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    Preserving history at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum

    Preserving history at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hatten | Mississippi Armed Forces Museum Archivist Christy Calhoun carefully brushes dust from...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hatten 

    Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center

    CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - The Mississippi Armed Forces Museum is one of the most popular landmarks at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, with artifacts and weapons on display that bring visitors from all over the world, but the displays are only part of the overall picture.

    Working away in a small building behind the museum, Christy Calhoun is the Archivist who ensures that original photos, documents, letters and memorabilia are preserved for future generations.

    “I think the archives department is kind of a hidden jewel,” said Calhoun. “People don’t really know all the wealth of information that’s back here until they start to do research and then they say, ‘I had no idea we had this much information on things.’ So, a lot of times when the curator or the director or any other of our staff members are looking for information on a certain artifact or a certain collection they’ll start their search in our database and then come to me and say, ‘What do you have on this?’ and usually I can provide them with historical context through letters and photos and the documents that people would donate to us. So I think the archive helps researchers a great deal but also helps our museum staff in that it gives us an excellent collection of source material, which is important when you’re trying to present a historically accurate representation of something.”

    Calhoun said that she spends most of her time assisting family members with researching relatives who served or trained at Camp Shelby, providing source material for research on the various units which served here, processing new acquisitions and cataloging the existing collection.

    “A lot of people find us through the Internet, so I’ll get calls and emails from all over the country, saying, ‘I had no idea there was a museum at Camp Shelby. Can you help me find so and so?’ and usually I can,” said Calhoun. “I can usually find at least some mention of them. I also spend a lot of my time processing the collections that we get in on a regular basis, and then processing our backlog of artifacts that were here before the museum had a proper archive. I’m working on getting those things processed correctly, cataloged and into our database so that people can find them.”

    Much of the archive centers on Mississippians, Mississippi units or people who served in Mississippi, and the letters, postcards, diaries, photos and other documents provide glimpses into the lives of people and their experiences in time of war.

    “A lot of our collection is letters back and forth from soldiers to their families, the diaries that people kept when they were in service or pictures they took when they were in service - which may not be of military scenes, maybe just the things that they saw every day when they were overseas or when they were training,” said Calhoun. “That gives you a much more personal look into what their daily lives were like. You may see a letter that they wrote back home to their mother, their sweetheart or their wife, saying ‘This is really hard, and I had no idea it was going to be like this, and pray for me.’ It’s very touching to see those things that were very private to them and that they never expected anybody else to see, knowing that this person may not be around anymore but somewhere, somebody has remembered them and because of this museum and this archive, people can come in from now until perpetuity and say, ‘Because of this snapshot or because of this letter, I know what life was like then, or I have an idea of what life was like then,’ and that’s really valuable to us as researchers.”

    Donations are a huge part of the collection, with items coming from veterans, family members or even other museums all across the country, and the process of receiving, preserving and displaying the items is a long and complicated one.

    “So when somebody brings us a donation, we start the process of paperwork and assessing the collection, seeing what’s in it, seeing what the scope is and learning about what specific time period and genre the donation would fit into, such as photographs, books or documents,” said Calhoun. “Processing a donation usually means taking all the items, cleaning them, removing any metal, like staples or paper clips or whatever, filing all those things and giving each thing a number, then storing it properly in acid-free storage and polyethylene sleeves if needed, digitizing it all and describing it in our database, which is called Past Perfect. That way, once it’s in Past Perfect, anybody in our organization can look for it on a common database.”

    Once the processing is finished, the donated items go to a climate-controlled archive, where they are protected from light, temperature changes, humidity and other factors which could lead to deterioration or damage to the item.

    “Things like light damage and temperature damage are cumulative, and will build up over time, so we try to drastically slow that process by putting things away,” said Calhoun. “We digitize a lot of things now, so that there really is no need for people to come and open up a folder or a box to look at the original. Instead, if you wanted to do research you can look at this digital copy and it’s exactly the same as the original, and that has been an enormous leap forward for researchers because in addition to keeping the original safe, I can simply send a file or a CD via email or regular mail if somebody across the country or across the world wants to see something from our collection.”

    The preservation guidelines for photos and documents also applies to items on display in the museum, and is part of the museum’s policy of responsible stewardship for all items they receive.

    "Depending on what the item is, we try not to put originals out on the museum floor because of the light that they’re exposed to, so a lot of photos and documents that you’ll see in the museum are not originals, but very close digital copies that are carefully printed and placed into the display cases,” said Calhoun. “Some things are original because you can’t duplicate certain things but you don’t want to put an original World War I photograph out into a display case where the light would be shining on it all the time because it would fade or be subject to damage. Another benefit of using copies is that if something happens to it or it starts to fade I can simply print a new one and replace it and the original is kept safe in the archives.”

    With all the preservation activities at the museum, responsible stewardship is the most important consideration when dealing with artifacts donated by veterans and their families.

    “We have a duty to the state of Mississippi and to the people who donate their items to us, believing that we will keep these items safe for future generations, and we will always honor that,” said Calhoun. “We won’t let people down that way. They trusted us enough to donate their family heirlooms and we will show the respect that they and their items deserve.”

    For more information about the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum, located in Building 850 at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, visit their website at http://www.armedforcesmuseum.us/Pages/Home.html



    Date Taken: 05.02.2013
    Date Posted: 05.21.2013 13:59
    Story ID: 107317
    Location: CAMP SHELBY, MS, US 

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