The Program in Museums and Society encourages students in both the arts and sciences to explore questions central to the humanities through an investigation of material culture and the institutions that collect, preserve, interpret, and publicly display it. It blends the conceptual with the applied, providing an innovative forum to connect academic work directly to the activities of museums, broadly defined to include art, history, natural history, and science museums as well as zoos, botanic gardens, aquariums, and heritage sites.
Students may earn a minor in museums and society, intended to complement their major field of study, or may take courses out of general interest. The program’s overarching goals are to promote museum literacy, or the skills necessary to be critical interpreters of these influential institutions; to encourage students to reflect on their major field of study in new ways; and to enable students to be active, informed members of the broader cultural community now and throughout their lives.
The program offers a broad spectrum of introductory courses and advanced seminars that explore the myriad ways museums and collections “signify” in both the past and the present—as statements of political aspiration, ethnic consolidation, historical interpretation, cultural value, and so forth. Historical, critical, and theoretical studies are enhanced with courses that engage students directly with artifacts (“practicum courses”). Practicum courses involve first-hand encounters with collections from across the academic disciplines and across the centuries and offer intimate and thematically focused explorations of materials that include artworks and historical objects, rare books and manuscripts, as well as natural specimens, physical sites, and structures.
Culminating in exhibitions, museum education programs, publications, and other public products, practicum courses make the work of the classroom available and accessible to general audiences, underscoring the relevance of a humanistic education both to students and diverse public communities. Practicum courses are typically developed in partnership with galleries, libraries, archives, museums or heritage sites and serve the goals of our community partners both on and off campus, enhancing their research, exhibitions, and educational mission.