Workshop: Collections Camp: Military Collections

Do you have military artifacts in your museum collection? This two-and-a-half-day workshop will focus on the care, conservation, and exhibition of military artifacts in museum collections. Spend time working with conservators and curators to learn how to be better stewards of your military history collection.


As a result of this workshop, participants should:

  • Have a general knowledge of the basic types of military artifacts common in American museum collections;
  • Have a general knowledge of the particular needs of military collections including proper identification, handling, and basic conservation;
  • Be familiar with some of the current issues and trends in the preservation of military artifact collections;
  • Be able to ensure the safety of visitors, staff, and artifacts when exhibiting or storing military items;
  • Explore the variety of issues related to exhibiting and storing military history collections;
  • Be familiar with simple conservation procedures that are safe to perform on their military history collections;
  • Be aware of when they should call a professional conservator for problems with their military history collections;
  • Recognize the importance of military collections in American museums.


FORMAT: On-site group workshop

LENGTH: Two and a half days

DATE: July 10-12, 2019

LOCATION: Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, WA

MATERIALS: Workshop materials will be provided upon registration and in-person at the event.

COST: $300 AASLH members/$425 nonmembers

** Save $40 when you register by June 7, 2019 and use promo code EARLYBIRD19 at checkout! **


Who Should Attend This Workshop

This workshop is intended for museum staff and volunteers who work in any type of museum that holds collections of a military nature.

About the Faculty:

Gordon Blaker is the Director of the US Army Artillery Museum in Fort Sill, OK.

Myers Brown is Director of Archival Technical Services at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, TN.

The Legacy of America's "Other" Columbus

2015 marks AASLH's 75th Anniversary Year. For the occasion, AASLH has created a blog series for members to share their unique history and memories. Contributions were based around AASLH’s founding year, 1940, but members also shared other wonderful moments in local history. The celebration is not just about AASLH's history, but about the collective history of AASLH members, both individual and institutional, and the work we do for the field of state and local history.

Columbus Museum_Riverside postcard

Mention “Columbus” to a group of Americans, and most will think of the Italian explorer or the capital of Ohio, not Georgia’s second-largest city. Mention “Fort Benning,” though, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear men and women telling stories about when they or their grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, or children were stationed at one of the country’s largest Army posts, located just south of Columbus, Georgia, on the Alabama border. As part of its regional history mission, the Columbus Museum tells the story of Fort Benning since its founding in 1918 as a new home for the Infantry School, including its rapid expansion during World War II.

A 1940 map of Fort Benning shows what the post looked like just before everything changed. As you might expect, large barracks, supply buildings, tank sheds, and other “military” words fill the paper. But when you read more closely, other details emerge. Here’s a handball building, right next to the Girl Scout cabin that shares a field with the Boy Scouts. There’s the post bakery, the new and old War Department theaters, and the filling station.

Columbus Museum_Fort Benning map
1940s Map of Fort Benning

Soldiers could play games at the gymnasium, the bowling alley, or Doughboy Stadium. Gowdy Field was named for Hank Gowdy, the first major-league baseball player to enlist in World War I, years before Gowdy himself served there as chief athletic officer during World War II. Interwar-period training methods are most evident in the numerous structures related to traditional cavalry units. The veterinary hospital, the stables, the polo fields, and the Campbell King Horse Show Bowl all catered to a type of officers’ service and lifestyle that was about to become obsolete.

Both white and African-American troops lived and trained at Fort Benning, not always harmoniously as racial tensions ran high in the Jim Crow South. The 24th Infantry Regiment, an original Buffalo Soldier unit, was stationed in this relatively rural part of Georgia, living at the end of the row of barracks and close to their separate swimming pool. Cashtown, the black family housing area, lay on one side of the railroad tracks, separated from most of the post and white housing areas like Rainbow Avenue. Some black non-commissioned officers (NCOs) recalled that their housing was almost as good as white NCO housing. Still, the probable lynching of Private Felix Hall in a wooded part of the post in 1941 suggests the terror that many African-American troops faced in the Deep South, even when in uniform.

Columbus Museum_soldiers in action postcard

Perhaps most intriguingly, some features of the map indicate the area’s past as a site of heavy American Indian settlement and rich plantation lands. Indian Head Road leads to Lawson Field, beneath which lies the archaeological remnants of Cusseta, one of the most important Muscogee (Creek) towns of the contact period. The commandant’s quarters, known as Riverside, is actually a 1909 white-columned frame house that served as a summer home for Arthur Bussey, a Columbus businessman. After several years of growing cotton, corn, and sugarcane on the property, Bussey joined with local leaders in an effort to bring the Army to Columbus at the end of World War I, hoping to spur the economy and make a tidy profit from selling his land for the new post.

After 1940, Fort Benning changed quickly with the growth of Officer Candidate and Airborne schools, as well as the World War II building boom, and Columbus saw an influx of celebrated generals and movie-star girlfriends along with thousands of servicemen. This map, then, lets the Columbus Museum present one last clear picture of a military community on the verge of national prominence.


Military Awards: Medals and Ribbons

Working with a military focused collection can be a daunting task. Awards can be in the form of ribbons and/or medals, patches can mean multiple things, and the list goes on. The most challenging thing, however, can be an inconsistent method of naming objects over the years, which in turns affects queries and reports when working with Nomenclature 3.0. The fix is relatively straightforward, however, and easy to do if the collection is small enough. If it's a bigger collection, like the one here at the Sullivan Museum and History Center, it does become a longer-term project, but the end result is a wealth of knowledge that can be shared interdepartmentally and expand research opportunities.


Bronze Star Award Medal

For the sake of this blog, let’s take a look at military medals and ribbons. The majority of the time, these go hand-in-hand and are for all intents and purposes, the same thing, an award for service. This is especially true when a collection, for example, has not only a Bronze Star medal, but also the Bronze Star ribbon more commonly seen on a uniform.

The primary term would therefore be “Award.” This could get confusing when you also consider that many collections have what are also awards that have nothing to do with the military. Nomenclature 3.0’s three-part (primary, secondary, and tertiary) naming allows for the entries of names such as “Bar, Ribbon,” “Medal,” “Decoration of Honor,” or “Stripe, Service” to be acceptable alternatives, and can better differentiate the specific awards in a collection.

In PastPerfect, the collections software used here at the Sullivan Museum and History Center, we have taken the approach to use "Medal" when referring to the award medals and "Bar, Ribbon" for the ribbons if unattached to a uniform. This is the best system for us given the sheer volume of academic and commemorative awards we have in the collection.


Bronze Star Award Medal

To perhaps aid in the research of a military collection, we have decided to add the name of the award as the Title for the object and list it in the description as well, just in case there are multiple awards on the same uniform. This has helped us a number of times search our records better, but our main task now is to make sure that anything from the original map into the database has a consistent name across the board, i.e. a Bronze Star is a Bronze Star and not another obscure name.

Consistent naming and organizing across the board can and will make a collection easier to search and manage, but as always, if you have any questions, please reach out to us and let us know your thoughts, we welcome and encourage them in fact!

Managing Military Collections in Your Museum

So you work in a small county museum or perhaps even a large institution.

A donor walks in and hands you a uniform and says, “my grandpa wore that in the Civil War.” Your knowledge of collections care and management is outstanding, but you have no idea whether the item the donor has includes the correct provenance, is a fake, or is perhaps from a different conflict, or maybe even from a different nation all together.

myers military camp promo
Where do you turn for help? What determinations about this historic military textile can you make on your own? What details about the garment can help you either prove or disprove the provenance?

Another donor walks into your institution with a photograph of what appears to be soldiers. Your donor knows nothing about the image. How can you begin to determine the time frame of the image or even the nationality?

Back in the 1950s your institution collected everything they could acquire including what appear to be cannon balls, grenades, and firearms. Are they safe? Are they still live? Are the weapons loaded?

AASLH has many resources for dealing with military artifacts, including:

If you have faced any of these challenges or anticipate that you will, then AASLH can offer help. The best way to begin to understand the nature of military collections and the details unique to military artifacts is to attend the AASLH Military Collections Camp in Oklahoma City in June. We will explore these topics and many, many more issues related to military collections. The camp is not only a learning opportunity it is also packed with fun.

Myers Brown is an Archivist III in the Archives Development Program at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. He also is on the faculty for the AASLH Collections Camp: Military History workshop.