This article features the holdings of The Bryan Museum in Galveston, Texas. Many thanks to Joan Marshall, Director of The Bryan Museum, and Carol Wood, Archivist at The Bryan Museum.
If you’re a Texas history buff, you probably know or have made a pilgrimage to The Bullock Texas State History Museum in Texas’s capital city, Austin. Austin just makes sense as a place to put a big, shiny state history museum that “tells the story of Texas.” But did you know that the Bullock is not a collecting institution? That means anything you see on display is on loan from another place like The Bryan Museum. Located in Galveston, the Bryan Museum holds one of the largest collections of artifacts, documents, and artwork related to the history of Texas as a Spanish province and its role in the rise of the American West. Items on display in the collection range from antique firearms and spurs to General Santa Anna’s notes on military strategy, which he used in the field during the Texas Revolution.
Museums can’t display everything in their collection. Even in the largest museums, there’s simply not enough room! Often, they rotate items in temporary exhibits or loan objects to other museums. This is particularly the case with paper or other fragile items that degrade with constant display.
Any time an object is acquired, staff must assess how the object can be shown to the public. But sometimes it is hard to label things, which is where specialists come in. For example, at The Bryan Museum, there are approximately 250 unidentified, Spanish-language texts from 1827-1835. Translating and cataloging these texts requires a scholar who understands Spanish colonial history and can read the language and decipher historic handwriting (a skill called paleography).
Why take on this difficult job? These texts can tell us about the movement of land and “papers of possession” between individual hands and peoples, highlighting the flow of government decrees and families during the tumultuous period of 1827-1835 in Texas. They could also contribute to our knowledge of the peoples and events that participated in the Texas Revolution (1835-1836), such as why did Coahuila and Texas merge and later split in the conflict? How is current Latinx and Texan/Tejano history influenced by historic land ownership? It could also reveal more about the individuals who were for and against Spanish colonialism.