The second day of the Arsenals of History Symposium held at the Cody Firearms Museum brought about new discussions that ranged from developing a common lexicon to categorize small arms terms to how do museums work with guns in video games and drawing visitors in through that medium.
Collections Access from Two Sides – Jonathan Ferguson(Royal Armouries) and Matthew Moss (Historical Firearms/The Armours Bench)
Matthew Moss and Jonathan Ferguson combined forces to talk about collections access and management. Moss discussed various issues of researchers trying to find out about just what a collection has through using different search methods online. Despite all the technology we have, Moss pointed out (and rightfully so) that the best way to find small arms in a given reference collection is often to physically be there and pick them out by eye.
Jonathan Ferguson of the Royal Armouries went into some depth about just why museum reference collection databases can be so complex and inadequate to researchers trying to use them. An example he gave was in the NFC online database where only a small portion of the entries are completely filled out. Currently, his team is filling out entries with a goal of at least 100 entries a year. But even at that rate, the NFC would take over a century to get a complete database system.
Rethinking Small Arms Definitions- Nic Jenzen-Jones (Armament Research Services)
Nic took to the floor and discussed his latest research in developing a new small arms lexicon that could be more broadly used throughout the academic and legal world. Some of the issues that Nic is running up against is when dealing with an assortment of different agencies that have varying definitions of even something as simple as the term “Firearm”. Although at first comical, the ramifications of these terms can have legal consequences as they might not even agree with each other. An example of this is a definition for a type of firearm that is an extensional definition such as a machine gun “is belt-fed, is in this caliber, etc…” rather than an intensional definition which would be based on an items intrinsic characteristics. A system that Nic proposed is actually based off of a botany typology wherein firearms are seen as a sort of connected web where they can be classified in generally related groups.
Guns in Video Games- Danny Michael (Assistant Curator, Cody Firearms Museum)
Danny Michael brought up a very interesting demonstration on how museums can work with modern-day video games in order to better showcase their collections on display and get visitors in the door. Danny pointed out that so often, many visitors to museums are constantly asking about where the guns in their video games are located. On a flip note, he brought up the fact that video games are starting to incorporate historic small arms in ways that were previously not being done throughout the media (even if in fantasy like ways such as with Battlefield 1). So how do museums figure out a compromise with this new phenomena? Do they have video games available to play in the museum? Do they partner more with the video game industry in order to make the firearms more realistic? While all are worthy of debate, what was absolutely certain is that video games are here to stay and if museums want to remain relevant to a modern public, similar to social media, the video games have to be accounted for in some way.
Two Styles of Historical Expertise – Ashley Hlebinsky (Curator, Cody Firearms Museum), Ian McCollum (Forgotten Weapons)
Ashley and Ian led a conversation discussing two very different paths of small arms research. Ashely is an academic and curator versus Ian, a self-made YouTube producer who is now world-famous. Both have had very rocky paths towards becoming what they are today, Ashley facing the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated world, and Ian working hard at his YouTube videos until they were able to become a full-time career for him. Through their discussion, such questions were brought up as “Are Ian’s and Othais’s YouTube videos entertainment or standalone research?”, and “Could one cite a Youtube video in academic research?”. Ashley pointed out the enormous importance of having a PhD in the academic world in addition to a lot of current academics don’t see working with many experts in the small arms research world as legitimate because they are outside of that academia circle.
Next year’s symposium is being planned to be held at Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Massachusetts and we hope to be there in order to get coverage of the conference!