Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Tis the Season: Reflections on a Remote Summer Practicum

This past summer I worked for Ken Turino of Historic New England and Tufts University(Exhibition Planning and Historic House Museums). Having been in remote school for a year at this time, I was prepared to conduct my museum studies practicum remotely. While my internship certainly was not the traditional practicum internship experience, I did gain a great deal of insight into the workings of regional heritage organizations like Historic New England. My responsibilities included assisting Ken and Max Van Balgooy on compiling a bibliography for their new book: Interpreting Christmas at House Museums and Historic Sites, as well as researching female abolitionists in New England and their contributions to the development of modern day Christmas traditions through abolitionist fairs. I was also able to attend a meeting with some of the book’s authors to further understand the process of writing a book with many different authors. 

The bibliography passed by rather quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way to researching female abolitionists in New England. My research focus is early modern Europe, specifically women and gender roles; so while I was familiar with women’s history I certainly didn’t have significant experience on either American History or late modern history. I entered the Tufts Museum Studies and History Graduate program with the intention of becoming a curator; a job which requires significant research skills. Through this internship I was able to hone my research skills as well as apply them to different objects and interpret them, something similar to the job of a curator. This summer research culminated into a presentation which Ken and I will present entitled, Deck the Halls: Female Abolitionist Societies and the Evolution of Christmas. This will be presented on November 30 from 6-7 PM. This Event is virtual, so anyone is welcome to reserve their spot via this link and attend! The content is fascinating and details some of the history of female abolitionists in New England and how they influenced the development of modern day Christmas traditions through holding abolitionist fairs during the Christmas season to raise money and awareness towards the abolitionist movement. 

Family and Changing the World: An Afternoon at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House

I spent the past week with family. On the last day of my youngest sister and my mom’s visit to Boston, we journeyed out to Concord to spend the afternoon at Orchard House — the home where Louisa May Alcott scribbled furiously away at a book about her and her three sisters, beloved around the world to this day as Little Women.

Like many girls across the globe, my two younger sisters and I grew up enchanted by this story, just like our mom before us. We were children who, like the March (and Alcott) sisters, loved to put on meticulously written and rehearsed plays, and swore that we would never love anyone else the way we did each other. So it was unsurprising just how much we related to these four girls when our mom introduced us to the 1994 film adaptation of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s lives; and just two years ago we sat tearfully in the movie theater watching Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed version, which resonated just as deeply for different, more grown-up reasons now that we are different and more grown-up. My littlest sister, who adores Alcott’s book and is a talented artist just like young Amy, knew that when she visited her two older siblings in Massachusetts, Orchard House was the highest-priority destination.

Orchard House. Via the museum’s website.

Concord is a beautiful place, and with the deep reds, browns, and oranges adorning every tree at this time of year, it seems especially magic — not to mention conducive to great art and philosophy. “There was something in the air here,” my middle sister mused upon realizing just how close the home of the Alcotts was to that of their dear friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Alcotts’ parlor was frequented by these and other Transcendentalist thinkers, where conversations about such subjects as abolition, education, suffrage, and the restorative powers of nature flourished — conversations in which, unlike in most contemporary households, the Alcott girls and women were allowed and encouraged to participate.

Louisa May Alcott (“Jo March” in her beloved book Little Women), around the time her family moved into Orchard House.

No wonder, then, that Louisa May felt perfectly comfortable making such unconventional decisions as leaving home to serve as a Civil War nurse, refusing to ever marry, and making her living as a writer.

Like other historic house museums, the introductory video and guided tour at Orchard House give plenty of focus to the daily lives of the Alcott family — Bronson and Abigail, and their four daughters Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and May — that inspired the events of Little Women. But the ideals and actions of the Alcotts, which make them so extraordinary both in their day and ours, are what truly take center stage at this museum.

This was a family who not only talked about abolition but provided asylum to fugitive enslaved people, refused to wear cotton produced by the enslaved, and provided shelter to radical abolitionist John Brown’s widow and daughters after his execution. They were vegetarians in an era when the humane treatment of animals was hardly a thought for most people; they advocated for education reform which would lead to the end of physical punishment and more time for children to spend outdoors; they fought for women’s rights and ensured that the women in their family receive the best opportunities to follow their dreams. In an especially touching display of parental love and belief in his children’s gifts, Bronson Alcott built a writing desk for Louisa and an art studio for May, both of which visitors see on the tour. 

Louisa May Alcott’s bedroom, including the desk her father built for her where she wrote Little Women. Via the museum’s website.

Our time at Orchard House concluded with a call to action, imploring us to embody one of the Alcott family’s main tenets: to believe in our fellow human beings and support their dreams and aspirations. Who knows how many of today’s children might grow up to be Louisa May Alcotts, if only their gifts and beautiful minds are fostered and believed in, the way hers were?

Fall colors and a rainbow in Concord after our tour at Orchard House, which inspired us to pay special attention. Taken 15 October 2021.

After snapping plenty of sister and mother-daughter photos outside the house, we took our time on the walk back to the train station — paying special attention, now, to the autumn leaves, the fallen black walnuts, a rainbow in the sky. We talked about family, about beauty, about love and kindness, about standing by one’s convictions no matter how fierce the opposition, about daring to look at the world in a different way. We talked about the power of believing in each other and those around us.

Orchard House provides a prime example of all that historic house museums can accomplish in our current moment. Rather than highlight the furniture, clothing, food, and daily life of a particular era, or limit its interpretation to poignant but ultimately shallow anecdotes about a single historical family, this museum seeks to stir something deeper in the hearts of those who walk through its doors. It encourages visitors to do right, to think anew, and to undertake what is sometimes the bravest, most unconventional challenge: practicing kindness. On the pages of Little Women, and in every room at Orchard House, this important legacy permeates.

For more information on Orchard House and how to plan your visit, check out their website here.

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello, everyone! Welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities.







Weekly Job Roundup







Bringing an Exhibition to Life, from Conception to Completion

Beginning in January, I and nine other students in Professor Christina Maranci’s seminar “The Threads of Survival: Armenian Liturgical Textiles” began our research into a rich group of Armenian liturgical textiles held at the Armenian Museum of America and the Museum of Fine Arts—and last Thursday, we finally had the chance to share the results of our hard work with the Tufts community! Our research last spring has culminated in an exhibition titled Connecting Threads / Survivor Objects, on view at the Tufts University Art Galleries through December 5. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that contributing to this project, from conception to completion, has been incredibly rewarding.

An embroidered saghavard (liturgical crown) from 1751.

Armenian liturgical textiles encompass a huge variety of uses, materials, iconographies, and artistic techniques: objects featured in Connecting Threads / Survivor Objects include a nineteenth-century silk shurchar (priest’s robe) that originated in an Armenian settlement in Surabaya, Indonesia, an intricately embroidered saghavard (liturgical crown) from 1751, two massive painted and block-printed altar curtains, and much more. As the exhibition’s description explains, these objects are highly valuable in that they “show the multidimensional nature of liturgical textiles and bear witness to the vitality of Armenian communities during the Ottoman Empire and their influence along global commercial routes,” and also because they exemplify “the survival of a people, its identity, and faith” against all odds. Most of these objects had never received proper scholarly attention until this year, and their public exhibition sheds much-needed light on their impressive materiality as well as their deep cultural value.

In Professor Maranci’s seminar last spring, each student chose one of the textiles set for exhibition to examine in depth. In addition to writing a research paper on our chosen objects, we also helped to write the wall labels and educational materials for the exhibition. My object—a fragmentary embroidery of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century and held today at the MFA—was likely originally displayed at the altar of an Armenian church, where it would have encouraged worshippers to reflect on both the tragedy of the Crucifixion as well as the hope of salvation and eternal life it represented.

The object I studied last semester—a fragmentary embroidery of the Crucifixion.

As a current graduate fellow for the Tufts University Art Galleries, I also contributed to Connecting Threads / Survivor Objects throughout the summer by drafting an educational guide to go along with the exhibition. The educational guide highlights four themes of the exhibition—Life / Afterlife; Network / Movement; Communities / Individuals; and Materials / Techniques—and presents some key questions that the objects on display invite us to consider. Participating in the exhibition as both a student researcher and a gallery fellow helped me to translate my in-depth work on a specific object into educational content that will (hopefully) appeal to a wide variety of visitors, a skill I will definitely carry with me into future curatorial experiences. I’m also in the process of helping to plan a few tours of the exhibition—check out the Gallery’s list of upcoming programs for more details!

Connecting Threads / Survivor Objects represents the culmination of the hard work and collaboration of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, gallery staff, and more, and it has been so exciting to see the exhibition come to life. You can check out Connecting Threads / Survivor Objects in the Koppelman Gallery at the Tufts University Art Galleries from now through December 5—and if you’re not in the Boston area, you can also explore the exhibition through the Gallery’s mobile app!

Prof. Maranci with a few of her students at the exhibition opening on September 23!

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