Preservation Workshops Rewarding Experience for All

Audrey Coleman and a Vietnam War veteran examining a bamboo quiver and arrows. Photo courtesy of: Patty Locher

Audrey Coleman and a Vietnam War veteran in Sabetha. Photo courtesy of: The Sabetha Herald.

In January, KHC awarded grants to thirteen organizations as part of Standing Together, a National Endowment for the Humanities initiative to promote understanding of the military experience and to support returning veterans. Each organization received a $300 grant to host public community workshops, led by a preservation consultant, to help veterans and their families learn how to preserve uniforms, medals, letters, photographs, email correspondence, and other important items that soldiers carried home.

So far, Mary Cotton Public Library, Friends of Fort Scott National Historic Site, Coffey County Library-Lebo Branch, Leavenworth Public Library, Watkins Museum of History, and Friends of the Valley Center Public Library have successfully hosted preservation workshops. Nearly 100 Kansans have attended the workshops to learn how to preserve their history, and to share military-related objects and stories.

For veterans, their relatives, and curious citizens, “The Things They Carried Home” preservation workshops have proved both engaging and helpful. Audrey Coleman, Senior Archivist at Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, explained, “In general, there is a big concern among attendees that they ‘do the right thing'” with their materials, whether these are documents, journals, or photographs.

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Preservation consultant Marla Day leads the workshop in Lawrence. Photo courtesy of: Richard Rees

Perhaps the biggest challenge with handling these materials is trying to strike a balance between properly storing them and wanting to display them in the home. Coleman said that, more often than not, “the best, right thing is to do very little with their materials” and keep them “in an interior climate-controlled environment.”

In addition to educating the public on proper preservation techniques, preservation consultants and project directors felt they themselves gained something meaningful from the workshops. Participants who shared military objects often opened the door to broader discussions about military experiences across time and place.

Kim Turner, the project director for the Leavenworth Public Library workshop, said, “Discussion of preservation led to discussion of objects and the stories behind them. Real life stories gave the wars a human face. Sacrifice we have heard about but to hear it from those directly involved is humbling.”

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in a “The Things They Carried Home” preservation workshop, there are seven more opportunities, with the next workshop taking place on June 18th at Abilene Public Library. Workshops are free and open to the public. For details on all upcoming preservation workshops, visit KHC’s calendar of events.