A new academic major offered by Earlham College leverages the significant art, geological, archaeological, and natural history collections on campus that are seldom found at other private institutions of higher education.
Museum studies, the sixth new major added to Earlham’s curriculum in the last year, prepares students to work at the museums of the future and addresses gaps in the professional preparation for the field in American higher education.
“The museum world has really changed,” said Ann-Eliza Lewis, the collections manager at Earlham’s Joseph Moore Museum of Natural History and the convener of the museum studies program. “Twenty-something years ago, when I finished graduate school, there weren’t many museum studies programs, so we were all self-taught. The field has really professionalized. Now you need a degree or a certificate to get a job in the field.
“The other thing that’s distinctive about our program is that we offer the best of both worlds. Not only do we have an academic major, students also have access to the Joseph Moore Museum of Natural History, our art collection, and the Friends Collection and College archives. We have real collections where students can get hands-on practical experience in a liberal arts setting.”
Even though the major debuted this year — a minor in museum studies has been offered since 1995 — it is already popular with current students pursuing degrees across all of Earlham’s four academic divisions. The program’s first graduate, Fiona Kelly, will graduate later this spring as a double-major in museum studies and ancient and classical studies.
“We purposely designed the museum studies major to help students interested in double-majoring,” Lewis said. “We’re happy if you’re a biology major and a museum studies major because it only makes your museum studies knowledge stronger.
“We recognize that you can’t just know how to design an exhibit,” she said. “You have to really know a subject. We created this so students can gain deep interdisciplinary knowledge in the subject areas they’re most passionate about.”
“We recognize that you can’t just know how to design an exhibit. You have to really know a subject. We created this so students can gain deep interdisciplinary knowledge in the subject areas they’re most passionate about.” — Ann-Eliza Lewis, collections manager, Joseph Moore Museum
The museum studies program is fueled by an interdisciplinary faculty from the departments of African and African American studies, ancient and classical studies, archaeology, art, biology, earth and environmental science, and history.
Students explore the history, best practices and critical issues of modern museology, and develop a deep disciplinary knowledge within a subject area of their choice.
All students in the museum studies program complete an internship and are encouraged to seek out opportunities that match their interests. Recent students have interned at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
Museum studies students often work at the Joseph Moore Museum by leading tours and educational programs, or in teams to develop new exhibits or redesign existing ones. An interdisciplinary team of students is currently working on a redesigned exhibit for Lady Ta’an, Earlham’s Egyptian mummy. A grant from Indiana Humanities, which was proposed by Earlham faculty and students, is supporting this project.
In addition to the launch of the major, museum studies students are benefitting from formal engagement with the Of/By/For All Change Network, a global community of civic and cultural organizations working to become more inclusive, equitable and relevant. The Museum recently was accepted to become a new member of this movement and has made a year-long commitment to make meaningful changes to grow closer to its neighbors in Wayne County.