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AMST2500 History Curatorship

Steven Lubar
Spring Semester, 2019

Tuesday and Thursday 1:00-2:20

Nightingale-Brown House seminar room

This seminar on curatorial practice considers collecting as well as exhibitions and other forms of
interpretation. We will visit museums, read historical, theoretical, and critical writings on
collecting and interpreting, and work on museum projects.

In general, we’ll discuss readings on Tuesday and work on projects on Thursdays.

Project listed here are also tentative, based on opportunities. We probably won’t produce any
exhibitions, but will create outlines, designs, scripts, and proposals. We will do some hands-on
collections work.


Readings listed here are tentative; we’ll shape the syllabus during the first few class meetings.
Each of us will read on topics we’re interested in, and in class we’ll discuss the ideas to help
each of us shape our own curatorial philosophy.

These are at the bookstore:

There are also many books in the JNBC library, and the Brown library, and many books and
articles in my Zotero catalog and in two shared folders (here and here; these are things I’ve
collected over the past decade or so). Please explore, and for each class, choose readings that will
allow you to contribute to the class.

Brown subscribes to many museum journals. Please explore these:

Museums, Etc
A British publisher of museum books, generally collections of essays on narrowly
defined topics, written by museum practitioners. Spend some time exploring the catalog.
Curator: The Museum Journal
The oldest US museum journal. Tends to have more reflective articles.
Museum Management and Curatorship
International, tends to be focused on contemporary issues.
The Public Historian
Beyond museums.

Exhibitions (previously, The Exhibitionist)
Tends to be practical, often written by museum practitioners, often case studies.
Museum magazine
Museums Australia
Museums & social issues a journal of reflective discourse
Museum international
Museum and society
From University of Leicester Museum Studies program; cutting edge
Museum anthropology
The international journal of the inclusive museum
Museum anthropology review
The journal of museum education Roundtable reports
Center for the Future of Museums Blog
The Museum Review
Collections: a journal for museum and archives professionals
International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

1/24 First class

For next class

Pick one journal and come to class prepared to talk about it.

What do curators do?

Curator job descriptions

“The Museum as Public Intellectual,” chapter 5 of Jennifer Barrett, Museums and the Public
Essays from by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, eds., Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and
Politics of Museum Display 
Andrea Witcomb, "From Batavia to Australia II," in Reimagining the Museum
Stephen E. Weil, “From Being about Something to Being for Somebody: The Ongoing
Transformation of the American Museum,” Daedalus (Summer 1999).
Christina Kreps, “Curatorship as Social Practice,” Curator 46/3, July 2003.Christina F. Kreps,
“Appropriate museology in theory and practice,” Museum Management and Curatorship, Vol.
23, No. 1, March 2008, 23-41
Steven Lubar, “Museums need collections and connections”

Association of Art Museum Curators, Professional Practices for Art Curators, 2007
American Alliance of Museums Curators Committee Standing Committee on Ethics, Curator
Core Competences
AAM, A Code of Ethics for Curators

Samuel JMM Alberti, “Scientific instrument curators in Britain: Building a discipline with
material culture,” August 2018, Journal of the History of Collections

Collecting and Collections

Samuel JMM Alberti, “Objects and the Museum,” December 2005, Isis 96(4):559-571


Jim Gardner and Elizabeth Merritt, AAM Guide to Collections Planning
Collecting the Contemporary: A Handbook for Social History Museums
Contemporary Collecting: Theory and Practice
Significance 2.0

Collections Development policies

Victoria and Albert Museum Collections Development Policy
New Bedford Whaling Museum
Collections Development Policy - NMNI

AAM, Collections Stewardship
AAM, Developing a Collections Management Policy
AAM, General Facilities Report
Collections Development Policy template - Arts Council England

Rethinking Collections
Jennie Morgan & Sharon Macdonald, “De-growing museum collections for new heritage
Elizabeth Wood and Rainey Tinsdale, Active Collections
Allison Marsh with Lizzie Wade, “Inside the Smithsonian’s Curatorial Crisis”
Museums and the Disposals Debate

Kenneth Ames, Barbara Franco and L. Thomas Frye, Ideas and Images: Developing Interpretive
History Exhibits (1992)

Richard Rabinowitz, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the ‘Slavery in New
York’ Exhibition,” The Public Historian 35, no. 3 (August 2013): 8–45, and Steven Lubar,
“Curator as Auteur: Thoughts on Richard Rabinowitz’s “Eavesdropping at the Well”
Amy Lonetree, Decolonizing Museums

Beverly Serrell, Exhibit Labels
Polly McKenna-Cress, and Janet Kamien, Creating Exhibitions
Pat Villeneuve, Ann Rowson Love, eds., Visitor-Centered Exhibitions and Edu-Curation in Art
Museums, Part 1, pp. 1-44
10 Must Reads: Interpretation
Stephen Bitgood, Engaging the Visitor: Designing Exhibits That Work

Advanced Interpretive Planning: Essential Concepts and Strategies for Today’s Interpretive

February 9 – Saturday – Erin Wells exhibit design workshop

Project management
(Julia Renaud email) Stephanie?

Curatorial job descriptions

Munro, Ealasaid. 2013. "Therapeutic museum?: social inclusion and community engagement in
glasgow museums." Order No. U608999, The University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom), ProQuest Dissertations &
Theses Global.

 All but last few issues available online
 Online readings on exhibits

Possible Exhibition Projects

Following are some projects that might be useful

Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

“The mission of the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation is to encourage and inspire
future innovation in America. We do this through our collections and programs, by exploring the
historical impact of industry on American culture, by examining the dynamic processes of
invention and innovation, by celebrating our location in Waltham as a foundation of the
American Industrial Revolution, by connecting the expertise of older generations with the
inquisitiveness of young people, and by delighting audiences of all ages with an educational and
engaging museum experience.”

The museum is interested in a exhibition focused on inventor and industrialist Charles Metz,
whose companies produced bicycles, cars, and airplanes in the early twentieth century. More
generally, they’d like the exhibit to consider how and why some companies survive and some
companies go out of business. How to explain the ceaseless change in American capitalism?

The museum has significant collections to draw on, not very much money, and a fairly laid-back
style of exhibition.

New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center

“To educate the public about the history and culture of New Bedford’s commercial fishing
industry by engaging them in authentic experiences, to document that culture and history for
future generations, and to honor and support the men and women who make their living from the

Currently we are working towards two temporary exhibits which will look at the evolution and
impact of changing technology in the fishing industry.  The first exhibit will go up in mid April
and the second in mid September.  

We are just in the beginning stages with the exhibits. The first (slated to open in mid April) will
focus on the evolution of wheelhouse technology (communication, navigation and fish finding)
and explore the impact of technological changes on fishermen, their families and their
community.  The second (slated to open in mid September) will focus on the evolution of vessels
(wood to steel, sail to diesel, eastern rig to stern trawler, etc.).  We plan to highlight some of the
local industry innovators, and again to explore the impact that these developments have had on
fishermen.  We plan to do some additional archival and ethnographic research (oral history
interviews) and are working with Chris Danemeyer and Neal Mayer of Proun Design (a Boston
based interpretive exhibit design group).  In addition to the physical exhibits, we will also be
developing some digital content for our website as well as curriculum materials, school and
public programs.

Little Compton Historical Society

“The Little Compton Historical Society was incorporated in 1937 to preserve the history and
cultural heritage of Little Compton for the enrichment and enjoyment of the general public. The
Society fulfills this mission by:
 Maintaining and restoring selected local sites of historical significance including the
Wilbor House property dating from 1690 and the early 19th century Friends Meeting
 Collecting, conserving and interpreting historical documents and objects linked to the
houses, farms, and families of Little Compton;
 Conducting education and outreach programs and issuing publications to share
information and stimulate interest in the area’s history.”

The LCHS has a barn full of carriages, farm equipment, and other miscellaneous artifacts
collected to document the town’s rural past. These objects are idiosyncratically labelled now.
How might they be put to better use, to be conserved and interpreted is part of the Society’s
educational goals? This might tie into this year’s exhibition theme exploring Little Compton’s

Atlanta History Center

The Atlanta History Center is developing an exhibition on the 1996 summer Olympics. Sara
Dylla, the curator of the exhibit (and a public humanities alumna) would like to use the class for
as a sounding board for the project. She’ll talk with us occasionally about progress, the decisions
she needs to make, and the like. She would also like some students to work on an archive at the
John Hay Library: J. Carter Brown organized an arts festival at the Olympics, and his papers are
at the John Hay.

Anne S.K. Brown Collection, John Hay Library

The Anne S.K. Brown collection includes some 5000 miniature lead soldiers, presently displayed
in a rather traditional way on the third floor of the John Hay Library. How might that exhibition
be rethought?

Some other projects under consideration

MOMA exhibit jointly with Francesca Luigi’s RISD exhibit design class

Heather Cole – library –

Like LGBTQ project – follow up with that. af

Mary Murphy, Pembroke Center Archive


Curators to talk to
Erendina Delgadillo 
Erin Curtis
Sarah Dylla

Sarah Seidman
Jonathan Olly

At the John Hay

Pictures of storage

Website on storage for museums:

I think it might be useful to do this as part of the history curatorship course - part of a
discussion about how to manage projects and keep everyone informed. Maybe each of
us will explore one possibility...  
On Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 9:44 AM Julia Renaud <> wrote:
Hi Steve,

So sorry for the delay (and looking forward to "Public Amnesias" later today)! In terms of
project management software, the professional project managers at my last job (who
were coordinating the development and production of a special-purpose
supercomputer) were not really happy with anything on the market. They talked about
Asana and Microsoft Project as both useful in their own ways; I don't remember them
talking about Basecamp, but then again, I never really talked to them about this
extensively. It seems from my limited impressions, though, that there's not really one
product that everyone agrees is best, as demonstrated by the fact that apparently you
need to get a plugin to do Gantt charts in Asana! For documentation sharing, the
company I was with transitioned from Sharepoint (which was terrible) to Confluence
during my time there. I really like Confluence, but that's not really a planning tool.