Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

“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!

From Monument to Memorial: A Symposium Review

“We can’t change the past but we can change history.” -Dr. Kymberly Pinder

On Friday, March 29th, I attended Tufts University’s one-day symposium, “From Monument to Memorial: Space, Commemoration, and Representation in America Now.” Organized by the Department of Art and Art History, the symposium invited audiences to consider the role of public civic art in America and its current impact in our present political climate. Discussions on history, heritage, memory, and legacy were the undercurrents of each presentation.

Before the first panel began, Tufts University Art Gallery Director Dina Deitsch discussed the symposium organizers’ deliberate choice to host the event in Tufts’ Alumnae Lounge, a rather contentious space on campus due to the nature of its monumental murals. Commissioned in 1955, the mural’s east wall depicts the historical founding of Tufts on Walnut Hill, while the west wall shows Tufts students, faculty, and deans in an attempt to provide a “snapshot of student life” in the 1950s. Although there are at least fifty individuals painted between the two walls, almost all of the figures are white, Protestant men (except for a few white women). In fact, the only reference to Medford’s diverse population is a small image of the Isaac Royall Slave House, and the artists completely ignore the fact that Walnut Hill is a site of spiritual significance for the Mystic people.

The Alumnae Lounge murals do not portray the diversity of Tufts University, both past and present. (Stay tuned on updates concerning the murals; there is currently a working group determining how best to make the space more inclusionary. An announcement about the murals’ changes to come will be made in the next few months, according to Deitsch.) Considering the ongoing debates concerning the Alumnae Lounge, the space served as a fitting backdrop for the day’s discussants, with Deitsch’s speech further setting the tone for the issues at heart of each panel.

The morning session, “Local Histories/Contested Spaces,” was comprised of four panelists: Danielle Abrams, Professor of the Practice in Performance at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts; Kerri Greenidge, Professor of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts; Diana Martinez, Director of Architectural Studies at Tufts; and Kymberly Pinder, Provost of Massachusetts College of Art.

Each panelist discussed a controversial site, monument, or public art project and the importance of re-contextualizing it in its proper narrative. For instance, Danielle Abrams talked about her research concerning the segregated Lincoln Beach, an amusement park that was open from 1939-1964 in New Orleans. Today, Lincoln Beach is in ruins, and the nearby “whites only” Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park is often more referenced in the archives. Abrams is working to uncover these archives and prevent the complete erasure of Lincoln Beach from memory by collaborating with the last living generation of individuals who used to frequent the park and can speak to their experiences of segregation.

After the morning panel session, symposium participants and audience members had the opportunity to go on a two-hour guided bus tour led by Kendra Field and Kerri Greenidge of Tufts’ African American Trail Project. The Trail Project is a collaborative effort among students, scholars, and community members, intended to interrogate Massachusetts’ white history. With an aim of placing greater Boston historical monuments in their proper context – that is a narrative that also includes the memory and experiences of “historic African American, Black Native, and diasporic communities,” the Project is bringing to light history that has long been negated. The sites on the tour span five centuries and five neighborhoods of greater Boston, including Somerville/Medford, Beacon Hill, Roxbury, and Mattapan. Some examples of tour stops include the Dorchester North Burial Ground, Bunker Hill Monument, Royall House and Slave Quarters, W.E.B. Du Bois House, the Charles Street Meeting House, and Marsh Chapel. Sites continue to be added to the growing list, and members of the public are welcome to suggest or edit any site.

Mabel O. Wilson, Professor of Architecture at Columbia University, led the keynote address, “Memory/Race/Nation: The Politics of Modern Memorials,” in which she discussed the events of the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the University of Virginia’s counter-protesters who shrouded their campus’ statues of Confederate figures in response. While traditionally University of Virginia’s campus tours spoke of Thomas Jefferson’s founding of the school and his legacy, now, thanks in part to increased student pressure, UVA tours highlight a narrative that was silenced for so long, one that acknowledges the approximately six hundred slaves that worked for Jefferson during his lifetime. Furthermore, a coalition of students and staff are “connecting the dots that have been missing,” with a forthcoming Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, a planned campus monument in the shape of a broken slave shackle, on which the names of 660 individuals are engraved along a timeline in a shallow pool of water in “an effort to humanize the unknown.”

As the symposium drew to a close, panelists left the audience with a series of questions to consider. How do we represent highly personal histories, and who do we represent in telling said narratives? How can we reconsider commemoration in light of recent violent events such as the Unite the Right rally in 2017? When should we preserve history, if at all, and what should we do with contentious spaces or monuments? For a room filled with museum professionals, artists, professors, trailblazers, and graduate students, these are timely questions for everyone to think about in our ongoing work of reframing histories.

Should We Defend the Universal Museum?

How can museums thoughtfully represent art that was never intended to be displayed in the first place? Should a museum contextualize the art it chooses to display, or does this unintentionally create an “othering” of one’s culture or heritage? Do museums have a responsibility to cast meaning onto an object, or should the art speak for itself? As a second year Master’s candidate in art history and museum studies with a focus in the politics of display concerning non-western art, these are just some of the many critical questions I regularly grapple with and consider. Currently, I am confronting these challenging notions in a seminar called, “Who Owns the Past?” Each week, my classmates and I discuss heritage in relation to nationalism, colonization, and questions of ownership while examining cultural property case studies (e.g. the ongoing Parthenon Sculptures debate).

The so-called ‘universal museum’ was the topic of discussion in our last class meeting. Universal museums, sometimes referred to as ‘encyclopedic museums,’ showcase a wide breadth of collections from around the world. Examples of such institutions include the British Museum, the Louvre, the Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, places where a visitor can encounter everything from Japanese narrative handscrolls and ancient Roman coins to West African textiles or contemporary sculptures.

Although one could argue that universal museums promote cross-cultural learning and engagement by providing visitors with a multitude of diverse art forms all under one roof, these institutions have also been harshly criticized for several reasons. First, for the way they defend their ownership of objects acquired in questionable ways: in 2002, for instance, nineteen of such institutions released a “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums,” a joint statement that argued universal museums should retain other nations’ cultural patrimony (objects often subject to repatriation debates) because “museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation.” Universal museums have also been critiqued for their location; most are predominately in the West. Finally, rather paradoxically, universal or encyclopedic museums are in fact nationalistic. Their collections showcase objects from places ruled by the West, reinforcing imperial messages.

Considering my classmates’ and I’s critiques of universal museums, our professor asked us if we should defend them. With such colonial baggage, what’s left to argue in favor of the universal museum? One of my colleagues, in playing devil’s advocate for this conversation, asked the class to consider if we are perhaps “over-villifying” the universal museum. In its pursuit to provide access and educational resources to the public, is the mission of the universal museum still inherently good? We did not come up with an answer or solution, instead fixed on the neo-colonial rings that universal museums still perpetuate.

As it turns out, a prominent national museum in Europe may offer a solution. Recognizing the “darker side of a country’s history,” the Rijksmuseum – Netherlands’ national museum in Amsterdam – announced it will open an exhibition meant to bring light to the country’s history of slavery. This exhibition, set to open in the fall of 2020, will be the museum’s first show dedicated entirely to slavery. According to the Rijksmuseum website, the “exhibition testifies to the fact that slavery is an integral part of our history, not a dark page that can be simply turned and forgotten about. And that history is more recent than many people realize: going back just four or five generations you will find enslaved people and their enslavers.” I think an exhibition such as this one is a strong step towards creating a more honest narrative in the canon of art history, and I hope more institutions follow suit.

What are your thoughts on the so-called universal museum? Do they continue to confirm prejudice or promote tolerance? Where do we go from here?

Call for Papers

Editors of the upcoming book For Love or Money:  The State of Museum Salaries, are offering the students in the Museum Studies program an opportunity to submit proposals for essays to be included in the book to be published by MuseumsEtc in the fall of 2019.

The museum profession suffers from systemic under-compensation and pay inequality. This book will examine both the causes of this situation and its resulting effect on staff, institutions, and the profession.  It will also propose strategies for remedying the problem.  It will identify internal and external factors that suppress wages, consider the impact of the present practices and paradigms on the field as a whole, articulate the benefits that fair and equitable compensation would achieve, and develop solutions to address wage inequity with the goal of strengthening our institutions, allowing committed museum staff to advance in careers that are financially and personally rewarding.

Further information and topics covered can be found here.

The closing date for the proposals is 17 December 2018.

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!

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