Exploring Oklahoma History: A Student’s Guide to Museums and Memory

As a soon-to-be university graduate, I have spent a surprisingly small amount of time working with librarians, archival experts, and materials in a physical space. Most of the research I have conducted for various courses has taken place almost exclusively on my laptop. Even a fair sum of the sources I collected for my studies on the Tar Creek Superfund Site were a result of my easy access to the internet. Living and working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that consumed the last year or so also added to my increasingly online research experience. So, one can imagine that when I had the opportunity to pay an in-person (but still fully masked and social distanced) visit to the Oklahoma Historical Society to inquire about their existing material on the history of Tar Creek, I was all the more inspired by the generosity of the research staff and the impressive preservation of Oklahoma’s history. 

Upon my arrival, the first thing I noticed was how long it had been since I visited a museum of any kind. I have always loved art and history, so it felt good to be back in a place where those things are celebrated. Moreover, I could not believe this was a place I had never come across before. Being from Oklahoma City, I often succumb to the idea that I have already experienced all the fun things there are to do in this city. Of course, I was wrong because the Oklahoma Historical Society truly is a gem. I only spent a couple hours exploring the place, but in the short time I was there it felt like a little piece of home on display. Every person I came across met me with a genuine, friendly smile that seemed to say, “Hi there, I am here if you’d like my help.” 

After I made my way through the beautiful, grand hallways and into the research center, I discovered that the archival expert I had emailed with just a couple days prior had already compiled all of the materials they had related to Tar Creek, so I could start sifting through the well-preserved newspaper clippings, political debate transcripts, and local photos as soon as I arrived. The majority of things they had were materials I had not previously come across in my simple internet searches. At one point, I had an article from 1939 celebrating the mining boom of Picher in one hand and a 2008 article explaining the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency buyout in the other. It quickly became abundantly clear how essential this place is not just for my own interest in Oklahoma’s past but for the conservation of the state’s history as a whole. 

As I walked out the front doors of the Oklahoma Historical Society building, I was met with an exceptional sense of gratitude. Especially because I am working on a research project that hopes to highlight the history of the often-forgotten site known as the Tar Creek Superfund and the people still fighting for environmental justice there, having some of the physical monuments to their memory laid out before me really affirmed my passion for the work I am doing.

I also realized that I will definitely be utilizing museums and research librarians for pretty much every project possible from this point forward! This experience was so helpful, and I wish I had made the trip even sooner!

You can read more about me and my research here… and if you’d like to see what cool materials I found to incorporate into my paper, then stay tuned for more blog posts coming soon!

One Comment Add yours

  1. randypeppler says:

    This is so informative!

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