Thursday, March 10, 2011

Research and the process of education

Education at the Northwest Railway Museum has many levels. It is interpretation – whether a small or large exhibit or even a sign found around the site. It is education programs like Pre-School Train and School Train. It is educational tours of the Depot or the CRC. It is also the train rides which begin again in April. Education has many levels, all of which require background knowledge of the subject matter to be presented, and background knowledge comes from research.

Sometimes the research has already been done and all one needs to do is read and absorb the information so they can present it in a coherent manner (whether in verbal or written form). Often times, though, research is required. So where to begin? Once you have your topic, the easiest first step is searching our archives. What does the Museum have that relates to the subject? Once we have established what we have, then we need to determine what we need. This could be written material to build our content, photos to add visual depth to the presentation, or archival documents to connect people and events across time.

There are some great online resources to help with this type of research, among them is the University of Washington’s digital collections, Washington State Archives, and the Library of Congress digital collections. There are many additional sites that can be very helpful, but these three are a great place to start looking for information and resources.

On a recent online trip we found multiple images and maps that could work well in a tentative Train Shed exhibit, along with interesting primary documents pertaining to the need – in Washington Territory – for a railroad. This research is how we begin to build exhibits and interpretation (= education) here at the Museum. And while it can sometimes be difficult locating the information you need – when you finally find, or stumble, upon the missing piece – it can be very rewarding. It is much like completing a puzzle when you don't have the box and picture to help guide your work!

Photograph: Locomotive #1265 at Lester, WA. Longworth Collection, Northwest Railway Museum.

Certificate: Certificate of marriage, Colville, WA circa 1915. Washington State Archives.

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