Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Museum Topics (page 3 of 15)

2017 VSA Conference Call for Proposals

The Visitor Studies Association (VSA) seeks proposals for session presentations and workshops for the 2017 conference in Columbus, OHJuly 18-22.

VSA seeks to foster a sense of community among its members, who gather once a year to pose intriguing questions, explore diverse opinions, debate controversial issues, challenge assumptions and share their successes and their struggles—in essence, to learn from one another.

This year’s theme, New Pathways in Visitor Studies, we invite conference attendees to look both within and beyond our field for new ways to think about learning, as well as promising approaches to solving current problems. The conference theme seeks to advance the field by challenging conference speakers and attendees to work creatively and collaboratively to deliver reliable new insights about the experiences of our visitors. Participants are strongly encouraged to create session proposals that invite and include people from outside the visitor studies field to stimulate conversation and discussion.

Consider submitting a session and learn more:

Lunch with NEMA: Write to Publish

On Wednesday, September 28 from 12-1 pm, our very own Cynthia Robinson will be conducting a webinar with NEMA titled Write to Publish:

“Writing a blog entry or composing an article for a newsletter or journal are mental operations that yield insights and wisdom; self-development requiring reflection, analysis and synthesis. It is also an exercise in communicating with others, and forces you to consider what your readers know and care about.

Learn about voice, structural components, and formats. We’ll discuss developing ideas, determining the right venue for your work, following appropriate guidelines, and promoting your work.”

So pack your lunch and bring your questions! To register, click here.

*If you are attending this webinar and are interested in writing a blog post in response, please email us at We would appreciate your input!*

Own Your Expertise…But Know Where it Comes From

Today’s “What We’re Reading” post comes to you from Cynthia Robinson, director of the Tufts Museum Studies program.

Cynthia Robinson
Museum Studies Director, Tufts University
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Museum Education

Originally posted on JME40 (, a blog celebrating 40 years of the Journal of Museum Education. Reposted with permission from the Museum Education Roundtable.

When I worked as a museum educator, I defined myself as a facilitator who built bridges linking visitors with objects and ideas. As a facilitator, I translated the content expertise of curators and scholars into language and concepts appropriate to various audiences. My products were tour outlines, programs, labels, curricula, and

Facilitation takes skill, but I never defined that as expertise. Instead I equated expertise with discipline-based scholarship. Moreover, even though I spent two decades working in history museums and even engaged in original research to create exhibitions and programs, I did not consider myself a historian or an expert.

Does this sound familiar? I hope not, but I suspect for many of you it does. Have you sat in exhibition planning meetings and listened to curators and scholars drive the agenda because of the strength of their content knowledge? Museum educators tend to be collaborative and process-oriented, able to subsume self-interest to invest in group-interest, able to listen to others, and able to transform others’ ideas and expertise into products for the public. These are fabulous and sophisticated skills, but often unacknowledged, for they fly under the radar of those who typically hold the power in museums.

So here is my thesis: To shift perception and power, museum educators must redefine themselves as experts, and must learn to express their expertise by grounding it in the work of others. Most disciplines do this. You can’t become a historian without extensive knowledge of the work of other historians, and you can’t become a biologist without understanding a body of scientific knowledge and methodologies developed by others. Experts express their expertise by knowing and citing the work of others and demonstrating how their ideas build upon and differ from those who came before.

There are some differences between the field of museum education and discipline-based fields. Curators and scholars usually develop deep and narrow expertise and may not be expected to participate in unrelated activities. For instance, a curator of Asian Art would not be expected to be an expert on 19th-century redware pottery. A biologist who studies ants would not be expected to publish research articles about polar bears. Yet museum educators are often expected to know about audiences of all types, and to employ engagement strategies of all types; often with ever-changing content, as exhibitions come and go. This is huge! To truly ground museum education expertise in scholarship would require us to be well read in facets of psychology, sociology, and learning theory, as well as discipline-based knowledge.

Nevertheless, most museum educators are able to specialize, and that is where we should put our efforts at building up our expertise. For instance, if you are involved in community engagement with underserved communities, you should read (if you haven’t already) Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). You will probably discover that many of your values and assumptions came from him: his belief that a just society cannot be achieved until the disenfranchised have voice and power; his belief that people learn best through dialogue; his belief that students must take responsibility for learning and teachers should learn along with them. Like John Dewey, Freire championed active learning, and castigated the “banking” system of education, in which teachers make “deposits” of information that students receive passively. Reading—or rereading—Freire will help you clarify your own ideas and improve your ability to articulate your goals more clearly. It may help you justify your ideas to colleagues or in grant proposals.pedagogy

There are many additional writers and thinkers important to the work of museum educators. I use Freire here as an example of how the current philosophies and practices of museum education can emanate from thinkers outside of the museum world. Since Freire, other scholars have refined and added to his ideas, and it is useful to familiarize yourself with those works as well. Treading the intellectual trail of ideas developed over time creates expertise, and expertise in museums provides a platform for impact and equity.

Not long ago I visited an early childhood center at a museum. The educators were developing interesting programs, but had no knowledge of developmental theory to aid their efforts. If they had been familiar with child development scholarship they might have been able to design effective programs more efficiently than trial and error alone. Moreover, they would be able to use the wider context of theory to justify and validate their work to museum administrators, parents and caretakers, and funders.

Museum educators have claimed seats at many tables in museum work; a remarkable change that has occurred in a short time. Now is the time to claim expertise. It is not sufficient to justify a new program by explaining that your colleagues at another museum have done it successfully. Instead, use your knowledge of pedagogy and human behavior to support your work. Use the Journal of Museum Education as your tool. Read its articles to help you gain expertise. Challenge and build upon the work of its authors through discussions with your colleagues and responses to MER blogs. And hone your own ideas and expertise by submitting articles yourself. Add your voice, opinions, and expertise to the field. It cannot grow and prosper without you.


Cynthia Robinson spent 25 years working in museums before becoming the Director of Museums Studies at Tufts University, where she specializes in teaching the next generation of museum educators. She has extensive experience in developing museum programs, curricula and exhibitions, as well as in museum management and administration. She directed a professional museum organization for 10 years, held management positions at three museums, and served on the Museum Education Roundtable’s board and the council of the American Association of State and Local History. She is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Education, a position she’s held for six years.

Opening photo credit: Scott Reinhard, Expert Button (February 2010), via Google image search.

Thinking of going to the 2016 NEMA Conference? Check out these scholarships!

This year, the theme of the 98th Annual NEMA Conference is Plug In: Museums & Social Action. Held in Mystic, Connecticut from November 9-11, the conference promises to explore themes of social responsibility, audience and community engagement, sustainability, and facilitating change in the world.  The NEMA Conference is a great way to network, meet professionals in the field, and keep up with trends. NEMA makes it even easier for you to come by offering multiple different scholarships to cover all or part of the cost of attendance, food, travel, and room/board. If you’d like to apply, check them out here. The deadline to apply is September 16th.

Staying Updated on Museum-Related Social Media

Today’s  post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog. To read some of her previous work, click here.

Hi there!

I’ve recently been doing some social media culling, trying to stay relevant and on top of interesting things in the museum field. I may have only graduated in May, but it’s remarkable how fast you start to panic that you’re not as on top of it as you were when you had professors and other students to guide you. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, you may feel that way at some point in your career, which is why I’ve compiled this list of other pages and blogs I’ve started following in the past few months. (Obviously this blog is fantastic, but as any museum professional knows, multiple perspectives are important!)

Some, like EMP (Emerging Museum Professionals), are pretty big and you may already know about them. Hopefully there are some new ones on here for you. It bears repeating that my interest lies in education, so some of these are more education-focused. However, I think that all of them can be relevant in different ways, whether it concerns interpretation, creating inclusive spaces, or museum trends in general. I’d encourage you to at least check them out and decide for yourself.

What else is on your list? I’d love to broaden my reading, especially with non-education-specific sites, so let us know in the comments!


  • AASLH – Interesting perspectives from history organizations of all sizes, but most topics are relevant to museums that focus on other disciplines. I especially love their post about the presentation of the role of women in museums
  • Bank Street Leadership in Museum Education – Again, not all about education. A lot about creating safe spaces, introducing inclusive practices, and helping visitors feel welcome while still staying innovative.
  • Emerging Museum Professionals – I find it helpful to follow the different regional EMP groups. Part of that is to see how museums in different regions are responding to their communities, and part of it is because I know I’ll want to move in the next few years, and it’s helpful to know what museums in different regions are focusing on (plus they post local job postings!)
  • NEMA YEPs (Young & Emerging Museum Professionals)
  • Museum Hack
  • Teaching Tolerance – While it may seem on the surface like this site is only about classroom teaching, it actually does a great job keeping plugged in on national events. It has great resources for creating inclusive, welcoming, safe spaces, as well as great ideas for activities and books.


I’m also enjoying the Museum People podcast – check it out if you haven’t already!

And if these aren’t enough, here’s a whole list of 100 best blogs:

P.S. Looking for more ways to stay on top of the field? Check out the What We’re Reading section!

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