On the way to Coromandel from Auckland you may not stop in Thames but drive through the Queen Street bypass, missing the statue of Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park standing in a little square by himself looking into the distance. You will also pass the Thames Treasury Research Centre and Archive located in what looks like a splendid former bank building but was the Carnegie Library.

Image: Alison Kuiper

It holds historical records of the region of which it is the centre and allows anyone to come and use its records to research local history including their family history. It also has volunteer staff whom you can engage to assist in uncovering your family history. It is thus both a specialist museum and a research centre.

In Te Awahou – Nieuwe Stroom in Foxton, which a number of Friends have visited on tours last year and this, there is now a small portable typewriter on the dining table in the living room display. Why is it there? It represents the main way in which Dutch migrants from the 50s and 60s kept in touch with their families back home, typing the single sheet blue aerograms which were the cheapest and quickest way to do so. But why this particular typewriter? It was donated to the museum, as many of the exhibits were, but the staff undertook some research into its provenance. It was used by the father of a family to write home from the ship on which they emigrated in 1951. The family still had those letters and they were a valuable source of information of what it was like on board an immigrant ship and the places it stopped at to refuel.

Image: Alison Kuiper

What these two museums illustrate is the way in which research is integral to the way museums operate. Each item in a collection is there with background research behind it so that the item can be a source of increased understanding.

Te Papa is no different. Just bigger. Many staff are engaged in research and this research has particular directions. We are still hoping, when the AGM is able to take place, to hear from Dr Dean Peterson about how Te Papa’s many research projects are directed.