We are excited to launch a new biweekly blog series called “Meet a Member.” AASLH has 5,500 fascinating members working hard for the field of history, and we want to show them off. We will feature one organization and one individual each month.
Detroit Historical Society: AASLH member since 2000
Tell us about the organization; what role does it play in the community?
We are a private, non-profit historical society that operates two museums: the Detroit Historical Museum in Midtown Detroit and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River. Our mission is to tell Detroit’s stories and why they matter. The Society serves our community by being the only institution in the city devoted exclusively to interpreting Detroit and the region’s history.
When and why was the organization established?
The Detroit Historical Society was created in 1921 to preserve the region’s history and material culture. The Society spent its early years collecting historical objects, hosting lecture series, and raising money for the construction of a historical museum. In 1946, the Society donated its collection of nearly 15,000 artifacts and $250,000 in building construction funds to the City of Detroit. For the next sixty years, the Detroit Historical Society and the City of Detroit operated in tandem to preserve and portray the region’s history. For more details on the Society’s early history as the highest museum in the world, see this blog post.
Tell us about your staff and volunteers.
The Society has a staff of about 50 people (25 full time, 25 part time). The Society is led by Robert Bury, our President and CEO. The executive team is made up of Kate Baker, Managing Director and Tobi Voigt, Chief Curatorial Officer. Ms. Baker oversees the Society’s finance, marketing, development/fundraising and operations. Ms. Voigt oversees the Society’s curatorial, exhibitions, collections, education and programs.
The Society relies on a strong, dedicated core of about 25 volunteer docents to lead all our museum tours for schools and other groups. Additionally, the Society has another 75 or so volunteers that help with administrative tasks, off-site tours and programs, collections activities, and other needs.
What does an AASLH membership mean for your organization? How has the organization benefited from AASLH membership?
It is important that the Detroit Historical Society is an institutional member of AASLH for a couple of key reasons. First, the resources AASLH provides, including webinars, technical leaflets, and workshops, are very helpful for keeping our staff up to date with museum standards and best practices. One of the best decisions we made was to enroll in the StEPs program. We want to work towards accreditation, and StEPs is a great way to check our current status on issues such as collections care, mission and governance, and work towards improvement. We also support AASLH because we like to support the organization that assists our field with general advocacy efforts. The History Relevance Campaign has helped us frame our mission and our work in new ways that help our community leaders understand our importance.
What is happening or upcoming at your organization?
The Detroit Historical Society has just begun a multi-year, multi-faceted community engagement project called Detroit 1967: Looking Back to Move Forward, which provides new scholarship and new perspectives on the causes, effects and impacts of the civil unrest of July 1967. Developed in conjunction with over eighty community partners, the project is exploring Detroit’s long history with race and intolerance as a means to move the city toward a more inclusive future.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your organization?
The Society has won four AASLH Awards of Merit in the last three years:
- 2012 for Building Detroit, its first online game, timeline, and curriculum for elementary aged students.
- 2014 for the publication Border Crossings: The Detroit River Region in the War of 1812.
- 2014 for the suite of five new permanent exhibitions (including the pictured Gallery of Innovation) developed during the Society’s $12 million renovation of the Detroit Historical Museum in 2012.
- 2015 for the new permanent exhibition at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Built by the River, which was completed during the $2 million renovation in 2013.