The museum studies minor provides students with a foundation in the history and practice of the museum as an institution and in the history, theory, and practice of collecting, exhibiting, and preserving the cultural heritage that defines the purpose and function of the museum. Courses cover a wide range of topics that are relevant to contemporary museology: the history of museums and collecting, the technical study of art and materials, the history and theory of exhibitions, interactive design, public history, the rise of the museum profession, legal and ethical concerns, and conservation.
This course examines the history, theory, and practice of museums by situating them as social institutions emerging within their broader historical and cultural contexts, from their origins in the mouseion of the classical era and Renaissance cabinets of curiosities to the modern era’s World’s Fairs and museums of today. The evolution and range of museum functions are addressed. Building on these foundations, the following types of museums and institutions are explored: art and design, natural history, anthropology, science, and history museums, as well as historic houses and sites, botanical gardens, and zoos. In studying the histories and functions of museums through the lenses of social institutions, the course highlights the evolution of museums institutionally, ideologically, and experientially. The course considers the operations of museums, governance, and the professional ethics and legal constraints that affect museum professionals; examines museums and their practices through the perspectives of colonialism and de-colonialization, nationalism, class, gender, ethnicity, anti-racism, and community; and includes field trips to local institutions and on-campus site visits 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).
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 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).
History & Theory of Exhibitions
Exhibitions are organized around a creative 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 exhibitions. The class analyzes how art and exhibitions represent the cultural contexts in which they are created. The course 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 tangible, intangible, and natural cultural heritage with a global outlook. Through readings, discussion, and projects, the course explores the various forms that cultural heritage takes and frames them in terms of digital creation, consumption, and preservation. Course content may be site-specific. Lecture 3 (Spring).
Topics in Museum Studies: Art, Design & Exhibition Projects
This variable topic course examines one or more methods, concepts, or theories of museum studies and its intersection with art, craft, and design. Whether focusing on the content of collections (i.e., fine art, craft, design, or other disciplines) or the conceptual development of displays informed by a curatorial premise informed by methods, concepts, and theories of museum studies, the course frames art and design collections in relation to exhibition projects. The course centers themes, figures, movements, or issues associated with artistic practice, and/or the historical, cultural, and theoretical questions of exhibitions and display. The topic for the course is chosen by the instructor, announced in the course subtitle, and developed in the syllabus, particularly through the readings and deliverables. The course can be taken multiple times provided that the topic is different. The artistic framing for these topics may center one or both of the following areas of inquiry: art, craft, and design as the subject of the course (i.e., focusing on the collections held by RIT at the Dyer Arts Center, Cary Graphic Art Collection, and Vignelli Center for Design Studies) and/or creative approaches to deliverables, from ideation to presentation in one of the gallery spaces at RIT, or in another exhibition space (including online). Lecture 3 (Fall, Spring).
Topics in Museum Studies: Museums and Society
This variable topic course examines one or more methods, concepts, or theories of museum studies as a framing for understanding of the diversity of human cultures today and over time. Whether focusing on the content of collections (i.e., cultural heritage, undocumented migration, wrongful imprisonment, de-colonization) or the conceptual development of displays informed by a curatorial premise informed by methods, concepts, and theories of museum studies, the course examines topics of social relevance in relation to exhibition projects. The course centers themes, figures, movements, or issues of contemporary society, and/or the historical, cultural, and theoretical questions of exhibitions and display. The topic for the course is chosen by the instructor, announced in the course subtitle, and developed in the syllabus, particularly through the readings and deliverables. The course can be taken multiple times provided that the topic is different. Lecture 3 (Spring).
Topics in Archive, 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).
Introduction to Archival Studies
This course introduces students to the role of archives in the construction of a society’s cultural heritage and historical identity. Archives are repositories of a culture’s original documents, both paper and electronic, and they function as a site for the construction, preservation, and dissemination of historical memory, as a source for social responsibility, and as a tool for the understanding of the cultural, social, and political forces that influence events. The course will examine the history of archives, the theory and practice that guide the work of archivists, and examine the basic components of an archival program: including acquisition and appraisal, arrangement and description, preservation and legal and ethical issues related to access to archival records. The class will also cover the transformation of the profession in the digital age, including digital preservation, the work of archival appraisal and collection building in an age of digital proliferation, and archival collection management systems. Lecture 3 (Fall).
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).
This course examines the history and practice of exhibition design. It reviews the history of exhibitions within the development of museum-like institutions. In this course the following aspects of exhibition design are considered: curatorial premise or theme, exhibition development timeline, exhibition site, contracts and contractual obligations, budgets and fundraising, publicity material, didactic material, and exhibition design. The course includes field trips to local institutions and collections throughout the term. Lecture 3 (Fall).
This course presents an overview of the administration and management of museums and their collections. The course examines the governance structure of museums, focusing on personnel responsible for their administration, curation and education, and operations, as well as on the mission statement and policies they determine. The course also details the management of collections, including the development of a collections policy, management of that policy, documentation and record keeping, acquisitions, and the creation/management of exhibitions. Finally, the course considers collections care or preventive conservation, looking at both the facility and collections. Throughout the term, legal and ethical issues pertaining to museums and their collections will be emphasized. (Prerequisites: MUSE-220 or 0533-421 or equivalent course.) Lecture 3 (Spring).
Digital and Critical Curation
This course introduces students to Cultural Informatics, the interdisciplinary field that examines the intersections of information technologies, information science, and cultural information centered in museums, libraries, and archives. Among the topics to be examined are: how information technologies are used in museums, libraries, and archives; how modern information systems have shaped the museum environment; the nature of convergence; the development of digital collections, digital curation, and online exhibitions; and the role and status of the information professional in the museum and cultural organizations. The course is designed around projects, case studies, and readings so that students gain hands-on experience working with information. The course has no prerequisite and is open to students of all majors. Lecture 3 (Fall).
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).
Special Topics in Museum Studies
A focused, in-depth critical examination and analysis of a selected topic in Museum Studies, varying according to faculty teaching the course. Lecture 3 (Spring).
Students in the museum studies program shared their research on cultural heritage imaging, preservation, and research by participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Etta Arnold, Alana Bourgeois, and Izzy Moyer presented their papers which were completed under the supervision of Dr. Juilee Decker (Director of Museum Studies) and Dr. David Messinger (Imaging Science Program).
The CHIPR conference, standing for cultural heritage imaging, preservation, and research, was held on the RIT campus on August 15, 2022. It was a free learning opportunity open to anyone in the region based at museums, libraries, archives, and historical societies interested in preservation, access, and research.
The Tina Lent Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Museum Studies was given on Friday, March 18, 2022 as part of the College’s 42nd Annual Writing Awards Ceremony. The award followed in the tradition of awards named in honor of other College of Liberal Arts faculty, including Stan McKenzie and Mary C. Sullivan, both esteemed former deans of the College of Liberal Arts. The inaugural recipient was Hannah Rachel Riley, a third-year student from Buffalo, NY who is undertaking her thesis this semester and will graduate in May 2022.