Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: What We’re Reading (page 3 of 6)

What We’re Reading: Brown Girls Museum Blog and The Washington Post

Today’s post comes to you from Sally Meyer, current Tufts Museum Studies and History M. A. candidate. To read some of her other work for the blog, click here.

Brown Girls Museum Blog:

Amanda Figueroa and Ravon Ruffin are consultants in the museum field. Together, they started the Brown Girls Museum Blog (BGMB). Their blog, particularly the critical thought section, is interesting, thought provoking, and addresses a lot of the long term issues museums face. Most notably the need to increase diversity in all facets of museum work: staff, visitorship, membership, interpretation, and approach to collections. They talk to artists, talk about their work, about being young professionals, review exhibitions, and provide fresh perspectives on a variety of issues in the museum world.

The Washington Post: “For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

Monticello, the historic home designed by President Thomas Jefferson and built by the enslaved men and women he held in bondage, is gaining a space to tell a more complete story. Jefferson is believed to have had a relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who was part of his wife’s estate. This article in the Washington Post tells of how the historians at Monticello are working to restore the room they believe she may have inhabited. The article is a reminder of the importance in museums of working to include marginalized people and of emphasizing the “crueler truth” of the American story.

What We’re Reading: 12 STEM Entry Points

There is often an idea that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects are incompatible with art and history. Art museums talk about art, history museums talk about history, and science museums talk about science. This is not to say there is absolutely no overlap, but one would be hard-pressed to go to a major fine arts museum and find an engineering-based activity. STEM can seem scary because it might be thought of as outside of the museum’s mission or as too technical and ‘science-y,’ but STEM doesn’t always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

STEM can seem scary, but it doesn't always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

STEM can seem scary, but it doesn’t always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

Instead of siloing these subjects in our museums, we can think about them with another acronym: STEAM. You may have heard of it before, but it’s the idea of incorporating art with STEM concepts. For instance, one could think about the chemistry behind mixing pigments for a painting, or explore the aesthetic design process of an engineering project.  To think about ways to incorporate STEM and STEAM into your museum, I find the following article by Tom Vander Ark and Mary Ryerse, 12 STEM Entry Points, to be helpful. Although the article does not strictly discuss incorporating STEM and STEAM in museums per say, they do mention museums and the ideas they present are just as valid. They can even provide your museum with a welcome challenge, like adding a makerspace or challenge-based learning to your activities. If you are looking to diversify your museum’s subject matter and educational reach, check out their article!

What We’re Reading: African-American Museum Cafe Serves Up Black History With Every Forkful

Today’s What We’re Reading post comes to you from Angela Foss, Program Administrator for the Museum Studies program and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences here at Tufts.

An NPR article titled “African-American Museum Cafe Serves Up Black History With Every Forkful” details how the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC includes a cafe that serves up traditional African-American cuisines from four regions of the US: the North States, Western Range, Agriculture South and Creole Coast. “The idea is to expand people’s understanding of just how much African-Americans have contributed to our nation’s culinary heritage, says Joanne Hyppolite, curator for the cultural expressions exhibits that feature foodways, culture and cuisine.”  But the cafe doesn’t just offer soul food. It offers items that visitors may never have heard of or tasted before in an effort to further educate visitors on African-American life and cuisine.  In this way, the museum has created an immersive experience to expand the visit and include a new form of sensory education: taste.

What do you think of this initiative, and how do you think it could be translated to other museums? Should it be utilized all the time, or just for special exhibitions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

What We’re Reading: Gamified Learning

Today’s  post comes to you from Colleen Sutherland, recent Tufts Museum Studies graduate and previous co-editor of the Tufts Museum Studies Blog. To read some of her previous work, click here.

Recently, I stumbled across this article called “8 Principles of Gamified Learning.” It not only explains what gamified learning is (and how it’s different from just playing games), but it also raises some interesting thoughts for museums. How can we provide interpretation in exhibitions or programs in a different manner? Can we take the fascination that people have with games, whether virtual or otherwise, and use them to help connect to visitors’ lives? Should we? Taking this article farther, is there a way to evaluate gamified learning to see if museums can use it effectively to help people learn, or to bring in new audiences?

I think this article is a great piece to start (or continue) thinking about how museums use their collections.

You can also see last year’s NMC Horizon Report for more examples on how museums are using gamification in exhibitions or on websites (check out the article on pages 38 and 39).

If you have any examples that you have seen and you think work, let us know in the comments!

What We’re Reading: Trust Me, I’m a Museum

I recently went to a family reunion last week and, as these things go, I repeatedly got asked by distant relatives what I was doing with my life. As I explained to them that I was in the midst of completing a graduate program in museum education here at Tufts, I seemed to get the same general responses: “Huh, I didn’t know museums did that,” or, “Usually museums are places where you can’t touch anything,” or, “What does that mean?” or…*sigh.* You get the point. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve had to defend and/or explain my field, as I’m sure many of you have as well. Indeed, almost no one I have talked to about museums over the past year seem to know what the phrase ‘museum education’ means and they either continued to hold the antiquated view that museums are stodgy old curiosity cabinets or that museums were simply places of entertainment for a rainy Saturday. We as museum folk know this to be (mostly) untrue today as museums are trying harder and harder to break that mold and become known as places where education, entertainment, discussion, and innovation all converge. And while these ideas are coming directly from my own interactions with others, I recently read an article about public opinions of museums that suggests my 3rd cousins twice removed are not alone in their mistaken, albeit understandable views on museums.

The article, titled “Trust Me, I’m a Museum” from the Center for the Future of Museums discusses how the public views museums and what they consider to be the essential purposes of museums. It frequently cites a UK study done in 2013 which reported that, “when invited to weigh in on what does not fit in the essential purposes of museums, the UK participants listed promoting justice and human rights, and providing a forum for debate. These activities were cited as ‘undermin[ing] the essential values of trust and integrity that people cherish with regards to museums.'” (Side note: this topic is especially interesting to consider when thinking about one of our previous posts by Colleen Sutherland, in which she discusses the importance of museums joining the national conversation on social justice.) Further, the article argues that if museums choose to discuss issues of contention such as climate change or human rights, we may run the risk of shutting out the many people who feel that one of the core museum purposes is “to provide a family-friendly, enjoyable and entertaining day out.” As Nina Simon writes in the comments, this “reinforces the idea that people may have antiquated ideas about what museums are for or ought to be for.”

So, where do we go from here? How do we assert ourselves as places that can effectively facilitate discussions on important issues on while dispelling commonly-held antiquated views of what museums are really all about? Do you have any thoughts or experience with these issues in your museum? I’d love to see them in the comments below!

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