Are Museum Studies Students Zombies?!


I was surprised when I ran across this article earlier today. I hadn’t even considered that there could be a push against hiring Museum Studies students in a museum. In Nina Simon’s words:  “I see these programs as a threat, an encroachment of schoolishness on the willfully unschooled. Following a standardized curriculum to prepare for work in the museum field homogenizes the perspectives and skills people bring to museum jobs. I think one of the things that keep museums fresh, welcoming, and non-didactic is the fact that most exhibit designers, museum educators, and conservators come from a variety of backgrounds”

Keep with the article though, there are some really great points brought up in the comments.

Clearly it is hard to pin hole all museum studies programs, as they are not all the same. After getting through this article and all of the comments, I felt even better about what we are doing at UNCG.

4 thoughts on “Are Museum Studies Students Zombies?!

  1. First, I appreciated this article a lot. This was not something I had considered to be a “thing” prior, either. So i read the article, and the comments. I will say I am feeling a little offended about some of things she said. Simon is right in feeling reserved, to a certain extent. Yes, learning “best practices” makes me more critical of museums that CHOOSE not to. It does not make me critical of museums that have be innovative because they cannot afford it. Furthermore, like every curriculum it will evolve as the field evolves. Simon does say in the comments she struggled with this post because she admires graduate students. That her fear, then, is that the grad degree will become a requirement in the field. To that I have to say, with respect, get over it. This is not a side effect of museum studies programs, it is a side effect of our current economy and education system as whole. You now are encouraged to go to grad school to be a school teacher. It sucks, yeah, but this is the world we live in.

    But the comments, and even most of the article, made me realize just how awesome our program really is.


  2. I think my biggest issue with the article was Simons’s homogenization of all museum studies students. She attributes the success of a museum to the diverse staff employed within the institution. Yet, she only attributes that diversity to individuals who did not attend a museum studies program and who herald from various employment backgrounds. Even within our own program, we all come from different employment and undergraduate backgrounds. We are a culturally diverse bunch. Ages and regional distinction run the gamut. What we share is a common goal to become educated in the best practices of museum operations. Some how Simons ignores that fact.


  3. Curious to know what y’all think you are getting from your present education that undermines what Nina is talking about.

    Also, she wrote this in 2007. I wonder if her view has changed in the intervening nine years.

    I suspect, also, that her view is shaped by the types of museums she had been working in at the time–children’s, art, various other hands on spaces. I imagine that these types of museum attract a different type of creative person. The museums that we have been examining all semester seem to be fundamentally different, with conservative institutional structures and conservative interpretive methods. That has produced an interesting flipside of her observations–the influx of MA public history students has objectively raised the professional standards of history museums in North Carolina and made the history museum profession a bit more robust.


  4. When I started grad school my previous employer (museum education director) told me that the general consensus among museum professionals was that a Museum Studies masters wasn’t worth the effort and wouldn’t help me get a museum job any faster or one that paid any more. I think UNCG helps mitigate this by hiding their museum studies program inside a History degree. We don’t walk out with a degree in museum studies, but with a degree in history. In theory that makes us doubly qualified, and anchors us in a traditional discipline… and possibly insulates us from total failure. In practice, however, I wonder if this two fold approach dilutes our exposure to museum topics, especially when we spend three semesters on the museum side of things helping HAL chase it’s tail.


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