I want to give a hearty welcome to the incoming Tufts’ students joining the museum studies program. This is a prestigious school with a well-connected group of lecturers, and just as Jennifer and Darcy recently reflected on what museums are and what they should do to be better, so will you in your new course of study. Please feel free to send in an article about what you’ve learned, and don’t hesitate to ask the 2nd-years all the questions you may have.
I am going to weigh in briefly with what I’ve learned this summer after my internship collecting women’s oral histories and how that affects museums.
Oral histories are vital components of modern historical research and museum education. They create a link to the past about any conceivable subject, and all museums should utilize this tool to engage a more diverse audience. The stories told can capture a whole group of peoples’ attentions because they are hearing “their” story through another person— “their” story in the sense that they can relate the most to a story from someone of a similar background and life pathway. Though oral histories are important pieces to include in museum collections, they are not enough when it comes to including more diverse voices in museum exhibits. Museums need to be willing and able to work at every level of their community, and the staff, and sift through all layers of history to achieve a historical narrative that can bring the most diverse audience together in a common goal of attaining knowledge about the many layers of history.
Museums are reinventing themselves now because they recognize that older institutions were built on the perspective of the white, middle to upper class point of view, and that is not representative of America today. It is a museum’s social responsibility to create equal cultural opportunities in their space.
This is something you’ll be learning in the Museum’s Today class, First-Years. In September, ICOM is voting on a new definition of a museum, that emphasizes inclusivity and dialogue that encourages “human dignity, … social justice, global equality and planetary wellbeing.” Be thinking about what the editors at this blog and the Tufts’ Museum Studies Community have been reflecting on when it comes to what a museum is and where it is going, and where it should go. I’d love to discuss it with you in the lounge!
I don’t know about you all, but now that I am busy with graduate school and work, I don’t have a lot of time to read for fun like I once did. I spend a lot of time watching TV that inspires me, but maybe isn’t teaching me anything new. Feeling cerebral while also being relaxed is one of those small joys in life, and I find those moments through podcasts.
With this post, I hope to introduce people to podcasts about museums and by museums and museum professionals, but also about history, art history, and education, which are the three disciplines associated with the Tufts’ Museum Studies program. The disclaimer is I haven’t listened to all of these podcasts, but if anyone has a special review of one, please leave a comment so we all know which ones are worth checking out. Also, this just a taste of what’s out there, so feel free to share ones that interest you, too.
Hopefully, this list has some podcasts that will entertain you for many weeks to come. Also, I hope this demonstrates what museums can do to further educate and entertain the public and what museum professionals can do to help each other.
Here are a few of the latest postings for museum job positions. Happy hunting!
The opportunity to travel into the past has arisen at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C. The famous Fossil Hall has been closed for renovations the past five years, and I am in the lucky position of being around when it reopened with its new exhibit: Deep Time, funded by a whopping $35 million from David Koch. Despite Koch’s controversial ties to this exhibit, I’m hoping this little peek will inspire you to travel back in time with the Smithsonian.
First, let me briefly describe the old gallery. It was basically two paths one could take between static displays of bones and replicas of said bones. There were wooden barriers keeping the visitor at bay. There was frankly little color besides white and brown—some pops of green to give the impression that we are amongst some Jurassic Park ferns. Walking through this ancient exhibit, you couldn’t feel the danger that these giant beasts once held. Those real-life monsters were once the rulers of the land, and the old Fossil Hall had its shining moment a few decades ago, but it was due for a reboot.
The new director explained how the original Fossil Hall opened in 1911 and was partially renovated a few times over the next century but had never undergone a remastering that integrated the science and technology from all that time. So, the exhibit closed in 2014 and now here we are in 2019 with an unforgettable summer for dinosaur and museum lovers. As one team member put it, this new exhibit shows how all life is connected.
The old exhibit had the dinos mainly standing alone, but in this exhibit, they were interacting with us and each other. They are fighting to the death and hanging over to look at us as we look at them. There are versatile interactives from high-tech computer games to closer looks at 3-D scans of skeleton heads, to automatons, to bronze statues you can get up close and personal with. Though really, everything can be considered personal in this exhibit, because the message is clear as one travels from deep in time to our future that though humans weren’t there to save the dinosaurs, we are here now to save the Earth from ourselves.
Recently, I got to sit in on an early stage exhibit planning meeting. There were basic concept designs on the screen to show where the large artifacts would go. The team consisted of curators, an educator, an editor/writer, a project manager, a designer, and a consultant for discussing the experiential side of the narrative at hand. They spent an hour trying to nail down the Big Idea and major outcomes as personalities clashed. I was reminded how much goes into making an exhibit. Also, getting to listen to a museum “outsider” in the consultant was interesting because I finally understood that I am now an insider—I’m understanding more everyday what goes into running a museum, and that is great, but it does take away the option of a simple jaunt through an exhibit when I am focused on the application of museum studies.
I will have to walk back through Deep Time with an outsider, so to speak, because their mindset is “inside” all the fun. I want to give huge congratulations to the Deep Time exhibit planning team for bringing some magic back to the museum, the National Mall, and millions of kids of all ages.
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