This article was written by 2017 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Tara Taro.
As a first-time attendee of a professional development conference like the Annual Conference held by Museums Alaska and Alaska Historical Society, I expected to attend many conference sessions focused on how museums function, why they are important, and new techniques to keep a museum functioning satisfactorily. While I did attend a conference workshop and many conference sessions covering these concepts, what I did not expect was the overwhelming amount of active researchers getting the opportunity to present their current focus at the conference. The ability to have a platform to discuss research topics and collaborate with other researchers or museum professionals is crucial to maintaining the gathering of knowledge about our world. I felt a sense of that great Alaskan pride seeing the support for these researchers and the opportunity for them to seek help and encouragement from their peers.
On Thursday morning, I wandered into the auditorium for a conference session titled, Frontier Trailblazers, the first Alaska Historical Society session I had attended. It was so refreshing to witness researchers being able to talk freely through their findings, ask help from peers in the area, and generally, get a moment to feel proud of the work they have already accomplished, even if there is more information to gather (and let’s face it, there is always more information to gather). As Alaskans, isolated from the rest of the United States, it can sometimes be difficult to even begin researching a topic. This was widely evident when speaker Pat Garrett of McCarthy came to the podium to discuss her research on the infamous Kate Kennedy. It was obvious that not only was Pat passionate about her study of Kate but that she also had gathered a wealth of information on her, being able to chart a good portion of her life and experiences. Then a surprise I was not expecting came. Pat revealed that the majority of her research came primarily from hand-searching through archival materials as she did not have electricity or internet at her house at the time she began this project. In this day and age, the internet and databases streamline the tedious process of collecting evidence for research. Pat did not have those processes at her disposal and yet she has tracked Kate’s life to the extent that those in the audience felt as though they knew her. At least, I felt I did. I cannot wait to see what Pat discovers now with her newly installed electricity at her house. The limits are boundless.
This conference allowed us to get a glimpse into some of these research topics, people, and events that are being explored today and conference attendees were encouraged to keep these topics, people, and events in mind while scouring their own archives. And that, I personally believe, is the best outcome this conference can bring to this community – the ability to have statewide collaboration, cooperation, and support.