Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Personal series (page 1 of 33)

Introducing New Editors!

It’s that time once again for the editors we have come to know and love to hand over the reins to upcoming editors. Congratulations to you all on your graduation! We as new editors will do our best to uphold the standards you have set as we take it from here. 

Now to introduce ourselves! Your new editors are:

Alexandra Harter

Alexandra Harter, MA in History and Museum Studies

Hello everyone! My name is Alexandra Harter and I am starting my second year in the History and Museum Studies MA program at Tufts. Growing up in Virginia, there were tons of opportunities to go to museums – especially those with a focus on history – as I went through school. While I loved studying history since I was a child, it wasn’t until my undergraduate studies at the University of Richmond that I decided to pursue my love of history in my career. My interest in museums played a significant part in this decision, as it was during my semester abroad in London and all of the time that I spent at institutions such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum that helped me to realize what I was passionate about.

I discovered a passion for archival research and academic writing throughout my studies and interned at Agecroft Hall, a Tudor era historic house museum that was transported from England to Richmond, VA in the early twentieth century. Accessibility is a particular concern that I have within the museum, so I worked to translate the regular tour that I had learned into Spanish for visitors as part of my internship. While at Tufts, I have learned so much more about what it means to be an accessible museum as well as other issues that museums must consider when they think of how to serve their communities. I am thrilled to say that my studies here have broadened my interest in various museum positions, from curator to conservator to collections manager. I look forward to continuing to learn even more as I help to run this blog with my classmates!

 

Abigail Lynn

Abigail Lynn, MA in Art History and Museum Studies

Hello! My name is Abigail Lynn and I am a second year in the Art History and Museum Studies Program at Tufts University. Having grown up in rural Indiana, visiting a museum meant hopping in the car for a bit of a drive to get to a larger city. To this day, I can still remember my first visit to the Chicago Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois. It seemed like such a massive place, and there was art everywhere I looked. From that point on I knew art was always going to be a part of my life.

During my undergraduate studies, I thought I would give studio art a try, and paired that degree with studies in history and Spanish. However, when I had the opportunity to take a trip to Italy, I realized my love of research, digging into the background of an artwork or an artist to find out what makes them tick. I also realized that I wanted to share my love of art with others, and offer them the same, rewarding experience I had at the Chicago Art Institute.

Since then I have volunteered at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and worked for the Mariana Kistler Museum of Art in Manhattan, Kansas in order to gain more experience within the museum field. I have also had the opportunity to hold a fellowship position at the Tufts University Art Galleries. While at Tufts, I have further developed my writing and researching skills, and more fully realized the responsibilities awaiting future museum professionals. I hope this blog will provide another avenue through which I can share and learn along with other museum enthusiasts.

 

Eric Carstens

Eric Carstens, MA in Museum Education

Hi everyone! My name is Eric Carstens and I am starting my second year in the Museum Education program. I am from Northern Virginia and grew up going to the Smithsonian Museums in DC. A long time animal enthusiast, I credit both the National Museum of Natural History and the National Aquarium for encouraging my love of the natural world.

In undergrad, I studied biology and marine science, continuing a lifelong obsession with the ocean. I figured out that I did not want to spend my days in the lab and starting pursuing science communication. I homed in on museums after interning at the Science Museum of Virginia, writing scripts and gathering information for programming about climate change. As a young visitor, I learned the value of science museums in sparking curiosity and translating complex topics into engaging and digestible information. I now want to help create inclusive museum spaces for all museum-goers to learn about science, particularly natural history, climate change, and conservation.

Since the Science Museum of Virginia, I have worked as an environmental educator at Change is Simple, an environmental non-profit, as well as a visitor services assistant at the MIT Museum and a visitor educator at the New England Aquarium. Thanks to the Tufts program, I’m far less intimidated by art and history museums and I’m looking forward to exploring all kinds of museums through this blog!

 

Pandemic Play Time

The title is not meant to be flippant. COVID-19 and the current restrictions placed on the Tufts’ community and at large should be taken seriously. The editors are hoping everyone is safe and healthy. The goal today is to give a glimpse at what those of us self-quarantining can do to entertain ourselves. Mental health is just as important as physical health and being cooped up for most of the day can be depressing. Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep our imaginations occupied in this turbulent time.

First, here is a link back to the museum-studies related podcasts post from last year. The extra time for spring break and not attending a physical class could be used to enrich your knowledge of the museum community with these listens.

Next, there are online museum tours and collections you can visit. Mental Floss’ website provided an article for inspiration. The Louvre has virtual tours about Egyptian antiquities and the remains of the Louvre’s moat. The Guggenheim provides a look at its art collection with a searchable database. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has virtual tours for permanent, present, and past exhibits. The Mental Floss article linked above provides more examples of museums you can visit virtually.

Then, there is the opportunity to flex your social engagement muscles online. Museums have been reaching out to their email subscribers as they have closed in order to reassure visitors during the fight against the virus. While visiting museums will be missed, there is a strong museum community presence on social media. Museum professionals and museums have been posting their favorite collection items on social media stories. On Instagram, the Social Distance Gallery account is hosting BFA and MFA thesis shows because people are stopped from seeing them in person. There is the hashtag on Twitter, #MuseumFromHome, where museum professionals are discussing favorite museum artifacts. Maybe you all can provide your favorite object with that hashtag.

Finally, I come to streaming platforms, like Netflix or Hulu. They have plenty of documentaries to offer about subject matter found in museums. For example, there are National Geographic docs on Disney+ about nature, science, and cultures. On Netflix, they have a doc called Fake or Fortune? that is about art forgeries in museums. Or you can have fun watching National Treasure or Indiana Jones and enjoy the protagonists’ cooperation with museums.

Please let us know if the links are not accessible. Remember, you should not feel pressured to be extra productive in this trying time. Most of us are navigating new terrain with working solely from home, and we should not be pressuring ourselves with unrealistic goals. The stress of the unknown can hopefully be lightened with these activities. I would love to hear about what our readers are reading/watching/etc. to keep them entertained, so please leave suggestions in the comments. 

Welcome First-Years of 2019-2020

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!

“Nice to Meet You” from the New Editors

It’s that time of year again: the editors you’ve come to know and love have moved on to new endeavors. Never fear, your three new editors are here and ready to get to work! Many thanks and well wishes to Danielle, Kelsey, and Amanda – we hope to continue setting a high bar for the Tufts Museum Studies blog.

Without further ado, your new editors are:

Darcy Foster

Darcy Foster
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi everyone! I’m Darcy Foster and I’m entering my second year in the Museum Education program here at Tufts. I’m from Pittsburgh, PA and I have my bachelor’s in History. I currently work at the Concord Museum as a museum educator and tour guide, but my love for museum education started when I was just a young visitor. While I was growing up, my parents included museum visits during every vacation we took. After one trip that included two presidential library tours and a few historic houses, I realized that I actually enjoyed learning, even though I had never enjoyed it in a traditional classroom setting.

After also realizing my interest in history, I was driven to museums, which can encompass both of these passions. I love working with interpretation and programming to foster conversation between visitors in an exciting way. Museum education allows me to focus on what visitors take away from each museum they visit. I have worked at a variety of museums, from the large National Archives Museum to the tiny Benjamin Franklin House, and in a variety of positions, from archival processing to exhibits. In all cases, I enjoyed my time and it helped me to find a path to museum education, where I can help others find a love of learning in an informal setting. This upcoming summer, I’ll be interning at the Nantucket Historical Association. I’m looking forward to sharing both my experience there and museums in general with you!

Abby King

Abby King
MA in History and Museum Studies, 2020

Howdy, my name is Abby King. I have a BA in History (minor in classics), and I am a second-year grad student in the History and Museum Studies program at Tufts University. I am from the Kentuckiana region and have journeyed a long way to get here. My earliest museum memories have to do with peeking through the glass at fossils and mummies—so I have always had an eye for old history. I currently study ancient to medieval civilizations around the Mediterranean, including the Byzantines and ancient Greeks.

Only in undergrad did I realize I wanted to use my history focus in museums. This epiphany came when I was working in the special collection’s library at my old college, and from there I’ve been on a saucy and nerdy ride to where I am. I have worked with a curator at a historical home, at a baseball bat factory and museum, in the education department of a state history museum, and at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in the registrar’s department. This summer I will be interning at the National Air and Space Museum with a curator and collections manager on oral histories and women’s history.

My successes are all thanks to family, friends, mentors, teachers, and those willing to share their knowledge, so I am happy that I will get to (try to) share a golden nugget or two on this blog about working in this field and experiencing exhibits. Welcome and enjoy our collection of stories!

Jennifer Sheppard

Jennifer Sheppard
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi there – I’m Jennifer Sheppard, a rising second-year in the Museum Education program and life-long lover of learning and museums. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate what “museum education” was, but a sudden, serendipitous internship at the Dallas Museum of Art took me from a seasoned summer camp professional with an art degree to a full-blown, italicized and bolded museum educator. That internship and the subsequent full-time educator position taught me the power of accessible programming and universal design, the awesome potential in collaborating with dedicated colleagues, and that bringing multi-sensory materials on a tour is always a good idea, among other lessons.

Looking back at my personal history as a museum-goer, my chosen career isn’t much of a surprise. From the very first time my family took me to an art museum to feed my childhood obsession with ancient Egypt, I have had the immense privilege of feeling like I belong in museums. Now, finding (and fighting for) ways to extend that experience to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities is my driving passion. It led me to the Tufts program and to the team editorship of this blog. Echoing Darcy and Abby, I’m thrilled to engage more with you and the museum field on such big ideas throughout the upcoming year. Stay tuned!

Why we should look towards the hospitality industry to improve visitor experience

This post was written in collaboration with second year Museum Education M.A. student Taylor Fontes

When moving to the Greater Boston Area to pursue my Masters degree in Museum Education, I made a hard decision. I chose to continue working in restaurants (a job I’ve done since I was a teenager) instead of pursuing a position at a local museum. I made this decision because restaurant work is a great way to make fast cash. As I move forward into a career in which that will no longer be the case, I wanted to start off strong with as little debt as possible and ample time to complete my course work. Sometimes, I have struggled with this choice as it has meant there is a gap in my resume when it comes to museum work. However, I have recently realized how important working in the hospitality industry has been to my experience in museums. So many of the skills I have learned in hospitality are transferrable to skills needed in museums. I firmly believe that these hospitality skills have strongly informed my ability to provide positive visitor experiences in museum environments.

When Taylor brought up the idea for this post she came from almost the opposite perspective. While she had been working in visitor service positions for a long time, she was new to the restaurant industry. Quickly however, she began to be referred to as a “rock star hostess.” So how did Taylor pick up the restaurant brand of hospitality so quickly? For her, it was so similar to the type of experience she strived to provide for visitors in museums she has worked in.

As museums become more visitor-centered and less object-centered it is important for us to see ourselves as institutions of hospitality. We can look towards the hospitality industry to help inform our practices within the museum. So what are our biggest takeaways?

  1. The vocabulary we use matters: Most hospitality focused restaurants don’t refer to their patrons as customers. It is too transactional. We focus on our guests. Guests are those that we invite in, they are wanted, accommodated, and catered too. In museums we need to think of our visitors as guests as well.
  2. First impressions are everything: From the atmosphere, to the signage, to the person greeting you. In a restaurant, the host/hostess is your first point of contact. They will set the tone for your entire experience, so friendly and personable staff are a must. But what about museums? Is there someone to greet visitors? Are the visitor service staff responsive? What is the tone we are setting?
  3. Restaurants know how to sell their product: Hospitality industry professionals have a lot of experience in selling their product. From the restaurant itself to up-selling the food and drink, this takes lots of knowledge of not just the products but of the audience as well. We need to know our audiences and understand what they want out of their experience. As we know, there are many different types of visitors with varying needs.
  4. Flexibility: Not all guests are looking for the same experience. We have to be flexible and fluid in order to provide satisfying and enriching experiences to a diverse audience. The same approach will not work with a group of millennials out for drinks that will work with an older couple having lunch. The same is true for museum visitors.
  5. Steps of service: Restaurants have very defined steps of service that guide our guests experiences. This does not in turn mean there is no free-choice within it. However, by creating these steps of service restaurants are able to be flexible while still provide superior service. Many museums think about visitor flow when designing exhibits. Creating steps of service within a museum experience can help us to better serve our visitors.
  6. Empathy and Tolerance: Restaurant professionals are highly experienced in empathy and tolerance. While we may use these words differently in the museum field. It is important as museum professionals that we don’t just teach empathy and tolerance but that we live it. In order to provide positive visitor experiences it is important that we can empathize with our visitors to better understand their needs as well as be tolerant to those that have different needs.
  7. The human connection: Hospitality professionals are experienced in creating personal connections in short periods of time. We talk to people from many different walks of life on a daily basis and if we want them to return it is important to create those connections. This, to me, is the biggest transferrable skill to the museum field. We want our visitors to make personal connections to what we are presenting. If museum professionals are not adept in making those connections how can they design and implement experiences that do. These social skills are so important.
  8. Ability to anticipate visitor needs: It is so important in both restaurants and museums for staff to be able to anticipate our guests and visitors needs before they can verbalize, or even know, what those needs are. These can be as basic as providing easily accessible bathrooms and comfortable seating or more complex such as providing for guests with disabilities. We need to anticipate everything our visitors may need when designing programming and exhibitions.

While this is just a short list there are many more things that museums can learn from restaurants as museums become more and more visitor focused.

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