attend an official tour via SAA-UT with the director of the museum, Jeff Hunt, was something I was glad to put together. I went into the tour with the notion that I knew much of what would be shown to me already.
Having previously worked behind the scenes at the museum, cataloguing new accessions for the collection as well as assisting with the building and execution of exhibits, it was great to just focus on the archives of the museum. Here at the iSchool, I think a great effort is made to understand paper-based and digital collections, but not always the challenges of collecting and preserving predominately three dimensional objects. The TMFM is a unique archive in that its sole collection policy is anything relating to the armed forces of Texas, whether as a country, part of Texas’s time in the Confederacy, its place in the United States, and more presently the activities of the Texas National Guard. Of course, like any archive, they cannot collect everything, but one of their challenges is space. The TMFM is housed in a historic building, constructed in the early twentieth century. It was originally built to be a mess hall for the early mechanics on post, and has gone through many iterations since, finally becoming a museum in 1994. Like any good museum, it has evolved significantly since its early days, and I have been involved in installing some of its most recent features.
What I most enjoyed about this tour was the director’s willingness to be candid about issues that a museum and archive must face with regularly: a rapidly growing collection, having only three full-time staff, volunteer and intern relations, funding issues (despite being housed under the Texas National Guard, and thus the State of Texas, the museum receives no official budget). In addition to the archives tour, which covered their two dimensional artifacts—Texas World War I official roster cards, historic maps of Camp Mabry, their photo collection—and their large uniform collection, we also got a personal tour of part of the museum. Here I was enlightened to exhibit design choices that I was completely unaware about. Simple, subtle things like the colors of the room altering slightly to reflect the time period or the decision behind text-heavy mounts on the walls. For example, the carpet in the 19th century gallery changes from a deep, navy blue to gray, a minor detail communicating to the visitor that the narrative has shifted—an understated way to display Texas leaving the Union for the Confederacy.
This tour brought up many questions that we may face in our profession. How do you convert a space that is a historic building into an archive and museum? How much does an institution collect when connected to an organization that will exist indefinitely? When is the time to reevaluate your exhibits and update them? Ultimately, Jeff left us with the belief that a museum and archive should always be reassessing itself and evolving for the best preservation and mission of your institution.
Society of American Archivists – University of Texas Student Chapter (SAA-UT)
SAA-UT is a student organization of the School of Information (iSchool) at the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout the academic year, SAA-UT invites guest speakers, arranges archival education events, and organizes trips to area repositories as a way of expanding UT’s archival-education opportunities.
Our mission, as outlined by the national organization, is to introduce and integrate new archivists into the profession, provide additional focus for students to discuss archival issues, and promote archival interests within the University, academic departments, and the public at large.