Male identified person with gray hair and a black longsleeved button shirt looks through a viewfinder at a black and white photograph while sitting at a desk with a computer and other photographs

Photo Archivist and Historian Jeff Jewell works in the research room at the Museum.

Research is intrinsic to any accredited museum. It comes into play in every aspect of content, from exhibition and program development to the acquisition, maintenance, and documentation of the permanent collection. Beyond the role of research in the everyday lives of museum people however, lies the role that the museum plays for other researchers.

As a repository of information about our material culture, the Whatcom Museum is a rich resource for data miners of all stripes, from armchair historians to seasoned academics. We’ve helped filmmakers, linguists, and architects; journalists, teachers, and students; writers, artists, and genealogists, as well as corporations and non-profits the world over.

The Whatcom Museum is working toward making portions of its collection available through online galleries and on our exhibition pages. We have a variety of research tools available as well. You can start your research by exploring our Virtual Exhibitions, by purchasing linguistic publications, or if you’re conducting anthropological research on Indigenous Peoples, by applying for a Jacob Research grant. Researchers are also welcome to visit our Photo Archives during public hours.

Photo Archives

Thousands of researchers access the Whatcom Museum’s Photo Archives each year, with searches that range from tracing family history to compiling material for books or films to a host of academic pursuits. The Photo Archives collections are accessible during public hours through the Whatcom Museum’s in-house database.

Virtual Exhibitions

Explore a selection of images from our collection including works by early photographers of the region, plans by a prominent shipbuilder, curated topical exhibits, and images of key ethnographic, historic, and art objects.

Joyce Morse Reference Library

Located on the second floor of the Lightcatcher building, the Joyce Morse Reference Library contains more than 500 titles about art and artists from the Pacific Northwest, Whatcom County history, and the history and art of Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Many of the books in the library are part of the Museum’s collection, with additional books provided by generous donors. The library is available to community members and Whatcom County researchers.

The Joyce Morse Reference Library is only open by appointment on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Noon – 3 PM. Call 360.778.8960 or email to schedule an appointment.

In partnership with the Bellingham Public Library, the entire Joyce Morse Reference Library collection is available for browsing on the library’s online catalog.

Jacobs Research Fund

The Jacobs Research Fund is a grant program that supports anthropological research (socio-cultural or linguistic in content) on the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Mexico, and mainland United States, including Alaska, with a focus on the Pacific Northwest.

Linguistic Publications

Whatcom Museum Publications (formerly University of Montana Occasional Papers in Linguistics), is a series dedicated to the study of the Native languages and cultures of the Northwest. Publications are available for purchase through the Museum Store.

The Whatcom Museum acknowledges that we gather on the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish – Lummi People – and the Nuxwsá7aq – Nooksack People – who have lived in the Coast Salish region from time immemorial. The Museum honors our relationship with all of our Coast Salish neighbors and our shared responsibilities to their homeland where we all reside today.