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#museum studies
Barry Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center of African American Artists, in a Museum News roundtable discussion of cultural diversity
The struggle [for museums]… has to do with hegemony over the interpretation of one’s own experience, and how to  give institutional form to that hegemony. If I saw any mission as the appropriate mission of newer museums, evolving museums, museums associated with a specific heritage within the American story, I would say it’s finding the courage “to be.” And that “to be” is open-ended, because the “to be” is an evolving understanding of self and culture and its dynamic relationship. That’s our real work. Other institutions can respond to us in a more concrete way, whether willingly or not, when we are more clearly ourselves.
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i’m so stressed out about my future and it’s driving me crazy. i just want to work in museum studies but all the graduate programs that would work for me are like “must have museum-related recommendation” and/or “museum experience preferred” and it’s like. dude. where are these museums hiring people who don’t have graduate degrees??? where am i supposed to magically conjure up museum experience as an undergraduate??? every museum internship for undergrads near me is either a) unpaid or b) ridiculously competitive and typically already preferring museum experience, which doesn’t even make any sense!!!! where am i supposed to get museum experience if the barrier to getting experience with museums is having museum experience?????? i’m so fucking stressed that i’ll graduate with this history/classics degree and just not be able to do anything i want to with it because i didn’t have the right connections or i wasn’t willing to spend an entire summer paying to work or my college museum decided it had enough workers and preferred not to hire people–you guessed it–without experience

i think i’m definitely generalizing and there are opportunities out there somewhere but they’re so hard to find and i’m so worried about graduating and being completely lost bc i don’t have any useful skills in academic job markets, and it’s genuinely hard to sleep at night bc i have so much anxiety about it and idk man idk what to do

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Zoom graduation ceremony today!! This actually works out a lot better for me because now I get to actually watch the ceremony. Before the covid crap happened I wasn’t gonna be able to attend at all because I couldn’t afford the travel expenses. So now I get to participate! It’s great!

Anyway, congrats to me! *toots horn* 🎉👏👏🥰

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Shortly before Napoleon decided to invade Egypt in 1798, he met Baron Dominique Vivant-Denon at a party. Denon was a charmer, a favorite of Madame de Pompadour. He had held diplomatic posts in Russia at the Court of Catherine the Great, in Switzerland, and at Naples. Napoleon and Denon became close friends, and Denon, though in his fifties, went on the Egyptian campaign. His scholarship helped Napoleon choose superb museum objects, including the Rosetta stone that was afterward captured on its way to France by Lord Nelson and sent to the British Museum. Denon also aroused general admiration by his reckless coolness under fire. In 1800 Napoleon visited the Louvre for the first time and soon insisted that Denon be placed in charge of the museums of France and of all artistic services. In 1803 the Louvre became the Musee Napoleon, a name it retained until the emperor’s downfall.

Napoleon and Denon, between them, devised a comprehensive museum system for France and her conquered satellites. Denon always sought the greatest masterpieces for the Louvre, but Napoleon made the final decisions, based on political expediency. As early as 1800, he had agreed to place paintings in the provincial cities of France that then included Brussels, Mainz, and Geneva. Eventually twenty-two cities benefited from the distribution of 1,508 paintings. Several museums were planned for Italian cities, though only the Brera Gallery in Milan, opened in 1809, was successfully organized; it received confiscations from throughout northern Italy.

Sometimes, reaction against French looting led to the establishment of museums. Thus, Louis Napoleon, king of Holland, founded the Koninklijk Museum (forerunner of the present Rijksmuseum) at Amsterdam in 1808. In Madrid, Joseph Bonaparte, king of Spain, worked with the artist Goya to keep the finest Spanish paintings from the clutches of Napoleon and Denon; later, in 1819, the collection was installed in the Prado and opened to the public. In 1813 Wellington captured paintings from the royal collection taken by Joseph on his flight from Spain. The duke offered to return them, but the Spanish government gave the 165 paintings to him. Today they repose in London as the Wellington Museum at Apsley House.

But those who live by the sword and the requisition shall perish by the sword and the requisition. When Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815, the paintings and art objects he had seized began to flow back to their previous owners. Not all of them returned; Denon’s conveniently poor memory of their location saved a few for the Louvre, and most of those taken from churches and monasteries remained in France. But in all, the French museums gave up 2,065 pictures and 130 sculptures, including, of course, the Bronze Horses, Apollo Belvedere, and Laocoon. With tears of frustration in their eyes, the French people saw many treasures leave the acknowledged art capital of the world. Never again would so many masterpieces of painting and sculpture be on view in a single institution. Napoleon indeed had made great art and the museum symbols of national glory.

— Edward P. Alexander and Mary Alexander, Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums

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Hot tip for anyone applying to an internship ever: actually tell the person reading your cover letter why you want the position you’re applying for!!!

This goes for people at both ends of the ‘work experience’ spectrum. You have none? It’s an internship! That’s okay! Just tell me why you want to learn the skills I am promising to teach you. You have so much? Tell me why you want a fifth internship, tell me why you want to work in my department and not the other department you’ve been interning in for years!

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Can you learn about Museum Studies from an hobbyist angle ?

sort of I think.

Museum Studies is an academic field (museology) and as such at least half of the relevant research material is behind paywalls so accessing them when you aren’t studying gets expensive fast.

Now, that said, you can learn all the bits of museology outside of an academic setting. All the bits that make up Museum Studies are all the things that make a museum function.

Years ago that meant things like research, conservation, curation, and exhibition design because years ago museums in general were more elitist.

These days Museum Studies includes things like docent work (tours, in gallery guides, shop keeps, learning assistants, etc etc etc); social media work (my museum has a facebook, twitter, and insta. I try to do different things on each but often because I’m on my own, I run out of different things and just post the same stuff to insta and twitter); archival work; catalogue work; grant writing; and so much more as well as the big ones we’ve always done.

With the sole exception of Conservation I fully believe you can approach museum work from an amateur position - and I mean amateur as in “love of” not amateur as in “without skill”. Conservation is about 80% science, 10% jigsaw puzzle skills and 10% luck so you really do need a science background for it.

If you want to start working in museums and exploring the possibilities then contact your local museum or art gallery. Right now, thanks to COVID, you probably wont be able to start learning/doing much but I guarantee you your local museum needs volunteers and they’ll try their best to match your interests to their needs.

One major draw back with all museum work is there isn’t enough funding which means that getting paid work is hard - even with the fancy degrees. But the more you volunteer the more likely you are to get paid work. This is because museums want experience - they need experience to justify the cost of actually hiring someone. So, for example, if your interests in Museum Studies is in Museum Education/Learning here’s some steps I’d take as an amateur to work in Museum Education:

  • I’d find some books that I can buy without paywall such as something by John Howard Falk/a critique of Falk (one of the standards for learning in museums). Perhaps this one which I read at school would be a good place to start.
  • I would contact my local and ask to work with the education coordinator. Some museums are too small to have a dedicated education/learning coordinator. If that is the case, offer to work with school groups/events/etc as needed and volunteer as a docent for a regular volunteer position (this is still Museum Learning just slightly less focused)
  • I would do my utmost to ensure that I volunteered regularly - even if it is once every two weeks due to the schedule of the job that I had to pay for the books etc. This shows dedication to your supervisor and that will reflect on future opportunities.
  • After reading that first book or two, I’d head into that book’s reviews and bibliography to find more things to read. I’d also ask anyone at the museum for their recommended learning - one of my supervisors loved the American National Parks information for walking tours and I never would have thought to look at those.
  • I’d work hard to ‘attend’ things like #MuseumHour on twitter - even if I didn’t actually say anything there are lots of interesting museum folk around the world that participate. Maybe they do something that would work for your local in Australia and you can learn about it from the source over twitter. Us museum folk love a chat.
  • Most museums are part of associations like ICOM or the CMA or AMA etc. These associations put out webinars. Some are free to all, some are free to members - but if you are volunteering at a museum that is a member, you count as a member. I’d watch for webinars that are interesting to me/deal with the area of Museum Studies I want to work in and see about signing up.


Now if your interest is purely academic in its hobby nature I still suggest volunteering because you learn so much from existing inside a museum that you miss in academia but here are some things you might do from that angle.

  • Look up individual costs for museum associations you want to join. CMA, for example, has an Individual Membership for people who work for, or are, or have been directly related to institutions its $85/year which is nothing to sneeze at but not too bad. This gets you a number of benefits that will help in your hobbying.

  • Attend #MuseumHour and possibly #ArchiveHour

  • You can either pick something specific like Museum Toilets (an actual thing, look it up, its great) or you can generalize and learn about museums, their function, their histories by visiting, reading about, and talking about them with others.

  • It might be a good idea to subscribe to various things like Museum Magazine which is not an academic journal but rather a magazine put out by the AAM.


So basically: Yes I think you can ‘do’ museum studies as a hobbyist. I think its a LOT of work for a hobby but entirely possible.

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Hey museum people,

What are some cheap places to get museum exhibit stuff? For like exhibit sign stands and didactics? I’m making up a kinda fake but kinda real budget for a historical museum for my grant writing class and I only know places like Gaylord Archival and Hollinger and those are really pricey. My budget limit is $1,500 and that includes any research expenses I might need. I think I have like $200 in travel and archival copies I wanna spend thr next $1,300 on signage and other museum stuff and I need to provide links for those materials and I don’t wanna throw down $400 on a reader rail from Gaylord (but I might).

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Quick shout out to @cousinnick​ who kindly tagged me in this!                           

Rules: repost, please for the love of god don’t reblog. Non-archaeologists are also welcome to participate!

What kind of trowel do you have:  Honestly, I would have to say my laptop, I take extensive notes and my background deals more with narratives/counter-narratives so note taking is a must. Plus, my handwriting is so atrocious that handwriting my notes is a hit or miss kind of deal.

Area of expertise: Ancient Gender and Sexuality, Etruscan Funerary Art (oh yeah!!!), and reparation of cultural artifacts (so many case studies my friends).

Preferred drink in the field: Water for sure-or some tea depending on where I am at.

Tool that you have that no one else seems to have but should: I have to agree with @cousinnick​ - Pencils but I would also throw in a good note journal as well.

How long have you had your current pair of field boots: I don’t necessarily have a need for field boots (though I do have some for the few digs I have visited and I’ve had those for about 4 years)

Preferred music to dig to: It constant changes, normally when I am working I can’t have music on, but if I am researching/writing I like lofi.

Favorite piece of archaeology related media: Scholarly sources-The Etruscan Foundaiton is up there for obvious reasons!  Oh my gosh…with the risk of sounding exceptionally basic and problematic but I do have to say: Indiana Jones. It was my frist real exposure to archaeology (though flawed as it is) and lets face it-the music just hits!

Dream place to excavate: For my classical studies side I would have to say: Tuscany, Italy would be a dream, I am a huge fan of the Etruscans and I would just-ugh!

Favorite artifact that you’ve handled: This may sound a bit strange but I got to hold Roald Amuddsen’s tooth, which are the last remains that we have of him. His story is also really amazing-check him out!  There are others as well, but this would be considered the ‘coolest’ I always get a bit teary eyed and emotional handling pottery (something about feeling the grooves and sometimes feeling finger indentations just gets me!)

Tagging: I am a little out of the loop as to who I know who would be interested in this, so I would like to invite any archaeologist/anthropologist/museum person who is interested to participate. I would love to see what you all like to do!

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For those of you who are considering either Museum Studies or Classical Studies online programs in the U.S., I talk about how my two M.A. degree programs compare to each other. This is a rather long video (about an hour), but there was a lot of information to cover! Please let me know if you have any questions not addressed in the video.

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#28. The best museum hack I’ve learned so far, especially for museums with small budgets, is going to clothing stores that are going out of business to get great deals on( or free) mannequins and stands for displays. Snagging the free hangers for your own closet is just an added bonus.

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Hey I’m thinking of doing a museum studies masters but I’m scared to apply cos idk what I’d do my thesis on lol, do you have any tips for choosing a topic/getting inspo?

Hi! So I chose a program that didn’t require a thesis and I opted not to do one. But I did have to do something so I ended up doing a big, several semester long internship project involving several mini projects instead. So I may not be the best person to give you advice about a thesis. 

The one piece of advice I can offer you is to choose a topic you’re passionate about because you’re going to spend a lot of time on it. My friends all did a thesis and sometimes it was the fact that they loved the subject that kept them going when it became too stressful. I kind of always wanted to write a thesis that focused on something like the Women’s Army Corps in WWII or something about the role of women during the American Revolution because those are subjects I am passionate about and would have loved to explore deeper. That passion will also help you when presenting it and such. So is there an area of history you are really interested in that you’d like an opportunity to explore more? Or something about museums that fascinates you? In terms of museum studies specifically, think about things where you’ve though “huh that’s kinda weird” or “that’s different, I wonder why that is?” and there might be a subject in there somewhere for you to write about. Maybe there’s a cataloging or conservation technique that interests you? Repatriation and NAGPRA? The increased role of technology in museums? How museums use social media to market themselves? What about diversity and inclusion?

Think about things that interest you, questions you have, something you’d love to look deeper into. You should be able to find a subject somewhere in there. And advisers are there to help you as well. They can help you narrow the field and find something for you to research.

Maybe my followers can give you some more/better advice? I don’t really have any experience with thesis.

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