Ohio Museums Association's annual conference being held this year at Walsh University. In my free time, I have been cranking out recommendation letters for a multitude of Museum Studies graduate programs to which my last semester's students are applying. Add to that, this week Walsh posted a brand new position, Director of the Museum Studies Program. All of this museum studies activity started me thinking about my own education, career path, and professional position as a "museum specialist." I don't personally have a degree in Museum Studies. Am I still the specialist I think I am, or fast becoming a museum dinosaur?
Teaching in the Museum Studies program at Walsh, I am convinced that my students today are better prepared for the special challenges presented by museum work than I ever was at their age. Still, I cannot help but wonder where all of the wonderful, esoteric majors have gone? As an undergraduate student I took courses in anthropology, art history, history, classic civilization, geology, and more. Let's face it, I never met a humanities class I didn't like, and typically these classes were not electives, but required coursework in one of the two majors I assumed would prepare me well for a career in museums. During the fall semester of my junior year, I was interning at the Art Museum, volunteering at the Museum of Archaeology, and taking classes in the Natural History Museum. I graduated a year and a half later, and within a week began my first job on staff at a museum. Granted, it was a traveling art museum on a train, and I was serving as something resembling an art history carnie, but still I managed to ply my diverse liberal arts education and brief museum experience into a real career, stunning both of my parents along the way.
After a couple of months touring on the Artrain, I decided I needed to head to grad school, so I might eventually get a stationary museum job somewhere. I looked at two museum studies programs, there were not many to choose from back then, but decided upon an advanced degree program in anthropology. Believe it or not, I considered anthropology a more practical choice than museum studies, which seemed too narrow and confining for broader professional applications. I was not interested in a PhD in anthropology, which would lead to a career in academia and research. I wanted a masters degree as a doorway to a role in museum leadership. Anthropology seemed a sensible and interesting choice with wide-ranging applications, and in my case, it was.
How times have changed! Today, there are programs in museum studies at both my undergraduate and graduate schools. Neither existed when I attended in the nineties. In my own course in museum studies, I now teach skills and concepts to undergrads that took me years of on-the-job training to acquire. Knowing they will also need advanced degrees to land a decent museum job, these same students are going on to graduate programs in museum studies, and will soon have more textbook knowledge of museology than I.
The museum world seems to be brimming with these new specialists in museum studies, not to mention nonprofit management and arts administration. So, where does that leave the rest of us? What becomes of the anthropology, history, and classic civ majors, who landed museum jobs ten to fifteen years ago, before the new wave? Certainly, there is a wisdom that only experience can bring, but for those of us grandfathered under the pre-museum studies era exemption, can we expect to be outpaced by our younger museum colleagues in the know? Are we the new dinosaurs in our own museums?
These are all questions we hope to dig into at the upcoming OMA conference, and I invite you to attend and weigh in on the role that academic programs in museum studies may play in changing the face of museum administration. In the meantime, please share your thoughts about how you think museum scholarship and the education of museum specialists is, or isn't, changing our profession. I look forward to reading your comments.
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