Collections Significance

Systematic assessment and understanding of object significance is a critical factor in effective collections management, development and use, particularly in an era when resources are limited and there are continually growing expectations for museums to create positive social impacts, meet the needs of diverse audiences, and build sustainability.

Our national accumulation of thousands of railway locomotives and cars scattered across a wide variety of public, private, commercial and non-profit owners and geographies collectively tells an idiosyncratic story of Canada’s transportation history. While the story resonates with our national culture and myths, it is rarely developed to create meanings relevant to modern, diverse audiences. I have been leading an ongoing conversation about the concept of a distributed national railway collection for Canada and how to glean our national railway accumulation to identify the objects deserving of ongoing stewardship, conservation and interpretation.

For my master’s degree dissertation, I researched significance of large transportation objects through the lens of a distributed national collection and found a dearth of significance assessment in museum and academic literature, as well as among most of my 19 research subjects in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.  I have proposed a new significance assessment framework for a distributed national railway collection, applicable to a broad variety of subject matter, types and contexts.

I look forward to applying my findings and working with transport and technology institutions in developing and implementing institution-specific collections significance assessment frameworks, so that they can make better use of their collections to serve the needs of a changing world. I will be sharing my findings in publications and at upcoming conferences. You can read more about it in regular posts in this section, or if you would like to speak with me about your institution, please contact me.