Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How to Study Museums

I just caught wind (via Musematic) of a new MA in Museum Studies offered by John Hopkins University. A new program is not surprising - museum programs and Museum Studies MAs seem to be proliferating like very slow academic bunnies. What is surprising is that the MA is almost entirely online except for an on-site summer seminar.

I have three reactions to this:

1. This MA recognizes that technology and the interwebs are important for museums. A classmate of mine conducted a survey and found that technology in museums is the least covered topic in museum programs nationally. So the recognition of that and the addressing of it is important.

2. How cool. An online MA for museum studies. I would totally love to take some of those courses, but am so not going to pay for that. But it's really appropriate to people in the field who may not be able to devote the kind of class time needed at a brick and mortar instition.

3. How the heck can you have a museum studies program outside of a museum? The most important thing to me, as a relative museum outsider to the museum field at the outset of my graduate work, was having that chance to live and breathe museums for two years. To gain significant practical experience while addressing museum theory. For me, it's unimaginable to have gotten my degree with such limited requirements for hands on.

I think it's very interesting. But I don't think it's the best degree for a young person out of undergrad to pursue. Every spring, the Museum-L listserv has an influx of graduates worrying about getting a job. And the advice is, inevitably, get hands on experience, get your foot in the door. Those are two things I find problematic with this degree. It's up to the student to develop those two opportunities. That was true at mine too, but there were clear doors. I worry that, if the student is a stay-at-home-mom with limited time to volunteer or be involved in the program, that she will have a difficult time actually putting her degree to work.

Nonetheless, I think it's an interesting idea, a good thing for people in certain places, and covers topics which are largely lacking in scholarly museum education.

1 comment:

Melissa Barton said...

I agree that I'd be concerned about inexperienced students getting hands-on museum experience in this program. I'd also be concerned about teaching, say, collections management strictly as theory, without the students working in the actual collections.

I could see the program as being good for museum professionals who don't want to give up their jobs seeking a degree, though (for current professionals who keep their jobs, a classroom based program is pretty grueling).