Building History Colorado’s Collection

In February 1879, enabling legislation was signed by the Governor of Colorado creating the State Historical Society, the objective of which was to collect and preserve items relating to the history of the state. Since that time, the collection has grown to encompass approximately 15 million individual items including archival documents, artifacts and visual images.

History Colorado holds the collection in trust for the people of Colorado and provides access to the stories embodied within it as an essential part of its mission. Legislation and the institutional mission and goals provide the foundation for collecting activities. But, have you ever wondered just exactly how items make their way into History Colorado’s collection?

Most are donated. The process begins when a generous individual or organization makes an offer of material they think would be of interest. If something sounds like it might be a good addition to the collection, the appropriate curator will research and gather more information about the item, including reviewing what History Colorado already has that is similar or related.

Documenting and caring for collection items is a resource-intensive enterprise. It’s our responsibility to see that human and financial resources are expended wisely, which means ensuring that we’re thoughtful, purposeful and selective in what we accept. History Colorado is guided by a board-approved collection plan that provides a framework for making collecting decisions. The following criteria are some of the measures curators use in evaluating potential acquisitions:

  • Does the item contribute in a meaningful way to our collective knowledge and understanding of Colorado’s history?
  • Might there be other ways to document this history?
  • Does the item have a relationship to an existing collection, and if so does it fill a gap in the information and stories associated with the collection?
  • Are there other institutions that hold a similar or related collection that would be a better home for the item?
  • Does History Colorado have the capacity to provide long-term preservation and storage?
  • Does the item provide a tangible public benefit, such as educational or research value?

Informed by the their research and responses to these questions, curators make decisions on whether or not to accept offered items. One of our challenges is that we receive far more offers of donations than we can accept, and it can be tough to tell an eager donor that we can’t add their family treasures to our collection. Having a collection plan and goals in place helps us make those hard decisions. While History Colorado remains committed to enhancing the existing collection and rediscovering the stories embodied within it, our collecting activities are currently focused on developing an oral history program, actively building relationships with diverse communities, and documenting aspects of life in contemporary Colorado statewide.

We’ve built a collection about the past and are now collecting for the future.