In the last two decades, museums, libraries and archives have looked to digital tools to digitize their collections and share their content virtually with potential visitors who cannot travel to the site. In the wake of environmental and public health disasters, such as hurricanes and the COVID19 pandemic, digitization is now a necessary means of preserving and sharing cultural heritage. Digital tools are increasingly being employed in onsite exhibits as well, to encourage social justice actions among museum visitors, or, more generally, as part of the museum’s interpretive strategy to better achieve education and outreach goals. In addition, museum professionals and academics are experimenting more and more with digital platforms to engage students of history in new ways, to find more successful approaches in training students in difficult histories, such as computer games on the history of enslavement and the history of colonization of Indigenous peoples. In this class we will examine case studies in how digital history has been used to collect, research and educate histories of trauma and protest from the US and Germany. We will learn different how to use different digital technologies for public history projects and for historical research.
Science During War
Sarin gas, nuclear weapons, photography, and racial classification schemes are all scientific developments that were utilized in times of war. In Spring 2020, the most ubiquitous innovation was the face mask. At that moment, the world confronted two violent struggles – the fight against COVID-19 and the fight to end the war on Black lives. Traditional definitions of war in history focus on armed hostile conflict between states or nations. War has also been used to define struggles against more abstract opponents, such as the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, or the War on Drugs. In this class, we will use both definitions, and examine cases of the development and application of new sciences to the battlefield, to the documentation of war, and to study the ramifications of war on the human body and mind.
Race, Gender and Sexuality in the History of Medicine
In this course, you will work with archived specimens and artifacts to determine what history is told through three-dimensional objects and how these objects should be displayed in the libraries of a public university. This seminar has two main goals: 1) to provide students with an intensive introduction and conceptual history of major primary and secondary sources, including texts, objects and images, in the history of science and medicine; 2) to enable students to think critically about how the concepts of “race,” “gender” and “sexuality” have developed over time in particular historical contexts in the arts and sciences. Research for the curatorial component for this seminar includes field trips to art museums and collaborating with University Special Collections and the Guilbeau Center for Public History.
Museum Exhibition Design and Development
Museums are some of the world’s most popular sites of education and leisure. This course will train you in how to curate and design an exhibition at a well-established museum, using the museum’s permanent collection. We will meet with registrars, collections managers, curators, interpreters and museum educators to gain a better understanding of the numerous departments involved in curating, designing, and making use of museum exhibitions. As such, the course will provide you with an introduction to numerous possible career paths as a museum-based public historian. Your final assignment for the course will be to work as a group to design an exhibit from the science and technology collection of an AAM accredited museum. Your main directive is to apply the assigned readings on decolonizing public history to design an inclusive exhibit that addresses and redresses the history of white supremacy in the US.
Oral Histories of Folk Medicine: Native American, African American, Creole and Cajun Practices of Healing
This course will provide an overview of the global history of medicine from the early modern to modern period. We will then focus on the rise of modern medicine and its efforts to suppress long standing healing practices of various communities, particularly in the Deep South. Students will also be trained in oral history methods, use the resources of the Guilbeau Center for Public History to collect oral histories from Indigenous, African American, Creole and Cajun community members. Students will produce a podcast series and form an oral history collection for the Guilbeau Center for Public History, the Iberia African American Historical Society, and the Youngsville Historical Society. We will also go on a field trip to the Healer’s Garden at Vermilionville Living History Museum.
HERITAGE AND MEMORY IN HISTORY MUSEUMS
This class examines museums and memorials that represent heritage, history and memory. How do some heritages come to be memorialized and institutionalized and others excluded? Case studies from different geographic regions and social contexts will be explored to evaluate conflict heritage, minority heritage, indigenous heritage sites of conscience, the relationship between heritage, development and tourism to history museums and memorials. Considering cultural institutions as diverse as Colonial Williamsburg, immigration museums in the US, slavery museums in Africa, Holocaust museums in Europe, and museums of Native American history and culture, we seek out common themes and problems that provide opportunities for growth in institutional representations of the past. Topics covered include: authenticity, race, cultural property, nationalism, interpretation, multivocality, contact zones, multiculturalism and community outreach. Our objective is to examine the connections and distinctions between the theory and practice of exhibiting history and to understand how material culture, social process and historical events converge in the social production of collections and institutions. Our focus is on museums not merely as containers of history, but as social arenas that influence and determine the politics, value and experience of the past. Students will develop a theoretical toolkit for contextualizing and addressing controversies in the heritage industry of cultural institutions.
Historic Sites and the Politics of Preservation
This course will examine the cultural politics that influence reuse of historic spaces for museums and other public purposes. Through course readings, site visits and individual archival research, students will explore sites ranging from historic houses and period rooms presented as museum installations to restored villages and communities to dramatic reuse of historic space for cultural tourism. Students will pay particular attention to the social and political contexts in which original use and subsequent reuse took place, and analyze primary documents that illustrate both motivations and strategies for interpretation.
Students who complete this course will review 150 years of preservation projects in the U.S., a movement that has not only saved historic houses, but established the national park system and documented the nation’s heterogeneous history. Students will encounter evocative interpretive projects, contemporary battles over preservation, innovative approaches to programming and community formation, as well as failed attempts to preserve public space. Students will discuss the social and political controversies surrounding these spaces. The course is organized into three themes: (1) types of historic sites and cultural landscapes, (2) processes of preservation, and (3) activating historic sites.
History and Theory of Museums
Introduction to the social, cultural, and political history of museums.
This course focuses on the formation of the modern museum with an emphasis on the U.S. context. Museums of natural history, anthropology, science, technology, history, and art are addressed from a variety of disciplinary approaches that explore the institution and its practices with respect to governance, colonialism, nationalism, class, gender, ethnicity, and community. Throughout the semester, we will explore museums as cultural and educational institutions, as institutional cultures, and as places in which ideas about art, identity, culture and history are regularly made and remade.
Weekly visits to New York museums are required, along with multiple writing assignments, and a final paper.
This course includes candidates for both the Advanced Certificate and the M.A. in Museum Studies. The class is designed to help students identify a research question, navigate relevant primary and secondary sources, and produce a well-written, well-organized research paper at the end of the term. For those in the Advanced Certificate program, the course will focus on a final 30-page (double-spaced) Museum Studies research paper. M.A. students will focus on writing an introduction and one chapter of a master’s thesis.
The research seminar provides students with a collective structure and series of deadlines as they develop individual research projects. Students will be responsible for their own research and writing, as well as thoughtful reading and comments in writing groups.