Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Personal series (page 1 of 31)

Making Museums Connected

This week’s post comes from Jingya Guo, a graduate student in the History and Museum Studies program

As a new graduate student of Museum Studies so far, I can always notice shifts inside my understanding of museums. I’ve been to museums many times when I was in China. I visited museums with my parents, and sometimes my peers. We read written labels’ discourse on the provenance of an object, such as a hand-made wooden chair from Ming dynasty, then we received a bunch of information in terms of how it was produced and how its social context was according to the introduction of docent. We experienced this process again and again in a short time period, then we finished our museum visit. The museums in my mind were shrines containing works of art, I was cautioned against touching objects in museums, photos were strictly forbidden to be taken even though the flash light was not open. I hardly noticed people working in museums behind the scene. Museums were once temples for me to worship the beauty of great human wisdom. They were isolated from what I experienced in my daily life. However, I know something in my mind may have already changed, I am not only a museum visitor but also a museum studies student, which means museums will possibly be my workplace. The dual identities that I embody makes me think more about what museums are, and what museums mean to me. With the external changes of technology and globalization, it is indispensable for a museum to make connections with the outside world and stop regarding itself as a “temple.” Museums need to restart life at a grass-roots level and make it popularized to the public. Integrating museums into the community and making people engage in museum activities needs to become a significant considerations for museum professionals. It is the responsibility of museum professionals to make museums connected.

Why is it important for a museum to play an active role in community?

A museum’s nature and characteristics facilitates the need to establish a interactive relationship between itself and the society. Museums, as explained by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), is an institution serving for education and aesthetic enjoyment. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) also demonstrates that museums maneuver to organize its collection and design programs for “educational and aesthetic purposes”. The International Council of Museums straightforwardly points out that museums should be open to public and render service for society and the local community.  These institutions address the educational role that museums play and intentionally highlight the interactive relationship between the society and museums. The belief that museums are holy places, storing precious artifacts, has been doubted by many scholars. John Cotton Dana, mentioned that an ideal museum should reach as much of the population as possible and be in proximity to the center of a city. The reason for the existence of museums is for the informal education of the public and as a service to society. Although the nature of a museum can be modified by humans and may change over time, the consensus or agreement that most of us have reached so far in terms of the role of a museum is that it should serve the public so that it can initiate potential at a maximum level.

Another reason for building a connection between museums and outside world is the internal demand of a museum. The organization, administration of museums, design of museum programs and the management of collections in museums all requires a network of external contractors, the engagement of those who can satisfy needs of the museum and help them reach public expectation. For example, in order to gain public trust and get an understanding of what direction museum programs can lead towards, more and more museums adopt the strategy of crowdsourcing. To encourage people to participate in the direction or guidance of museum projects, some museums use social medias such as online forums to connect with the public and understand the public need as much as possible. In terms of collection stewardship, museums have to integrate visitors’ experiences, personal interests, and museum resources into the consideration of the management and use of collections. Museums’ own operations and the purposes of serving public cannot be isolated from the society. Indeed, it is the reciprocal relationship built between museums and the public that help developing museums and meet the internal demands of a museum.

What does museum’s connection mean to me? Why is it crucial for me?

The philosophy that a museum should be open to public and building connections with society has led to a shift in the role of museum workers. As a future museum professional, I need to consider the role that I play in front of museum audiences. Not only should I become a collection manager, or exhibition planner, or museum educator, but more importantly I need to take the responsibility of acting as a facilitator between museums and the public. The mission that museums undertake for informal education and public memory always reminds me of my goal, which is to engage visitors in museums and make them feel freely exhibitions. Also, as a museum visitor who does not have many impressive experiences and happy memories, I do not want visitors to have miserable and frustrating memories when they stepped out from museums. I want them to be able to relate their museum experiences to their daily life, and make museum a social space for family and friends.

To make museums connected, what might be challenges or difficulties for museum experts and museum itself?

What I will eventually encounter in my career might be a realistic museum working environment instead of the romantic picture depicted in textbooks. Many factors have to be taken into consideration for museum professionals. One thing is that we need to be cautious that outside connection will not negatively intervene with the administration of museums. For example, individuals like philanthropists who donate their collections to the museums or fund museums may want to have more say in affairs of the museum and to be involved in decisions of the museum’s mission and scopes. Multiple personal goals or interests may also be involved in the museum’s connection with the public. The other challenge for museum programmers may be in keeping a balance between the freedom enjoyed by the public and the application of the museum’s resources including money and time. Engaging the public into the museum experiences also requires certain rules in order to avoid the waste of museum resources and make the work of museum effective.

In conclusion, it is a long way for museums to transform into a paradigm that everyone may agree on. But the goal of keeping a dynamic relationship with public and connecting with the society should always be a focus for museum experts.

Hello from Your New Editors!

Hello and Welcome Back!

It’s graduation time in academia! A time to pass torches, hand over keys, etc. As rising second year students in the Tufts Museum Studies program, we are very excited to take over where Dominque and Andrea left off, and we wish them heartfelt congratulations and lots of luck as they make their way into the museum world.

For our first post, we want to take a moment to introduce ourselves and let you know who we are and what we hope to bring to the blog this year. We also want to hear from you, to make sure this space responds to what you want to have in a museum studies blog. Please leave comments or drop us a line at our email in the sidebar.

With that, please bear with us for the long post this week and allow us to introduce ourselves!

Danielle Bennett, Museum Studies and History

Hi, I’m Danielle and I’m so pleased to be co-piloting this blog through the next year! I am a student in the Museum Studies and History program so I hope to bring you news and perspectives on that side of the museum field from little historic houses to large institutions.

I study American history, and am particularly interested in the intersections of race, gender, and class as the United States industrialized and took on the dimensions we know today. I am deeply interested in civics education in the United States and believe that museums have a large role to play as informal educators of both students and adults. I am a believer of the importance of polyvocality within museums – both on the exhibit floor and in the development stages, and strongly believe in grounding museums within their communities for mutual benefit. I hope to highlight these issues in the blog in coming months.

I received my BA in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which was undoubtedly an influence on my historical interests. I am based in New York City, where I spent time working as a political and labor organizer before spending several years at a telecommunications tech startup. I am currently a Teaching Assistant for the Tufts History Department and I work as the Social Media Manager for the Alice Austen House in Staten Island, NY. This historic house museum gets to weave threads about an early female LGBTQ figure, New York City history, and photography into a unique story with a lot of contemporary resonance. If you’re ever in New York, make sure you pay us a visit! I’ll also soon be interning with New-York Historical Society, one of the first museums in the country, with a collection that ranges from Tiffany Lamps to vintage board games, to protest signs from the 2017 Women’s March, and beyond! I hope to share perspectives on presenting history influenced by both of these organizations.

Amanda S. Wall, Museum Studies and Education

I am Amanda and am so excited to be your new Museum Education Editor. I am originally from New York by way of Los Angeles and have just completed my first year in the Museum Education M.A. program. My journey to Museum Education started as a child with a love for museums and archaeological sites. I loved learning everything and was always so enthused to share what I learned with others. Museums were a way to connect with the past to understand the present. This love led me to pursue a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Spanish, concentrating in Bioarchaeology, at SUNY New Paltz. While at New Paltz, I had the chance to conduct research on a newly discovered skeletal population culminating in a final project and poster on sex determination. I also had the opportunity to attend an Archaeological field school at the National Historic Landmark, Historic Huguenot Street. Upon graduating, I chose to serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer with City Year New York working with students at an East Harlem elementary school.

Although I loved both archaeology and education, I wasn’t clear on how I could pursue both interests until I began volunteering at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. I started as a Gallery Interpreter, becoming certified in five different exhibitions as a Docent-in-Training, before moving on to the Vertebrate Paleontology collections team where I worked rehousing, inventorying, and researching archival techniques. My experience at NHM led me to realize that a profession in the Museum field would be a perfect way to merge my two academic interests. In the coming year I will be interning with the MIT Museum and the Tsongas Industrial History Center. In my free time I love to hike, travel, and play with my dog. As the Tufts Museum Studies Blog’s Museum Education Editor I will be focusing on museums and the public sphere, both in terms of education and how we are relating to and engaging our public.

Kelsey Petersen, Museum Studies and Art History

Hello everyone! My name is Kelsey Petersen, and I will be representing the art history side of Tufts’ Museum Studies program! Before I introduce myself, I would like to say a big thank you to Andrea and Dominique for this past year of thought-provoking discussions, helpful job postings, marvelous newsletters, and of course for their enthusiasm for all things ‘museum.’ We’ll miss you, and best of luck as you launch into your next stage of museum work!

It surprised me how fast my first year as a Master’s candidate in art history and museum studies flew by; in some ways it feels like we were just in Museums Today, debating the Berkshire Museum and exploring the multifaceted roles museums cast in our communities. As I reflect on my coursework over these past two semesters, I realize my favorite areas of learning occurred when discussions from my art history and museum studies courses intersected. For example, I first learned about decolonization methodologies in Museums Today, when I studied the Abbe Museum as a case study of a museum that has transformed its display, collecting, and consulting practices to prioritize Wabanaki voice. These critical methodologies are what I often ground myself in, whether it is in an African Art seminar or Exhibition Planning. Overall, I hope to bring these interdisciplinary intersections with me into my new role as co-editor, and further connect art historical approaches to the museum world.

Now for a little about my background: I grew up in the Bay Area, California and lived in Los Angeles as an undergraduate, so I must confess my first New England winter was a little challenging to get used to (although I did enjoy all the activities that came with it, like cider donuts and snow days). Now that spring is here and the sun is back out, I’m excited for more bike rides! Wherever I go, my bike and a book are usually not too far away.

My first entry point into the museum world was when I worked in a visitor services position at a contemporary art museum. I quickly fell in love with the power of art to connect people and ideas, and wanted to become more involved with the behind-the-scenes aspect of programming. After interning in the education department at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, I knew for sure this labor of love was for me, and decided to pursue my Master’s for more related opportunities. Since moving to Boston and starting the Tufts’ program, I started a collections internship at the Fitchburg Art Museum, and have happily discovered another possible career niche. Ultimately, this first year in the Tufts’ dual program has been incredible, and I can’t wait for another year of enjoyable challenges, new perspectives, and learning.

We are really looking forward to further exploring and discussing the museum world with you, and we welcome you to contribute as guest author at any time!

Preservation & Presentation: Tourists at Historic Sites (Part II)

Today’s post comes to you from current Tufts Museum Education student Carlos Lu. Please check see last weeks’ post for Part I. Check out these posts for more of Carlos’ writings.

Last time I wrote about a common paradoxical issue that faces many historic site museums: how to present history to the public while maintaining the site from the wear that very public inflicts upon it.  While the natural inclination may be to focus on the maintenance of the site as the wear builds up, that approach is a purely reactive measure.  Instead I present to you readers two examples of sites that use active attempts to prevent the wear to their sites, both primarily focusing on the tourists themselves.  Additionally, I want to highlight a slightly controversial trend in how the detrimental effects tourism has on historic sites is perceived.

With the expectation that the wear caused by tourism will negatively affect the area, taking a preemptive approach to how tourists flow in and out of an environment can mitigate those affects before they happen.  In Gulyang, China students of architecture and civil engineering used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in order to map out the movement and development of tourism over the past century within their hometown.  By tracking the development of street patterns, buildings related to tourism, and using an algorithm tracking the literal ‘flow’ of tourist movements, GIS software can predict the most economically likely places for future development and where this development might conflict with heritage sites.  If certain services such as hotels or restaurants can be used to direct tourism around particular locations rather than through them, archaeological sites and the governments that want to utilize them can help ensure their survival.  Then it becomes just a matter of modifying zoning laws.  Understanding the inherent morphological evolution and how space is utilized allows local governments to better plan more sustainable tourism at historic sites.  While the technology is still relatively new, it provides positive benefits for historic site museum preemptive care.

Another way to involve tourists in the preemptive care of historic sites is to educate them on what their visitation actually does.  By disseminating information to tourists about the detrimental effects tourism has on historic sites, tourists themselves can play an active role in conservation.  In Hwange National Park of Zimbabwe, tourists were given a survey about their knowledge on the safety of the animals in the preserve.  Using convenience sampling, the park was able to determine that more than two thirds of visitors had knowledge of the potentially hazardous materials their visitation could expose to the animals.  More importantly the survey revealed that while local visitors received their knowledge from newspaper media, and foreign visitors received their knowledge from internet sources, the biggest source of conservation knowledge was from word-of-mouth; a general awareness from their communities, family, and friends that careless tourism could negatively affect the wildlife in the park.  This indicated an increased need for awareness programs instituted by the park.  While a natural park reserve is not a historic site museum, care of the animals within present much the same concerns of human involvement seen at historic sites.  As such, the same conclusions can be drawn about the need for awareness programs, word-of-mouth advertisement, and ensuring visitors are aware of the potentially negative effects tourism has on historic sites.

Probably the best example in recent memory of the role of public awareness plays with the preservation of historic sites is the public media’s response to an incident at Luxor Palace in Egypt.  In 2013 a tourist named Ding Jinhao wrote in Chinese “Ding Jinhao was here” on the walls of Luxor Palace, scraping his message into the millennia old building.  This teenager has since been eviscerated on the Chinese social media tool Weibo, an analogue of Twitter in the States.  This mass social shaming extended to the governmental level when the Chinese government issued a public statement warning Chinese citizens to behave whilst overseas.  While we certainly wouldn’t endorse any form of social media browbeating, the incident triggered an important shift in how Chinese tourists treat the various sites they visit.  An alternative approach to inundating visitors with a sense of shame would be to offer more awareness to visitors on the lasting effects tourism has on historic sites, highlighting how past events have effected sites today.

The two teenagers from the U.K. who visited Auschwitz had a desire to cherish cultural heritage that is admirable.  The natural predilection to wanting to own a piece of history got the better of them, though, and is representative of a mistake on the part of the Auschwitz site itself.  Visitors need to be better educated to the effects their involvement at historic sites have.  History is ephemeral and a historic site museum, and any other museum for that matter, struggles in futile against the tide of time in order to preserve what little of the past it can.  But at the same time, tourism is an integral part of the maintenance and care of a historic site museum.  Aware of the problems that come with tourism, such as the regular use or the attempts to bring home trinkets, can better prepare a museum to face the issues as they arise.  The best thing a historic site museum can do is educate its visitors of not only the history the site has, but also the part tourists play in keeping that history alive.  That means not just the metaphorical way their experiences keep the stories of the past alive, but the actual, real way their efforts of preservation while visiting can keep a site going.  By being aware of this problem, museums and tourists can better manage their collections for future generations.

 

Preservation & Presentation: Tourists at Historic Sites (Part I)

Today’s post comes to you from current Tufts Museum Education student Carlos Lu. Please check back next Monday for Part II of Carlos’ post. Check out these posts for more of Carlos’ writings.

Earlier this summer two students from the U.K. were punished for attempting to steal from the museum at Auschwitz, the famous former Nazi extermination center.  Rather than an elaborate museum heist, these two teens on a school trip attempted to pocket a button, two pieces of glass, pieces of a hair clipper, and pieces of a spoon.  Convicted of a crime that typically carries a 1-10 year imprisonment sentence, they were released with a 1000 polish Zloty fine as a reduced sentence as they were both minors.  The two boys apologized profusely and claimed they picked up the items “without thinking”, not considering their act to bear as much significance as it did.  The museum curator confirmed that visitors often try to pilfer artifacts for souvenirs. Trying to bring a piece of history home, large or small, is virtually part of human nature.  This part of human nature, though, can mean a huge amount of detritus for historic site museums.  The Coliseum in Rome averages an annual 4 million visitors; if only .1% of these visitors decide to take a single pebble from the premises, that’s 4 thousand pebbles of the Coliseum lost a year.  These small numbers add up over time and result in some of the major wear historic site museums must face.

But tourism plays a major part in museums’ place in world society. As globalization increases, the importance of sharing the lessons and experiences of local heritage sites to foreign audiences grows with it.  Tourism invigorates local communities to shine a greater light upon their traditions, turning the familiar and mundane into showpieces to be relished by newer audiences. Old customs can be reborn as periphery celebrations to historic sites.  A sense of identity in the face of an increasingly homogenous world can be reinforced when the homogenous world comes to a community’s doorstep.  For tourists, visitation to historic sites broadens personal understanding and helps to reshape perspectives; learning about heritage and applying the feelings and experiences to your own life is the explicit purpose of heritage tourism.  Both parties strengthen their own cultural individuality while sharing their commonalities. This mating of cultures is only possible via heritage tourism, allowing cultures to share and mingle the memes that embody them.  As more of these memes are expressed and shared, they form the genes of the future, globalized society.  In order to ensure a healthy balance of cultural diffusion, proper conservation efforts must be made to ensure authenticity to the memetic exchange.  That is to say, a historic site museum’s objective includes the proper representation of the history embodied by its site, uninfluenced by the preconceived notions of its visitors.

While this may be enough motivation for the museum educator, the more promising result for a museum administrator is the financial benefits tourism provides.  The financial advantages of tourism for historic sites benefit and encourage conservation efforts in a self-perpetuating cycle to increase more tourism. In short, conservation efforts require funding and heritage tourism provides a means to this end.  In Peru, tourism funding is the primary source of income for the restoration efforts of the UNESCO world heritage site Machu Pichu. In Japan a concept called “green tourism” is used to divert funds to more rural areas.  By using historic sites in rural areas of Japan as the focus, townships plan to provide proper maintenance and care for the very sites they are using to lure tourists in.

So in the face of these problems, how can historic sites and historic museums perpetuate the restoration and conversation of their stewardship when the very process they use to fund this perpetuation causes even more damage?  Next time I’ll expand upon a few case studies of ways tourism and historic locations can coexist in peace.

Interpreting the Charlestown Navy Yard in Context

Today’s post comes to you from Carlos Lu, current Tufts student in the Museum Education Master’s program. Here, he discusses an experience he recently had at the USS Constitution Museum.

As part of training for my new position at the USS Constitution Museum, I visited the Charlestown Navy Yard’s Visitor Center. There, a National Park Services Ranger named Patrick Boyce proceeded to inform us about the position of the Charlestown Navy Yard as the “black sheep” of Boston’s National Park Services family.

The National Park Services (NPS) of Boston focuses primarily in handling and preserving sites important to the American Revolution, rightfully so as Boston is the inception of America’s choice to cast off its chains of colonialism and become its own, independently governed state. But that means the design of Massachusetts’ NPS interpretation is seen through the lens of the American Revolution. Where does this leave a shipyard that wasn’t built at the time of the American Revolution and saw its highest levels of use during the Second World War? If the responses from the park ranger is any indication, it leaves the still culturally significant, government run service feeling excluded, neglected, and pretty confused.

Let’s step back for a second. For those who don’t know, the Charlestown Navy Yard was built in the 18th Century to build ships capable of defending the United States’ merchant fleet from those who would do it harm, in particular the Barbary pirates from Algiers.  It was the construction site of the USS Constitution, one of the original six frigates that made up the United States Navy. Since that time its employment reached its peak during the Second World War when it employed women to support the “boys overseas” with their welding prowess.  In 1974, the Navy Yard became a National Historic Park of Boston.

Currently the red bricked path of the Freedom Trail leads right to the front door of the USS Constitution Museum and the Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center, both essential fonts of information for those wanting to learn about important times in Boston’s history. However, they are totally unrelated in time period to the other sites on the Trail.  Already as an educator at the museum I have had to field questions from visitors asking me the relevance of the USS Constitution to the American Revolution.  No, she did not fight the British during the Revolutionary War, she was actually built much after.  Yes, the British landed nearby during the Battle of Bunker Hill, but the Navy Yard wasn’t built yet at the time.  No, this is not a museum for the Constitution the document, but for the ship.

So how does the Charlestown Navy Yard highlight its important place in Boston’s history while distinguishing it from the Revolutionary War?

The Navy Yard does not have a concrete mission statement that encapsulates its importance to the city’s history.  Instead it falls under the greater NPS of Boston’s mission statement to encourage visitors to “Discover how one city could be the Cradle of Liberty, site of the first major battle of American Revolution, and home to many who espoused that freedom can be extended to all”.  Instead, the Navy Yard should focus its interpretational efforts on its role as a protector of American Liberty.  The USS Constitution and its five sister ships defended American interests across the seven seas, ensuring that along with the goods traded on board merchant vessels came American ideals of freedom.  The employment of women and African-Americans without a difference in pay during World War II speaks volumes to Boston’s history of racial and gender equality. This history could easily be interpreted throughout the Navy Yard, yet buildings like the Charlestown Ropewalk Complex, the oldest rope factory in the country, currently on its way to being turned into rental space for residents and commercial services, has nary a sign of historical interpretation in sight.

The Charlestown Naval Yard is a government run institution that has active Navy sailors, National Park Rangers, and civilian museum educators like myself working through its grounds.  That means that at least three institutions are working with varying goals to utilize the historic site, and yet despite this, or perhaps because of this, the Naval Yard does not get the attention in the public eye that such a historic landmark deserves. Utilizing resources from all three sites could lead to clearer interpretation and a stronger site.

 

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