Museum Studies at Tufts University

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“New Ways to Talk About Nature” at the AAM Annual Conference

The next few weeks we will be posting reflections from students who attended the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Conference, held in St. Louis, Missouri, May 6-10. This first post comes from Erica Colwell, a current M.A. candidate in the Museum Education program. To see more of Erica’s work on the blog, click here

At a session titled “New Ways to talk About Nature” at this year’s American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference in St. Louis, educators from several natural history museums presented projects and exhibitions their respective museums had recently undertaken to reach new audiences, build lasting community partnerships, and to more successfully interpret not only the specimens within their museums, but also the natural world outside their museums. The talks of two of the most compelling speakers, Karen Wise and Beth Redmond-Jones, are summarized below.

Karen Wise, former Vice President of Education and Exhibits at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, explained that for too long, natural history museums have remained “dead zoos”— static, stodgy places with bones and specimens that are cut off from nature, despite purporting to educate visitors about the living world around them. Wise stated that many children from urban Los Angeles may not have many opportunities to explore nature, or may not realize what around them constitutes nature. In an effort to better support this audience, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County underwent a major renovation several years ago in order to update its exhibits, programs, and to become an indoor/outdoor museum. The outdoor part of the museum now hosts a habitat garden with plants and animals native to Southern California, and the researchers and scientists that work at the museum often conduct their research at outdoor sites on the museum’s grounds where visitors can see the scientists at work, and perhaps even take part in an active research project. “Citizen Science,” a phrase used to describe getting community members involved with scientific research, is an important tool according to Wise. She wants the Museums’ visitors to feel that they are scientists themselves, and that they know enough to be able to contribute to the important work that goes on at the museum. The Museum’s website has a page dedicated to citizen science opportunities, and states that “In order to understand our city better, the Museum has begun a long-term biodiversity study of urban habitats and surrounding natural areas. Our goal is to not only increase our knowledge of local wildlife, but also to involve our local community in this study. From lizards to ladybugs, we need your help in each of our community science projects — the Museum can’t do it alone! “

Beth Redmond-Jones, the Senior Director of Public Programs at the San Diego Natural History Museum, spoke about an exhibition her museum’s library opened in order to attract visitors who don’t typically consider themselves “science people.” The San Diego Natural History Museum has an exceptional library full of nature-related rare books, manuscripts, maps, and more. Called Extraordinary Ideas, the exhibition featured, according to the Museum’s website, “Rare books, art, photographs, and historical documents from the Research Library’s 56,000-volume collection that pay homage to the past, present, and future of citizen science” including treasures like “An extremely rare copy of the gigantic Double Elephant Folio of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The folio, one of only a few copies in existence, depicts life-size renditions of a wide variety of North America’s birds.” This exhibition’s goal was to share some of the library’s most interesting and scientifically valuable collection items with the public, and in doing so, attract visitors that are interested in books, illustrations, art, and history instead of just biology. Redmond-Jones called this exhibition interdisciplinary, because though it still revolved around nature, the theme of the exhibition was closely linked to the humanities.

Hello from the New Editors!

Hey everyone! We are both so excited to step in as your new editors for this upcoming year.  To get started, we have some brief bios about ourselves, so you can get to know us a little better. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you throughout the next 12 months! As always, feel free to send us any articles or material that can be used for future blog posts.

Andrea Woodberry– Hi everyone! My name is Andrea, I am heading into my second year in the Tufts Museum Education program, and I’m excited to be editing the blog with Dominique this coming year! I am originally from Minnesota and graduated last year from Luther College in Iowa with a history major and minors in French and museum studies. I said goodbye to the corn fields and blue lakes to pursue a degree in museum education. History was my entry point into a love for museums and through an internship I quickly realized museum Ed was the place for me. I love finding points of connection between museums and their visitors. I see museums as places for people to come together and am passionate about developing ways for museums to continuously deepen new and existing audiences’ experiences. While my background is in history and culture museums, I love discussing how museums of all disciplines can learn from each other to benefit the whole field. In my free time I like to bake, read, and explore. I’m looking forward to connecting with you all through the blog this year over events and topics in the museum field!


Dominique Marcial Hey museum-lovers, I am a Northeast Pennsylvania native with an affinity for canonical literature; Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, you name it, I’ve read it. I am a frequent jogger, with a tendency to listen to Indie to get me through the pain past mile 5. I have a Bachelor’s degree in  English Literature (surprise, surprise) from Lafayette College, and originally intended to become a teacher. Yet after a summer internship at a local museum, I fell in love with the idea of free choice and object based learnings in the museum setting. Low and behold, here I am, pursuing a Master’s in Museum Education at Tufts. I also work at the Concord Museum and intern at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

My love for museums stemmed from an early age. I was the type of child who would ask to go to local historic houses or museums as birthday gifts. The narratives behind the objects drew me in. As an ardent reader, I loved the stories behind the objects regarding past owners, or creators of the objects, as well as their purposes. As a woman in my early twenties, with a little more museum experience under my belt, I can say that I am truly invested in the community relations and services a museum provides to its local sphere of influence. Whether that be through school programs, senior tours, or public programs, the museum acts as a medium of information regarding not only its collection, but also contemporary social connections and conversations. It is truly up to us as museum professionals to make more accessible connections with the community to be a source of education, contemplation, and even change.

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Summer through a Social Lens

The first post of this new editorial season is going to come from Dominique, discussing three Boston museum exhibits this summer that hone in on social provocation, demonstration, and change. Here is a cursory look at (in my opinion) the most socially contemplative and thought provoking installations and exhibits around Boston this summer, that will call you to stop and reflect upon prevalent topics such as immigration, mental health, and forms of resistance. But hey, if your travels don’t pull you to Boston this summer, this will also provide a basis for these exhibits which you can further explore through the omnipotent internet.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston “I must tell you what I saw” Objects of Witness and Resistance.

On Display until July 30, 2017

This extremely powerful exhibit hosts a wide array of objects meant to provoke conversation regarding genocide, mass violence, and responses to these types of hate crimes around the world. The exhibit expands through millennia ranging from ancient depictions of war and Babylonian deportation to J.M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship to the Armenian Genocide. This exhibit is bold, only housing eight paintings, but it is provocative. The pieces demand discussion and beg to be strung together in a timeline that acknowledges the atrocities and devaluation done to people who fall under the category of “different” or “oppressed” in comparison to the majority population at any given time.

Museum of Science “Many Faces of our Mental Health”

Opens May 27.

99 facial portraits will be on display throughout the summer at the Museum of Science depicting the appearances of those who suffer from bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia, and individuals who are a support system for those suffering from mental health conditions. The exhibit also features more biological components of mental health, such as DNA models that highlight specific genes and traits, and data that explore findings in professional research regarding mental health. The exhibit balances the more human side of mental illnesses with the biologically based research of diseases, which does an excellent job of encompassing a holistic understanding of mental health.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston- Nari Ward’s “Sun Splashed”   

On view until September 4,2017

Jamaican-born artist Nari Ward takes a materialistically fresh approach to the social topics of citizenship, urban spaces, and immigration with his found-object installations. The media in this exhibit is unique to say the least. There is a compilation of photography, sculptures, film, and installations made from shopping carts, and a fire escape. The pieces in this exhibit are meant to be reflected upon from their very material makeup to their spatial placement. What does it mean to be an immigrant? What defines urban life? These are all questions to be asked.

Hopefully these will exhibits will make it on your summer museum list and will evoke a response to the social conversations they are trying to induce.








Museums in the News: Missouri Historical Society

This past week, the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s theme was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” a topic that continues to become more crucial to discuss than ever in recent years. Dr. Francis Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society and the local host committee chair for the Annual Meeting, stated that “museums are very hungry” for this opportunity to discuss diversity and inclusion in the field, and that St. Louis was a particularly relevant location to host that discussion given the region’s responses to issues like these in the past. For the first time, this discussion was opened up to the public as well, in the form of a national survey of museum leadership and demographics. Dr. Donald Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American and a co-chair of the host committee, noted that the goal of this meeting was to encourage some real changes in the way museums operate with regards to diversity and inclusion rather than further empty talk with no action.

With that, AAM delivered a new award at the Annual Meeting this year, the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) award. AAM launched the award last year as a way to “honor and celebrate institutions of any type or size who advance the museum field, either internally through workplace programs and policies or externally with museum audiences and communities.” The Missouri History Museum was the first recipient of this award, a museum that has shown time and again its devotion to diversity and inclusion in its local community. Among other initiatives, the museum hosts their ACTivists program wherein re-enactors help bring  St. Louis’ history of civil rights activism to life for museum-goers, especially students and those who may have participated in the movement themselves. Sarah Sims, the director of K-12 education programs at the Missouri History Museum, stated that the museum also works toward diversity and inclusion through “the focus of our exhibits, making sure we’re telling multiple different perspectives and stories that represent every St. Louisan, and also through our programming,” of which the museum hosts about 700 public programs per year. In addition, the museum works to  train and support all of their staff in a way that reflects these standards.

As we think about how our own museums can and do promote diversity and inclusion, we can also ponder on an “uncomfortable question” that Dr. Levine poses in light of recent threats to cut federal funding for arts and humanities institutions and the politicized nature of museums: “Will museums continue to serve everyone in the future?” Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


For further reading, see the following articles:

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