Interdisciplinary offering is designed for undergrads,
will use local institutions
Johns Hopkins University's new Museums and Society Program is offering undergraduates significant opportunities to establish closer ties to the Baltimore/Washington area's many cultural institutions.
The program, an interdisciplinary course of study for undergraduate students at the university's Homewood campus, will promote the study of institutions that collect, preserve and interpret material culture for both scholarly ends and to instruct the general public. In addition to curricular and scholarly activities within Johns Hopkins, the program aims to promote meaningful connections with local and regional museums.
Faculty in such disciplines as anthropology, classics, history, history of art, history of science and Near Eastern studies will contribute to the program's development. The program offered its first course in July — "Art in London," held in that city — and plans are for the curriculum to become a minor.
Elizabeth Rodini, a senior lecturer in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' History of Art Department and associate director of the new program, said that a driving force in its creation was the strong and growing interest in museums, among both students and an interdisciplinary group of faculty.
"Right now, there is a widespread interest in museums and related institutions and the role they play in interpreting cultures," said Rodini, who came to Johns Hopkins in 2004 to assume the role of university liaison to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum. "One of our goals with this program is certainly to build relationships with the city's cultural institutions and give students more access to these places. Next to New York, the Baltimore/Washington area is perhaps the most vibrant area of the country for museums."
Rodini said that while many universities offer graduate-level training in museums, the Johns Hopkins program is unique in that it will be offered to undergraduates and is not intended as a pre-professional program. Instead, the program and the proposed minor offer a way for students to deepen their thinking in their chosen area of study, and to consider how that field is presented to the public. "Students should first be historians or anthropologists; they should know their primary material and it should be the basis of their work," said Rodini. "But they can benefit tremendously by thinking about the presentation in the 'real world.' After all, far more Americans encounter history in the halls of the Smithsonian than they do in the classroom, much less in academic publications."
Rodini suggests a parallel with "public history," a field that is growing in part because of the job crunch in academia for historians, but also because of a growing recognition of the importance of places like museums in exploring the past. She suggests a parallel notion, an idea of "public scholarship" more broadly, and believes museums are one of the most effective places to get that scholarship across.
Newspaper headlines tell a significant story about the power of museums in modern society. "From debates over how to tell the story of the African diaspora to legal quandaries over who owns cultural property to the struggle between evolution and 'intelligent design,'" says Rodini, "it's all in museums. Museums are the touchstones for many of today's most critical issues."
At Johns Hopkins, the new program's courses will encourage students to think critically about museums, examining their forms, functions, philosophies and practices in both historical and contemporary contexts. Many classes will offer visits to local institutions, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum, Maryland Science Center and Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture. Not limited to the study of traditional museums, the program will also explore the roles of historic sites and monuments.
Within the university, the program is similarly interdisciplinary, another fact that distinguishes it from related programs. Participating faculty come from history of science, anthropology, Romance languages, and other departments not typically associated with graduate programs in this field. The program plans to offer a mixture of lecture courses taught by faculty and local museum professionals, field trip-based courses, and hands-on museum opportunities.
Rodini said that one goal of the program is to produce educated museum goers — citizens who can visit museums with a critical eye and participate with intelligence and insight in the debates surrounding them.
A sampling of courses being offered in the fall of 2006 includes "Africa and the Museum," "Art Collection and the Rise of the Museum," and "Introduction to Material Culture," a course offered through the History of Science Department that will result in a student-curated exhibition at the on-campus Homewood House Museum. Winter offerings include a course that develops an exhibition out of the print collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, a study of public memory as it is shaped by national parks and other public monuments, and an investigation of museum controversies taught by a visiting lecturer from the Smithsonian Institution.
For information, contact Amy Lunday at 443-287-9960 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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