Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: Museums in the News (page 1 of 39)

Agecroft Hall: A Tudor-Era American Home

Summertime is often the season when I, as I am sure many of our readers as well, will go and explore various museums. Seeing as how I am from Virginia, this usually means going to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts or the (newly renamed) Virginia Museum of History & Culture. One of my absolute favorite hidden gems in Richmond, however, is Agecroft Hall. A beautiful Tudor-era English manor house that was brought over piece-by-piece in the early twentieth century from its original place in England, Agecroft Hall is a unique blend of early modern architecture with modern conveniences (such as closets and radiators).

Agecroft Hall

The tours that visitors are treated to at Agecroft are likewise an interesting mix of early modern English history and the estate’s twentieth-century history of how it made its way from England to the US due to the popular desires to have European-style homes. T.C. Williams, Jr., the man who purchased Agecroft and had it brought over to Richmond, actually wanted to create a kind of Tudor-style neighborhood surrounding Agecroft Hall (although this didn’t ultimately happen, Agecroft’s neighbor is likewise an early modern English-style home). Some visitors, I think, will be unsure of how to feel about a very historic English home being taken from its original grounds and brought over and adapted to fit 1920s standards of living; I know I at least was not sure what to think of this initially. However, Agecroft Hall was on the verge of collapse due to mining in the surrounding English countryside and had fallen into disrepair. So while extra closet spaces and radiators are perhaps not quite what is usually done in the maintaining of an historic house – indeed, nor is changing the entire floor plan, as Williams chose to do – at least Agecroft Hall was given a kind of second life as the home-turned-museum in Richmond, Virginia. This choice was also not made without much thought and care – Agecroft Hall only left England with the approval of Parliament after a debate.

For me, it is also so interesting to think of how much conservation and preservation work has developed from the time when Agecroft Hall was brought over to the US to today. I think that while the methods perhaps are not what would have been done now, that the spirit of wanting to ensure the survival – at least in some capacity – of a historically significant building is something that is in common between past and present efforts.

Gardens at Agecroft Hall, modeled after the gardens of Hampton Court Palace

The museum also is such a wonderful opportunity to learn about and experience these kinds of historic houses that usually one would have to fly overseas to Europe in order to see. As my area of focus is early modern England, you can imagine my delight when I first went to Agecroft Hall. The majority of the museum is staged just as an early modern home would have been in its day, giving visitors an idea of what life in a manor house like Agecroft Hall would have been like for both servants and the family. Rich tapestries and wood furniture darkened with age; portraits of Elizabethan courtiers; a curiosity cabinet; herbals and King James I’s treatise on the evils of witchcraft; and, most exciting of all, a pardon with Elizabeth I’s own beeswax seal. These are only some of the wonderful artifacts on display at this fascinating historic house and I know I can’t wait to go visit again as soon as I can.

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 26th, 2020 marked the thirty-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which made it illegal to discriminate against people based on a disability in areas including, but not limited to, employment, transportation, and public services. In an article, called “A Brief History of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Jillian Abel provides some historical context about the passing of the law and how it has been influential in recent years. According to Abel, active support for those with disabilities had began as early as the 1960s and resulted in the passing of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act which banned discrimination based on disabilities for those receiving federal funding. Over the years, activism continued and would eventually lead to the passing of the ADA. Since then the ADA has continued to make updates to their regulations with the intent of providing as much participation and access of equal quality to all individuals.

Museums have gradually made changes to become more ADA compliant. In an article by NEA Director of Accessibility, Beth Bienvenu, “Museums and the Americans with Disabilities Act at 25: Progress and Looking Ahead,” some of the accommodations made by museums are discussed such as audio guides, tactile tours, captioned video, sign-language interpreted tours, and wheelchair access to all physical spaces. Despite these efforts, however, Bienvenu also explains that a 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts found that “21 percent of all adults visited an art museum or gallery, but only 11 percent of adults with disabilities made such a visit.” She goes on, explaining that there is still more work to be done in order to provide more involvement for those with disabilities.

Last year, Claire Voon wrote an article, “Museums Are Finally Taking Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities Seriously,” in which she discussed changes made by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in order to better serve visitors with disabilities. One of the actions taken by MoMA was to invite ten individuals with different impairments to walk through their spaces. Voon discusses the MoMA’s decision in more detail, articulating that while museums attempt to be more accessible, they often fail to consider the various kinds of accommodations visitors might need. In many cases, it takes someone with a disability walking through a space to indicate that there is a problem with access or inclusion.

In many cases, museums have taken steps in the right direction to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and create more accessibility to their events and spaces. However, as many of the articles have stated above, there is still much work to be done. In my own experience, interactions I have had with individuals with different impairments has greatly increased my awareness of potential barriers within museum spaces. While my awareness has been increased, I do not always have ideas on how to solve the problem. This is where knowing what resources are available to you come in handy. Below are a few links which provide information on the Americans with Disabilities Act itself and ideas on how to create a more accessible institution.


Are there experiences you have from a visit to a museum you would like to share? Consider creating a guest post on our blog to further the discussion of accessibility and inclusivity. 

Do you know of other useful resources that both current and future museum professionals could utilize to create more accessible environments? Please leave a comment below or send us a message through the “contact us” option located in the sidebar at right.

Rising to the Challenge of Economic Hardship

As I was scrolling through some news articles about museums on my phone, I came across an interesting article about how the Musée Rodin in Paris is using revenue from the sale of bronze casts of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures in order to decrease their budget deficit due to the pandemic. I was not previously aware of the museum’s decision from two years ago to dramatically increase the number of works that can be cast, a decision that is clearly benefitting the museum now. Initially, it seems strange to allow for the sculptures to be made again in bronze and sold to private collectors and other museums; however, this decision was allowed for in the institution’s bequest and Rodin himself stipulated that the museum has the rights to his works. This year, two large bronze pieces have been sold to a Middle Eastern museum, helping the Musée Rodin to lower their deficit to about three million euros. The institution has also set up an online donations page from which they have received 1,200 euros.

Musée Rodin

            What efforts have other museums made to decrease their financial burdens? The Museum of the City of New York is discussing launching virtual adult education courses that might include online discussions moderated by curators that are focused on New York topics. The museum is also putting the online programming it has released during the pandemic to good use: it has collected over 4,000 photographs and “Covid Stories” documenting New York’s experience of the pandemic and curators are now preparing an exhibition for the fall centered on this topic (using a previous 2018 exhibition focused on past epidemics in the city, titled “Germ City” as a model).

As this year's flu season begins, we reflect on the 1918 influenza pandemic and other contagious diseases the city has had to contend with.

Jacob A. (Jacob August) Riis (1849-1914). [Infirmary.] ca. 1890. Museum of the City of New York 90.13.2.322.

Meanwhile, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Germany is aiming to restructure the extensive bureaucracy within the foundation and perhaps even dissolve and replace it with a new foundation to manage the state museums in a more streamlined and concise structure. This would also allow for more budget autonomy for each individual museum as well as restructuring financing in order to allow for improved long-term planning.

Berlin's Museum Island at sunrise (imago images/Panthermedia)

            This is an extremely difficult time for all museums as they struggle to survive the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. Many institutions have had to furlough staff and cancel programming, and still some might not survive. However, it is encouraging to see the diverse and creative methods – and self-evaluation – that some institutions are employing in order to improve their economic prospects.

How Science Museums Can Talk About Race.

As people across the country fight back against police brutality and systemic racism, cultural institutions need to leverage their platform as trusted sources of information to educate the public about racism in the United States. Discussions about race are typically limited to art and history museums, while science museums tend to focus on the environment, health, and conservation. Science museums are not exempt, however, as racism intersects with both environmental science and health science. Moving forward, it’s critical that science museums start addressing systemic racism in order to better serve both their missions and their communities.

RACE: Are We So Different? debuted in 2007 and has visited over 40 institutions.

The American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota worked together to develop an exhibit entitled RACE: Are We So Different?  in 2007 to explore race and racism in the United States. The exhibit combines history, science, and lived experiences to challenge how we think about race. The exhibit has since travelled around the country to various science museums, with its most recent stop at the Durham Museum in Omaha, NE. A traveling exhibit that addresses race is great, but science museums have a responsibility to do more.

Many science museums focus on topics about the environment and sustainability, but from my experience, rarely talk about environmental racism. Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. For example, Black and Latinx Americans are more likely to live in areas with high air pollution leading to an array of health problems. Overall, people of color are on the front lines of the climate crisis and have fewer resources to deal with the consequences. In the U.S., the white upper middle class will be the last to feel the catastrophic effects of climate change. These are the same demographics that tend to visit museums. To both better serve communities of color and accurately deliver conservation messaging, science museums have a duty to address environmental racism head on through educational programming and activism.

Ending our reliance on fossil fuels is the key to reversing climate change and a fundamental part of environmental messaging. Non-renewable energy is also tightly linked with colonialism and the destruction of indigenous land and culture. In 2016, the Dakota Access Pipeline was rerouted to pass directly upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation without understanding the environmental impacts. Only this year did the D.C. district court order a proper environmental review. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is still fighting to shut down the DAPL. To divorce climate change and sustainability from human rights is a disservice to the indigenous communities that have led the environmental movement from the beginning.

From earthjustice.org

Health sciences and medicine also have a deeply racist history. Ethics and consent have evolved over time, but have taken advantage of people of color in particular. Jon Quier experimented with smallpox inoculation on enslaved peoples in Jamaica. The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male deliberately misled black men into believing they were receiving treatment in order to study the progression of the disease. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cancer cells were taken without her or her family’s knowledge or consent. These HeLa Cells have been instrumental in understanding polio, HIV, HPV, and thousands of other diseases, but have sparked questions about informed consent and collecting patient cells. Museums are uniquely equipped to present these questions and facilitate discussions on bioethical standards. It’s important to acknowledge and confront how racism has and continues to shape medical advancements worldwide.

Whale People: Protectors of the Sea at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

As educational institutions, most science museums are already addressing both the current environmental crisis and human health. As cultural institutions, they need to include whole narratives if they are going to properly serve their communities. The Natural History Museum is a traveling pop-up museum that “makes a point to include and highlight the socio-political forces that shape nature.” Past exhibits include Whale People: Protectors of the Sea which addresses orca conservation, pollution, and industrialization of the Pacific Northwest in collaboration with the Lummi Nation. Mining the HMNS tackles the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences’ relationships with the fossil fuel industry by investigating exhibits in HMNS and highlighting the stories of communities along the Houston Ship Canal.

All science museums need to take The Natural History Museum’s lead and project marginalized voices. To remain apolitical is to continue whitewashing both environmental and health sciences and to silence BIPOC communities. Science museums need to uplift activists of color by giving them a platform to speak. Science museums need to diversify their boards, staff, and leadership to dismantle the white narratives that are pervasive throughout. And science museums need to adapt their missions to address the social and political factors that influence both nature, health, and scientific discovery.

The Role of Museums in the Removal of Monuments

The recent decisions to remove various statues and monuments across the nation presents, I believe, an opportunity for museums to play a vital part in this reevaluation of our nation’s history and to serve their communities in a vital way. While public opinion calls for the removal of these statues, I do not think it wise to destroy these monuments or to remove them totally from the public eye. Rather, it is the museum’s responsibility to conserve and preserve these pieces – painful as they may be – in order to further the conversations that are being initiated. In this way, we may continue to examine and evaluate our nation’s history, how it has thus far been taught and engaged with as well the important moments that are happening now.

The toppled statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Monument Ave. in Richmond, VA.

I went to university in Richmond, Virginia. And anyone who has lived in or even just visited Richmond knows the prominent place that Monument Avenue holds in the city. With its lovely tree-lined cobblestone streets, Monument Avenue is an iconic part of the city; but it is also a highly contested area due to the Confederate figures that hold pride of place at various locations along the street. Some believe that these monuments should remain where they are as they serve as important symbols of the Confederacy and part of Richmond’s history; however, for many others, these memorials are a glorification of the city’s history with slavery and racism. Virginia Governor Northam has promised to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee although a court ruling on 8 June temporarily stymied efforts to remove the statue. Protestors have since taken matters into their own hands and toppled statues of Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus.

Richmond is certainly not the only city seeing the removal of its statues. In New York City, the American Museum of Natural History has made the decision to remove the monument of Theodore Roosevelt that has marked the museum’s entrance overlooking Central Park since 1940. The museum’s president, Ellen Futter, has remarked that it is the statue’s hierarchical composition that is being objected to, rather than Roosevelt himself. It is interesting to note, however, that the statue’s architect, John Russell Pope referred to the figures as a heroic group, while the sculptor, James Earle Fraser, remarked that the monument could even symbolize “Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.” While this may have been the intention of those who are responsible to the statue’s placement, it is certainly not how it is being interpreted now, leading many to protest the monument and the decision to have it removed.

The “Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt” in front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

It is my hope that as we are reevaluating the various monuments placed around the nation, that museums would take the actions of the American Museum of Natural History as an example to follow. Prior to the decision to remove the Roosevelt statue, the museum held an exhibit exploring the history and addressing the issues that the statue presents. It includes the many different remarks and opinions of museum visitors, which would surely lead to further conversations and critical thinking amongst visitors to the exhibit. With this very recent decision to remove the statue, it is my hope that the statue will not be removed entirely from public view. Rather, I think it would be more constructive to have the removed monuments considerately placed – graffiti and all – within a museum, along with information of the various nuances that the statue represents and encouragement for visitors to stop and think about the issues that the monument presents to them as well as their own beliefs and attitudes.

What an opportunity museums can have now to encourage these conversations and help visitors to think about the past in ways that they hadn’t previously considered. History is often a complicated mess that can be painful to think about. And monuments can be painful reminders of these difficult and complicated histories. I believe that it is a museum’s responsibility to help their communities to engage with this history in its entirety and to not allow it to be forgotten. I see the removal of these monuments as an opportunity to create a deeper understanding of ourselves, our history, and each other. It will certainly be difficult. But I am just as certain that it is worth doing.

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