What Is the Arizona Historical Society?

Mark Wollacott

The Arizona Historical Society, or AHS, is an organization that developed hand-in-hand with the territory and then state of Arizona. Founded in 1864, the society’s aim is to collect and preserve all elements of the state’s history from documents to photographs and films. Created by lawmakers and funded through membership fees, sales and the state legislature, the Arizona Historical Society runs four principal museums, various collections of documents and publishes a quarterly journal. In addition to this, the society helps smaller museums and runs a number of educational and community programs.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Operating out of Tucson, the Arizona Historical Society is both a statewide organization and a parent society with local chapters. There are, for example, also regional chapters in Yuma and Glendale. The majority of the society’s administrative offices, such as its head office and publications department, are based in Tucson.

Membership fees vary from level to level. There are cheaper fees for students and for private individuals. The more expensive memberships include additional benefits such as private guided tours, behind-the-scenes tours and free passes to the four main museums. All memberships include a subscription to the Journal of Arizona History. This quarterly publication includes essays, letters, news and reviews concerning the state’s history.

The four main museums are situated in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Yuma and Tucson. The Museum at Papago Park is angled towards Central Arizona and the history of 20th and 21st century Arizona. The Pioneer Museum at Flagstaff, based in the old Coconino Hospital, looks into the early history of North Arizona. Yuma’s Sanguinetti House is concerned with the history of the Rio Colorado River. The state’s history is summed up by the exhibitions of the Arizona History Museum in Tucson that include Geronimo’s rifle.

In addition to the main exhibitions, the Arizona Historical Society maintains a full archive. The mission of the archive is to collect every piece of historical data possible concerning colonial Arizona, the territory of Arizona and the state. Since its inception in the 1870s, the archive, with one based at each of the four museums, has collected over 500,000 items.

Community outreach work conducted by the Arizona Historical Society helps both the general public and small community museums across the state. Individuals and groups can apply for up to $2,000 US Dollars (USD) in grants to help preserve elements of Arizona history. The society also stages historical lectures and demonstrations as well as offers technical assistance.

Small and regional museums can apply to the Arizona Historical Society for certification. In order to become certified, they must be open to the public for at least 208 hours a year. The society provides these museums with technical support and funding and also holds museum workshops to teach the museums skills such as how to preserve artifacts.

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