Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Author: Emma K. Cook

Within these Walls: My Summer Experience in the Revitalizing Historic House Museums Course

This post comes to us from Emma Cook, a student in the History and Museum Studies program. She reflects on her experience in the program’s summer course Revitalizing Historic House Museums. For anyone interested in taking the course, go to – registration opens Monday, April 9.

Historic house museums are the largest category of museums in the US. As future museum professionals, we are likely to work with a historic house site sometime in our careers. I found the Revitalizing Historic House Museums course to be an integral component of my graduate education and future career. What makes the course unique is the first-hand experiences provided throughout the class. Case studies, guest speakers, blog posts, and field trips in correlation with our class assignments provided practical skills and knowledge.

What I most enjoyed was visiting historic houses in the area. The first site we visited was the Eustis Estate in Milton, MA. The Eustis Estate was built in 1878 and is the only example of William Ralph Emerson’s significant contribution to American architecture. This historic house was recently opened to the public by Historic New England in May 2017. The Eustis Estate provided a model of new technological approaches being introduced to historic house museums. In-gallery media provided interpretation of the Eustis Estate and a full-scale mobile guide created greater access of the content to visitors. Discussions with staff taught us how the historic house was cared for and updated. The Mementos jewelry exhibition, presented by
Historic New England, demonstrated what new exhibition techniques are used in historic house museums today. I found this experience fascinating, as we were learning first-hand how the Eustis Estate was transformed from a home into a house museum.

The highlight of my course experience was visiting the Kennedy Family Cape House in Hyannis, MA. Our final project of the course was to prepare a report describing the best and highest uses for the property. Kennedy family members gave the home to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute (EMK) to preserve and open to the public. The home itself is nearly completely intact. Photographs of the family line the walls of the home along with artwork by Jackie and Edward “Ted” Kennedy. A table with coffee ring stains in the sunroom marks the place where Ted Kennedy did his work. From JFK’s bedroom (untouched since his death) to the Kennedy grandchildren’s measurements written on the wall in one of the halls, the family
home breathes life and represents a story that wants to be shared. As the only graduate class allowed to visit the site, having the opportunity to not only walk through the Kennedy home, but also create a project that would be viewed and considered by the EMK in their future planning for the site, was a once in a lifetime experience. The responsibility of creating new plans for the house and doing it well, has earned Tufts students the opportunity to continue visiting.

This course was the best part of my summer! What you learn from this class is both inspiring and rewarding. This course prepares you for a role in historic house museums and gives you tools you can apply in many areas of professional practice.

To register go to: You do not need to attend Tufts to register. Those wishing to audit the course are welcome. The first summer session begins on May 24 and ends on June 30. Class is from 6-9:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.


Living in the Past: The Heritage House Program at Strawbery Banke Museum

This week’s contribution comes from Emma Cook, who is in her second year in the Masters of Museum Studies/History program, and  is the Collections Department Intern at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. 

In a transitional world, museums face the pressures to stay relevant to society. Change has redefined the public’s idea of museum experiences and definitions of patriotism. Public demand has grown for museums to reinvent themselves in ways that will increase public engagement and relevance, while maintaining sustainability in historic preservation and financial affairs. Strawbery Banke has many traditions and has relied on many traditional practices, but the museum understands its need to adapt and remain flexible in an ever-changing society. What separates Strawbery Banke from other outdoor museums is its preservation of one of the oldest neighborhoods in urban America, spanning a lifetime of nearly four centuries that has been brought back to life by the museum and the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Heritage House Program creates the opportunity for community members to live and work within a historic American neighborhood, while providing financial sustainability in the preservation of its historic houses.

Strawbery Banke consists of 39 preserved historic buildings, with many on their original foundations. These historic houses interpret the past culture and lives of individuals who resided in Puddle Dock from the 1690s to the neighborhood’s decline in the 1950s. The Heritage House Program was designed to revitalize underutilized buildings on the Strawbery Banke Museum property for rental space and museum revenue. The program not only preserves the historic structures and restores them to a specific period in time; it provides residential and commercial space to the local community, and a substantial income for sustainable pursuits. The Heritage House Program contains 15 buildings that, when completed, will provide contemporary residential apartments and offices. So far there are seven completed apartments and six buildings containing 31 offices. The work is funded by individuals, corporations, grants, and in-kind contributions with a percentage of the annual rental income from each unit reserved for the preservation fund to ensure continued maintenance and funding for all historic houses on the museum campus.

Presently, the Penhallow House is in the workings of a complete restoration with Heritage House Program funding. This historic house is a site on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and the only “saltbox” house remaining at Strawbery Banke Museum. Further planning and communications are underway in developing the future role of this historic house at Strawbery Banke Museum.

Since its rescue from the 1950s city renewal projects, the Strawbery Banke Museum has not only found control of its own site and economy, but also shared authority with its community and city history. The vast changes in the museum’s look, function, and internal structure, over the years since its establishment in 1978, demonstrate an ever-changing dynamic of a reinventing museum. The ability to not only find funding through modifying excess space, but also including the community to utilize this space, is a unique strategy worth learning from, as the Heritage House Program exemplifies historic preservation with an outcome of community inclusion through rental space and revenue to support museum operations and exhibition space.

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