This post comes to us from Emma Cook, a student in the History and Museum Studies program. She reflects on her experience in the program’s summer course Revitalizing Historic House Museums. For anyone interested in taking the course, go to http://ase.tufts.edu/summer – registration opens Monday, April 9.
Historic house museums are the largest category of museums in the US. As future museum professionals, we are likely to work with a historic house site sometime in our careers. I found the Revitalizing Historic House Museums course to be an integral component of my graduate education and future career. What makes the course unique is the first-hand experiences provided throughout the class. Case studies, guest speakers, blog posts, and field trips in correlation with our class assignments provided practical skills and knowledge.
What I most enjoyed was visiting historic houses in the area. The first site we visited was the Eustis Estate in Milton, MA. The Eustis Estate was built in 1878 and is the only example of William Ralph Emerson’s significant contribution to American architecture. This historic house was recently opened to the public by Historic New England in May 2017. The Eustis Estate provided a model of new technological approaches being introduced to historic house museums. In-gallery media provided interpretation of the Eustis Estate and a full-scale mobile guide created greater access of the content to visitors. Discussions with staff taught us how the historic house was cared for and updated. The Mementos jewelry exhibition, presented by
Historic New England, demonstrated what new exhibition techniques are used in historic house museums today. I found this experience fascinating, as we were learning first-hand how the Eustis Estate was transformed from a home into a house museum.
The highlight of my course experience was visiting the Kennedy Family Cape House in Hyannis, MA. Our final project of the course was to prepare a report describing the best and highest uses for the property. Kennedy family members gave the home to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute (EMK) to preserve and open to the public. The home itself is nearly completely intact. Photographs of the family line the walls of the home along with artwork by Jackie and Edward “Ted” Kennedy. A table with coffee ring stains in the sunroom marks the place where Ted Kennedy did his work. From JFK’s bedroom (untouched since his death) to the Kennedy grandchildren’s measurements written on the wall in one of the halls, the family
home breathes life and represents a story that wants to be shared. As the only graduate class allowed to visit the site, having the opportunity to not only walk through the Kennedy home, but also create a project that would be viewed and considered by the EMK in their future planning for the site, was a once in a lifetime experience. The responsibility of creating new plans for the house and doing it well, has earned Tufts students the opportunity to continue visiting.
This course was the best part of my summer! What you learn from this class is both inspiring and rewarding. This course prepares you for a role in historic house museums and gives you tools you can apply in many areas of professional practice.
To register go to: http://ase.tufts.edu/summer. You do not need to attend Tufts to register. Those wishing to audit the course are welcome. The first summer session begins on May 24 and ends on June 30. Class is from 6-9:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.