Independent Research

The Program in Museums and Society encourages students to engage in independent and collaborative research on the collection, display, and interpretation of material culture, and to present their findings in ways that are publicly engaged. Many courses involve students in research, and some students also choose to pursue research on their own.

Independent research in museums and society can take many forms, including traditional academic ones, through an Independent Study (research papers, posters, presentations), and applied, hands-on approaches through the Senior Capstone option. When appropriate and relevant, the program also helps advise students on thesis work undertaken in their major field of study with faculty in the relevant department.

For examples of past student projects, see Exhibits and Projects. For more details on getting credit for independent research, see Requirements.

How to Get Started

The program has partnered with the MSE Library to prepare a guide for research on museum topics, with tools for searching articles and books. The library’s subject guides for individual academic fields are also useful starting points for researching discipline-specific genres of collections and objects.

Any student wishing to pursue an independent project must first identify and secure the support of a faculty member with appropriate expertise and, when relevant, find a suitable museum mentor. When attempting to identify potential faculty supervisors, it is best to consult departmental websites and other online information for research being conducted at Hopkins. Narrow your choices by looking at and reading faculty publications to gain insights into the types of research they conduct. You should also meet with and discuss your plans with your major adviser.

Once you have identified a faculty member with whom you would like to work, prepare to meet with him or her by:

  • Preparing a summary of the goals of your project, a list of potential research questions to pursue, and your background in and knowledge of the topic
  • Preparing your resume, listing academic qualifications and previous experience
  • Contact the faculty member(s) to ask for a meeting. Be brief, offer a summary of your ideas for your project, and include your resume.

Follow the same procedure to identify and contact a museum mentor. The program maintains relationships with many regional museums and can help facilitate introductions for you at the appropriate point in the development of your project.

Exhibitions and other public projects require significant advance planning, coordination, management of staff and logistics, and financial support. If you wish your independent research to result in a public component, you should carefully consider the demands of your project and your abilities to meet them. Anticipate a timeline based on the nature of your desired outcome and its scope.

Some projects (e.g., oral histories, possibly visitor studies) must be vetted by the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Funding Your Research

To support projects undertaken as independent study or in the context of a senior capstone, students can apply for:

Deadlines for all awards are variable and students should monitor relevant websites for current information and plan appropriately. Funding for research during the senior year will need to be secured during junior year.

For more information, contact Elizabeth Rodini or Jennifer Kingsley.