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Museum Research at JHU

As an intrinsically interdisciplinary program that collaborates with a wide variety of university departments, programs, and museums, Museums and Society draws on the strength and breadth of both the teaching and research of many different faculty members as well as the diverse interests of its students. We aim here to highlight past, ongoing and future research at Johns Hopkins University that studies material culture and in particular engages those institutions that shape knowledge and understanding through the collection, preservation, interpretation, and/or presentation of objects, artifacts, materials, monuments, and historic sites. The role of such institutions and their contents in societies both past and present, including but not limited to their political, legal, ethical, and economic significance, is central to the Program’s concerns.

Building this page is an ongoing process. If you are a faculty member or student who would like to inform us further about your research please e-mail us.

Sanchita Balachandran, Curator/Conservator, Archeological Museum, Lecturer, Near Eastern Studies

Sanchita Balachandran’s current research centers on the history of metals conservation in India. Her project examines the technical, political and social dimensions of conservation science in colonial India. In 2009 Dr. Balachandran received a Fulbright award to support eight months of research on this topic.

Rebecca Brown, History of Art, Visiting Associate Professor

Rebecca M. Brown's current project focuses on the Festival of India, a group of over 40 exhibitions that took place across the USA in 1985-86. From a major show of historical Indian sculpture at the National Gallery to a blockbuster India! show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and from a small photography exhibition in Berkeley to a show on colonial American exchanges with 18th century India in Salem Massachusetts, the Festival presents a key site for investigations of cultural diplomacy, national identity, commerce and tourism, and the role of art and culture exhibits in those projects. In the Fall of 2010, Professor Brown taught a course related to this research, The Politics of Display in South Asia, in which students examined the Festival alongside nineteenth-century international exhibitions and regional collections of South Asian art. Professor Brown presented the paper “Pushing the Boundaries (But Not Too Much): Indian Contemporary Art in the US" at the American Council for Southern Asian Art symposium.

Jennifer P. Kingsley, Museums and Society, Lecturer

Jennifer P. Kingsley's article "Picturing the Treasury in the Bernward Gospels" (Gesta 2011) considered the representation of treasury objects in the eleventh-century donor portrait of Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim. The painting argues for the symbolic power of such objects and their collection on the page engages the medieval praxis of memoria (a term that refers equally to mneumotechnics as to liturgical commemoration). Dr. Kingsley is starting a new project that considers the relationship between the museum and the history of the discipline of medieval art-history; she is teaching a course on the subject in Fall 2013.

Stuart "Bill" Leslie, History of Science and Technology, Professor

Bill Leslie is completing an article, "Looking Through Glass" about the Toledo Museum of Art's new Glass Pavilion, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. He is spending 2012-2013 as the Lindbergh Chair at the National Air and Space Museum, working with curators in the division of Space History.

Elizabeth Rodini, History of Art, Teaching Professor, Director of Museums and Society

Elizabeth Rodini's forthcoming article on the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris considers this museum's complex layering of historical and memorial references as it has evolved from a private residence to an increasingly open, public museum. From its founding memorial goal in the wake of the Second World War through the tragic demise of the Camondo family to its current museological presentation, the house-turned museum is a significant case for considering changing perspectives on French history and evolving museum practices.

Some Recent Student Research

Emily Carambelas (2011), Archaeology, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, and Museums and Society

As the Henry Sonneborn curatorial intern, Emily Carambelas' researched how museums balance their mission with religious instructions regarding the preservation, interpretation and display of Judaica. Jewish tradition offers strict guidelines regarding the use and treatment of sacred objects  at different points in their lifecycles. Her essay and catalog for the exhibit is here.

Hannah Weinberg-Wolf (2013), Behavioral Biology and Museums and Society

The recipient of a Dean's Undergraduate Research Award in 2012, Hannah Weinberg-Wolf developed the installation "Please Touch" in collaboration with the university's Hsiao lab. Inspired by a 2012 exhibit at the Walters Art Museum, the show both communicates research ongoing in the Hsiao lab and gathers scientific data for it.

Emily Sneff (2011), History and Museums and Society

Emily Sneff's senior thesis "Sir Hans Sloane and the Founding of the British Museum" reconsiders Sloane's significance to the creation of the first national public museum in England. Her thesis is featured on the Emerging Museum Professionals blog.

Laura Somenzi (2013), History of Art and Museums and Society

Awarded the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship in her freshman year, Laura Somenzi took the lead in curating the 2011 exhibit Choreography in Color: The Art of Zelda Fitzgerald with the steadfast support and mentorship of James Archer Abbott, Director and Curator of Evergreen Museum and Elizabeth Rodini, Director of the Program in Museums and Society. Through two years of sustained research and study of Zelda Fitzgerald's art, literary writings and diaries, Somenzi peered through Fitzgerald's image as the definitive flapper and revealed her both as an artist longing for recognition and a representative of a broader pervasive struggle for social equality.

Conferences, Speakers and Symposia

Passion on all Sides: The Challenges of Creating the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York (April 23, 2013)

Alice Greenwald, Director of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, presented the process that shaped the museum's approach to its charged subject matter and articulated the significance of the museum's role as both a museum and memorial.  

The Secular Lives of Sacred Objects: A Global Perspective (September 10, 2012)

In celebration of the student-curated exhibit From Sacred to Secular: Collecting and Caring for Judaica, specialists in African, East Asian and South East Asian art spoke about the changing meanings of ritual objects over time, with particular attention paid to their interpretation, collection, reception and display by both private connoisseurs and museums in the West, Mali, India and Japan.

The Challenge of Building a National Museum (March 6, 2012)

Historian Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, discussed the obstacles he faced as he positions the last museum to be built on the D.C. Mall as a "quintessentially American" museum.

The Business of Culture (Spring 2011)

The lecture series organized by M&S minor Elizabeth Dowdle (class of 2011) addressed the role of cultural institutions in the twenty-first century. Talks discussed questions related to technology, global relations, law and ethics, and strategic planning.

Collections and Communities: Baltimore Today (April 16, 2010)

Baltimore-based group of curators, artist and collectors engaged local audiences to facilitate conversations on a range of issues of concern to non-profit institutions, from how to build collections that meet the needs of a museum and the expectations of its visitors to how to make historical collections relevant to today's audiences, and from the virtues and liabilities of technology in a museum setting to how museums can make the work they do more relevant and engaging for the public.

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