Editor’s note: This post is part of a four-part series to highlight AASLH members in the state of Minnesota who are doing unique and collaborative work and are real-world examples of the 2014 AASLH Annual Meeting Theme: Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts.

Collaboration and Support for Local History: Minnesota’s Historic Northwest

As local historians, we all know that we can find ourselves feeling very alone…whether that is because of geography, the multi-faceted requirements of our jobs, the budget restrictions we face, or the shortage of staffing that most local history organizations understand. Minnesota’s Historic Northwest is a group in the upper corner of our state that set out to remedy this problem through collaboration, mutual promotion, and professional development.Twelve Rural Counties Unite for History

Because sometimes, we all just need another history person on our side!

Organized as a regional historical society, The Minnesota’s Historic Northwest (MNHNW) held its first meeting in the summer of 1997. Its mission is “to routinely join together our historic and cultural organizations in order to promote our area’s history. Our focus is to plan group events and projects that celebrate our area’s richness and diversity.”

MNHNW originally served as a group for mutual promotion and tourism, to try to increase visitation in a 12 county region in Northwest Minnesota. In these twelve counties there are over 50 historic sites ranging from county museums to an American Legion museum, a Wilderness Drive to more than a dozen National Registry Historic Sites. These counties are very rural and therefore the distance between sites is often in excess of 50 miles.

The initial goal was to work with the Minnesota Tourism Bureau to place ads, develop a brochure, and help to encourage visitors and locals alike to discover their history. As the group met, it was clear that a need for professional development was also present to try to get the volunteers and staff up to date on best museum practices. As a result, MNHNW filed for non-profit status as a 501c3, began to work with the Minnesota Historical Society to apply for grants to help with training, and developed a membership program for sites.

MNHNW meets quarterly and sometimes more often as needed. Our group ebbs and flows in terms of membership, which costs $100 initially and $25 annually thereafter for organizations with paid staff, $15 for all volunteer organizations. We maintain a website  which is often the only web presence for many of these smaller organizations and we also have a Facebook page to help bring our sites into the world of social media.

Our successes to date include:

  • Annual “Preserving A Sense of Place” seminars which included themes such as Community, Culture and the Visitor, Portraying History to The Traveler, and Through Living History.
  • Workshops on collections care, board engagement, displaying Native American artifacts, and archive and library techniques.
  • A book and travelling exhibit focused around the Sesquicentennial of the state of Minnesota in 2008
  • A travelling exhibit in 2010 called Faith Matters: Churches of Minnesota’s Historic Northwest
  • And our most recent travelling exhibit Inventors, Innovators, and Entreprenuers; which debuted in 2014 and received the MALHM Minnesota History Award

Overall, we work together to help make each site the best it can be and to help support one another in an enthusiastic but sometimes weary profession. We’ve formed great friendships, created a cohesive outlook for our region, and have accomplished more than any of us could have individually. Ultimately, the biggest benefit of Minnesota’s Historic Northwest is just that…working together to become greater than the sum of our parts. We hope you’ll consider forming a similar organization wherever you might be and we would be glad to help you get started!