Museum Studies Immersion

Overview for Museum Studies Immersion

The immersion in museum studies introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of institutional collecting, exhibiting, storing, and preserving our cultural heritage in museums, archives, collections, galleries, and libraries. It also provides students with an introduction to public history, the technical investigation of art, the history and theory of exhibitions, and interactive design for museums.

Notes about this immersion:

  • This immersion is closed to students majoring in museum studies.
  • Students must take at least one museum studies (MUSE) course and one history (HIST) course. The third course may be taken from either discipline.

The plan code for Museum Studies Immersion is MUSEUM-IM.

Curriculum for Museum Studies Immersion

Choose three of the following:
   Monuments and Memory
Monuments are physical objects that were constructed to help us remember the past, but a deeper analysis reveals that the relationship between monuments and the memories they embody is complex and changes over time. We will tackle the process of memorializing, the monuments that result, and seek greater insight into the arguments these artifacts make about the past, the present, and our place in the world. Lecture 3 (Fall).
   America’s National Parks
The National Parks are some of America's most treasured and spectacular landscapes, but even these wild places are the product of historical forces. In this class, we will explore the history of America's National Parks, and use these spaces to unpack the relationship between Americans, their land, and their history. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Oral History
Oral history collects memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews. There are few opportunities for historical research that are more satisfying or more challenging than oral history. In this class, we will learn about oral history methods, techniques, and ethics. We will read, listen to, and watch some of the finest examples of the genre. Then we will go out and add to the world's understanding of its past by conducting oral histories of our own. For their final project in this course, students will work in teams to produce a podcast based on their own interview(s). Lecture 3 (Fall).
   Museums and History
Many more people learn history from museums than from textbooks. What is it that is so special about encountering the real thing in a museum? Why are Dorothy's Ruby Slippers the most visited artifact in the National Museum of American History? Do history museums themselves have an important history? Join us as we investigate the connections between our history, our museums, and the material artifacts that tell historical stories. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Introduction to Museums
This course examines the history, theory, ideology, and practice of collecting within the institutional context of the museum. It considers the formation of the modern museum, and focusing on the American context, investigates the function and varieties of museums, ranging from natural history, anthropology, science and technology, history, and art. The course explores the history of the museum and its evolution institutionally, ideologically, and experientially. The course also considers the operations of museums from accessioning through deaccessioning, examining museum management, collections management and collections care. The course also explores museum governance and the professional ethics and legal constraints that affect museum professionals. The course examines how a museum carries out its mission of public education through its collections and exhibitions, as well as through its educational programs and community outreach and visitor studies. Current issues in the museum world are also considered, including: the museum's educational function versus its entertainment function; the problems of staying solvent in an era of diminishing governmental and corporate subsidies; deaccessioning collections to support the museum operations; issues of art theft and repatriation (ranging from colonial era and Nazi era plunder, the disposition of human remains and sacred objects, and illicit trafficking); the evolving responsibilities of the museum to its public and the cultural heritage; and the rise of the virtual museum. Throughout the semester, the course examines museums and their practices through the perspectives of colonialism, nationalism, class, race, age, gender, and ethnicity. The course includes field trips to local museums and collections throughout the semester. Lecture 3 (Fall).
   Introduction to Public History
Public history is using the research-based methods and techniques of historians to conduct historical work in the public sphere. If you've gone to a museum, conducted an oral history, researched your old house, or learned from an interpreter at a park or historic site, you've seen public history in action. This course will introduce students to the wide variety of careers in public history, and will examine the challenges and opportunities that come with doing history in, with, and for the public. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   History & Theory of Exhibitions
Art exhibitions are organized around a curatorial premise, a statement that articulates an idea allowing for the selection of work included in an exhibition. This course begins with an overview of exhibition history, starting with the transformation of the Louvre into the first public art museum following the French Revolution, where art history, a discipline developed in the 19th century, was enlisted to organize exhibition. The course then examines the proliferation of types of exhibitions that accompanies modernism, up to the present, paying close attention to the curatorial premise animating the exhibitions. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Museums & the Digital Age
The digital revolution has profoundly influenced how we think about the world around us. Information once available only to experts is now accessible digitally to a much broader audience. Museums, archives, and libraries have adapted to this democratization of knowledge and decentralization of access in myriad ways. As visitors to museums—whether online or onsite—each of us is part of the creation, consumption, and reception of digital information. What does this mean for museums and for us as audiences and consumers of such information? How has the combination of digital technology and social media increased visitors’ abilities for interaction with cultural institutions, their collections, and other visitors? This course will examine the history and evolution of museum practices as they adapt to new technologies and rethink traditional museum practices. The course has no pre-requisite and is open to students of all majors. Lecture 3 (Fall).
   Introduction to Digital Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage is a fluid term that applies broadly to the creation, protection, and preservation of material objects and intangible practices for future generations. This course examines the concepts associated with cultural heritage and the way the term has evolved over time to encompass many forms of practice. With a global outlook, the course explores the various forms that cultural heritage takes and considers the issues that are raised. Course content may be site-specific. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Topics in Museum Studies: Art, Design & Exhibition Projects
   Topics in Museum Studies: Museums and Society
   Topics in Archives, Museums, and Community Collections
Topics courses offer the opportunity to build knowledge specific to events, issues, and opportunities unique to archives, museums, and collecting institutions. Topics and methods vary from term to term, though each offering features an introduction to a concept, methodology, institution, or other subfield of study within museum studies or public history. Students develop theoretical and experiential knowledge of the topic under investigation while fostering opportunities to respond to recent events or to partner with local organizations and institutions. Students also create deliverables appropriate to the experience. The topic will be announced prior to the course offering. The course may be repeated for credit since topics will normally vary from semester to semester. Lecture (Fall or Spring).
   Museum Education & Interpretation
This course introduces students to the educational mission of the museum and to the museum’s role in educating citizens for participation in a democratic, pluralistic society. As sites of informal learning, museums have an educational impact on our lives beyond our formal schooling. The course focuses on a wide range of educational activities within museums that address visitors of all ages as individuals and as members of a democratic society, and helps to foster in them a sense of community, civic responsibility, tolerance for multiple viewpoints, and lifelong love of learning. The course examines the institutional shift from a fixed, scholarly approach to exhibiting collections to one that embraces the concept of interpretation, where visitors are encouraged to engage in a variety of experiences, make their own connections with objects and other visitors, and ultimately construct their own meanings. Lecture 3 (Fall).
   Legal and Ethical Issues for Collecting Institutions
This course presents an overview of the legal and ethical issues that govern the institutions and personnel involved in collecting cultural resources. Collecting institutions are governed by national, state, and local laws that define how facilities and collections are used and this course will consider them, as well as the larger social and historical context out of which they developed. The course will consider the evolution of the museum as a public institution and how the legal system increasingly defined minimum standards for maintaining collections, the facilities in which they are housed, and guaranteeing public access; in addition legal standards for the collection will be studied, including definitions of ownership, what this means in terms of intellectual property rights, copyright, reproduction (traditional and electronic), and deaccessioning/disposal. These will be studied within the context of the society within which the institution functions. The course will also study the development of national and international ethical standards and will examine the codes of behavior that govern the personal and professional conduct of museum professionals and the practices that comprise conflicts of interest. Ethical standards for collecting institutions will also be considered, particularly those that address the responsibilities to a collection, the ethics of acquisition, the question of illicit or stolen material, the issues of human remains and objects of sacred significance, and repatriation. Attention will be paid to the changes in society that made these issues critical for collecting institutions. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Visitor Engagement & Museum Technologies
All of us, as museum visitors, have the capacity to engage with collections and to create meanings as a result of such interaction. This course considers the history and theory of visitor engagement at museums, galleries, and sites of cultural heritage tourism; examines the import of technology into this history; and articulates the role of visitors as participants who curate their own experiences. Two key questions will be addressed in this course: 1) How does technology provide a platform for contribution, collaboration, co-creation, and co-opting of experiences among all visitors? and 2) Can technology mediate the best possible experience for visitors? The course has no prerequisite and is open to students of all majors. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Tablet to Tablet: A History of Books
From ancient clay and wax tablets, to scrolls and medieval manuscripts, to printed books and iPads, this class examines the history of books from 2300 BCE to the present. Students study books not only as vehicles for texts, but also as physical artifacts that carry with them important evidence of the cultures that produced and read them. Using the Cary Graphic Arts Collection as their research laboratory, students investigate the evolution of books through hands-on interaction with artifacts both ancient and modern, while also pondering what forms future books might take. Lecture 3 (Spring).
   Gender and Contemporary Art
This course traces the historical development of women’s activism in the art world from the 1970s to the present. We will interpret how this art activism, which artists and scholars alike have referred to as the feminist art movement, has examined how gender informs the ways art is made, viewed, conceptualized in history and theory, and exhibited in museums and visual culture, in a range of cultural contexts. We will also analyze how current artists, critics, and curators continue to build on this history, in particular how they use the concept of gender intersectionally to develop a variety of new creative practices, theories, modes of exhibition and social engagement. Lecture 3 (Spring).

* Students must complete one course from the "MUSE" discipline and one course from the "HIST" discipline. The third course can be taken from either discipline.