Named in honor of the late Michael Kammen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Cornell University’s Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture Emeritus, this award is presented to a history institution with an annual budget under $250,000 that has shown outstanding effort over a period of years. The Gunn Historical Museum has continually produced excellent exhibits and thoughtful programming on a limited budget and with few staff.
The Gunn Historical Museum is a nonprofit organization that provides free public library and museum services to Washington, a small town with a population of around 3,500, and the surrounding communities. The Gunn was incorporated in 1908 and the museum, a branch of the Gunn Library, focuses on collecting, preserving, and sharing the history of Washington. Each year, the museum staff of one-and-a-half employees and many volunteers serves around 5,000 visitors and researchers. The Gunn has won several Leadership in History Awards over the years and embodies an ongoing commitment to excellence and best practices.
Some of the Gunn’s award-winning work includes Over There: Washington and the Great War (2016), an exhibit and a series of eighteen diverse public programs. Previously, the museum had little readily available information on Washington and WWI, no research had been done, and only a few artifacts in the collection related to this event. This presented a unique opportunity for public outreach and collaboration, bringing the community together to research, collect, and share Washington’s WWI stories in this project. Coming to America: Washington’s Swedish Immigrants (2014) debuted in conjunction with the 125th anniversary of Washington’s Swedish Salem Covenant Church. This exhibit was designed to increase public awareness of the Swedish population, their contribution to the cultural landscape of the town, and features original research on Washington’s Swedish immigrants. A team of over 85 volunteers and contributors conducted in-depth original historical research in parish records, U.S. Census records, land records, and oral history interviews with seventeen Swedish immigrant descendants to craft an exhibit spotlighting this forgotten heritage.
The Gunn Historical Museum is a prime example of the great potential of small museums to produce incredible exhibits that engage and inspire their communities. Their dedicated volunteer base makes this a true community museum that seeks to uncover the town’s hidden history and untold stories.