Tracking Montana’s History

I recently received a letter from the Montana Historical Society reminding me that my membership renewal date was coming up in June. I’ve been a member for over twenty years, and though I’ve never once set foot inside the Society’s museum and library at 225 N. Roberts Street in Helena, I was happy to renew.

By far, the best magazine that arrives in my mailbox four times a year is the Society’s award-winning, thoroughly researched Montana the Magazine of Western History. As it celebrates its 60th year, the magazine recently one another national award, the Westerners International Coke Wood Award for Monographs and Articles. The magazine has a free, searchable index on the Society’s web site.

In his renewal letter, Mike Cooney, the MHS interim director, noted that the society “provides free public access to over 50,000 books, 455,000 historical monographs, 8,000 maps, 2000 oral history reviews and more. Our education and outreach program has grown, reaching over 5,000 students from over 53 communities and thousands of adults throughout Montana.”

In addition to Montana the Magazine of Western History, MHS also helps members who live outside the state. Using my member’s research question benefit, I had historical questions tracked down and answered for my novels The Sun Singer and Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey and for my article “Bears, Where They Fought,” about Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley that appears in Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Nature’s Gifts Anthology.

The Society’s professional, yet accessible approach, to Montana History was recently validated by its re-accreditation by the American Association of Museums (AAM). Re-accreditation is an intensive, two-year process that occurs every 15 years. According to the MHS newsletter Society Star, “There are an estimated 17,500 museums in the nation and only 777 are currently accredited by the AAM.” As a former museum manager and a museum grant writer, I know just how difficult and exacting the AAM standards are.

While AAM standards are designed to fit a wide variety of museums and collections, all museums must successfuly answer two core questions:

  • How well does the museum achieve its stated mission and goals?
  • How well does the museum’s performance meet standards and best practices, as they are generally understood in the field, appropriate to its circumstances?

The success of the MHS and its research, collections policy, artifacts conservatorship, programs, publications, historic properties and its National Register sign program are a dynamic testament to just how well the Society continues to answer those core questions.

As for me, I’ve saved every issue of the magazine since my membership began: for Montana, they are gospel.

Montana teachers will find help on the Montana: Stories of the Land site. You may also like Montana Place Names from Alzada to Zortman and the Centennial Farm and Ranch Program sites.

Malcolm R. Campbell