Do Confederate monuments fit with NC’s Museum of History mission? Not really

·3 min read

The removal of any Confederate monument from a public square creates an immediate problem: What happens to it now?

Many people have suggested sending the monuments from North Carolina counties and towns to facilities such as the N.C. Museum of History, in hopes they could be placed in exhibits explaining the different viewpoints on what they symbolized when they were installed and how people see them now.

Generally, though, museums have not welcomed the monuments on the grounds that they don’t fit into the mission or even into the buildings, as they may stand 30 feet tall and weigh several tons.

So how does a place like the N.C. Museum of History decide what it will take into its collection, which is now at around 150,000 artifacts? The museum gets at least one call or email every day from someone offering an item they think might be useful. At the same time, curators preparing future exhibits may be actively looking for items to help tell particular stories.

Here is how the museum’s accession process works.

The first step is to call the museum at 919-814-7024 or email Raelana Poteat, chief curator of the N.C. Museum of History, at Raelana.Poteat@ncdcr.gov and be prepared to describe the object in detail. Email is especially helpful, Poteat said, because it allows potential donors to include photos of items.

You’ll be directed to a curator who specializes in the type of item you’re offering and can determine whether the item meets the museum’s collecting criteria. Those include:

Was the object made or used in North Carolina?

Is there written or oral documentation of its history?

Does it need to be repaired?

Would it work with the museum’s current collection? Does the museum already have a similar artifact?

Would it help tell a story through an exhibit?

Is there space to store it?

Right now, the museum has a wish list of items such as objects related to the experiences of minority communities in the state, those related to the Wright brothers and the origin of manned flight, and those relating to colonial history in the state. It also wants items that will help future historians understand the pandemic and the social justice movement that began in 2020.

If an item looks like a good fit, the curator will present the item to the museum’s Acquisitions Committee, which will vote on whether to accept it. After that, it goes to a vote before a committee of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and finally to a vote by a committee of the N.C. Historical Commission.

As they are approved for accession, items are listed in the agenda for meetings of the Historical Commission.

Once an item gets through the acceptance process, the collections section registrar sends the donor a “deed of gift” form, which certifies that the item is the donor’s to give away, and that the donor agrees to assign all rights to the object over to the museum.

Once that’s signed, the item becomes part of the collection and may rotate in and out of exhibits or be held in storage until it’s needed.

Sometimes, the museum reverses the process, getting approval from the same committees to let go of items that are no longer deemed necessary to the collection.

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