I’ve been the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small museum in Memphis, Tennessee, for the past six years. As a faculty member at the University of Memphis, I also teach in their Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. In these two positions, I work with both university students and museum professionals to create real-time products for area institutions.
I’m currently teaching the course Applied Archaeology and Museums. Each student in the class works individually or in groups to create a real-time contribution to a museum. Here are some examples of projects from this semester:
- Based on numerous requests, students are working with staff at prehistoric and Native American sites along the Great River Road between Natchez and St. Louis to create a joint promotional brochure.
- At the Museum Director’s request, students are creating a small prehistoric tool exhibit for the Morton Museum of Collierville.
- In her hometown of Marion, Arkansas, one student will survey residents to gauge the level of interest for creating a cultural heritage center.
- Another student will complete an exhibit whose Big Idea is the wealth of information available in prehistoric surface collections. The Lincoln County Museum in Fayetteville, Tennessee will eventually house this student’s exhibit after its debut in Chucalissa.
- Faculty asked our museum studies students to create educational exhibits on stone tools for cases standing empty in the halls at our university.
- Students are adapting the ArchaeologyLand program so colleagues working in a small museum in Hualcayán, Peru can use the activity in their youth education programs.
- An Egyptian graduate student – a former tour guide on the Giza Plateau – will create an educational program for the Art Museum at the University of Memphis on the food consumed in dynastic Egypt.
These projects are a win-win for both small museums and these students. A small museum tells us what they need, and a student is trained to create a product for a museum setting. I serve as the instructor and mentor to create the student projects. These are just a few examples of how small museums and a university museum studies program can help each other.
The Smithsonian Institution maintains a list of degree granting Museum Studies programs. Departments of History, Anthropology and related disciplines can also assist with student-based projects in the small museum. If your small museum is too far from a university, you’ll find that you can complete many projects through remote digital access.
– Don’t expect a university’s museum studies program to address your museum need immediately after contacting them. A good match between an available student interest/skill set and a museum need can take time. Four of the seven projects listed above have been on my list of museum requests for several semesters.
– A recent survey of professionals by the Southeastern Museums Conference found that many museum studies program graduates lack applied experience. What better way to provide that experience than through your small museum?
If you have a project, but you’re not certain how to involve museum studies students, drop me a note. I’ll be happy to help you.
Robert Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org