Curating the Asian American Comparative Collection
In the 1980s, the University of Idaho’s Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology began excavating archaeological sites related to Idaho’s pioneers of Chinese descent. As a U of I graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in history, Priscilla Wegars ’91 recognized the need to preserve the artifacts found at the archaeological sites. With support from the U of I Department of Anthropology, in 1982 Wegars raised enough money to found the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC).
“We began to collect whole items so that fragments found archaeologically could be identified more easily,” Wegars said. The AACC’s major artifact classes now include food and beverage containers, table ceramics, medicinal paraphernalia and other personal and domestic objects. Items housed there are available to U of I students, faculty and staff for research into Asian-American topics.
Today, Wegars is a U of I affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, a volunteer curator and donor. In addition to her contributions to the AACC, Wegars supports U of I students by sitting on thesis and dissertation committees.
To help ensure continued funding of the AACC, Wegars recently gave U of I a rental property in Moscow, which was sold so that the proceeds could augment the AACC Endowment. Her goal is to allow researchers like Ph.D. candidate Renae Campbell to continue using the AACC as a source for Asian-American research for many years to come.
“The AACC is invaluable,” Campbell said. “I used the archaeological collections, books and other resources at the AACC extensively for master’s degree research. I would not have been able to complete my thesis without Priscilla’s help, or the resources that she connected me with.”
The AACC is also available to students and faculty researchers from other institutions, as well as state and federal employees from agencies interested in using the AACC for demonstrations and other learning opportunities.
“We often take artifacts to various communities in conjunction with presentations,” Wegars said. “We have also loaned objects to exhibits like the Orcas Island Historical Museum in Washington, and the Museum der Kulturen Basel in Switzerland.”
“I would like the AACC to become self-supporting through the AACC Endowment, which needs to provide enough income for a full-time or part-time curator,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the U of I’s support of my work with the AACC, and look forward to its continued progress.”
Written by Josh Nishimoto, University Advancement
Published June 2019