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Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate

Equipping students with skills for research, scholarship and presentation that are appropriate to museums of history, culture and material life.

The University of Maryland, College Park’s certificate program in museum scholarship and material culture (12 credits) augments graduate work in American studies, anthropology and archaeology, historic preservation, history, library and information studies and other disciplines by training students to understand the particular challenges, issues and opportunities encountered when conducting and presenting material culture scholarship in the museum environment. A unique program in this region, the certificate aims to equip students with skills for research, scholarship and presentation that are appropriate to museums of history, culture and material life.

The program is currently directed by Associate Professor Mary Sies with guidance and support of a steering committee that includes a multidisciplinary cohort of scholars and professionals.


The University of Maryland College Park’s (UMCP) Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture (MSMC) was started in 1996 to promote graduate training focusing on research about and in museums and historic sites. Curators from the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian centers as well as faculty from the university’s departments of American studies, anthropology, history and historic preservation have participated in designing the program and are represented on the certificate committee.

The program centers on three questions:

  1. How do museums function as social and historical institutions?
  2. How is material culture used as evidence in museums?
  3. In what ways do exhibits, collections and other museum efforts express ideas and create knowledge?

Our ultimate purpose is to explore the ways that museums and historic sites participate in those scholarly disciplines that engage material culture. Core courses offer the participation of staff from the world’s largest museum complex and enable students to combine intellectual inquiry about museums with direct access to local museums and museum professionals. The certificate prepares students to present their scholarship in a museum or historical setting. However, this is not a museum studies program which aims to train students to become museum curators or administrators. Rather, it focuses on scholarly analysis of the role of the curator in American society.

The certificate has four required courses (3 credits each) that are meant to be taken sequentially to complete the program. These courses include “Introduction to Museum Scholarship,” “Museum Research Seminar,” “Museum Scholarship Practicum” and a fourth course chosen by the student in his/her department which focuses on material culture or another closely-related field. Currently, all graduate students at UMCP can apply to the certificate. The certificate is not available independently of a graduate degree program from UMCP.

Program Staff

Dr. Mary Sies

Dr. Mary Corbin Sies is an associate professor of American studies and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Historic Preservation program and the Consortium on Race, Gender & Ethnicity. She received her Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan in 1987. Her research and teaching interests span material and visual culture, planning history, architectural history, urban/suburban history and cultural and social history of the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her most recent edited book (with Isabelle Gournay and Robert Freestone), “Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change” (University of Pennsylvania, 2019), was awarded the best-edited work in planning history by the International Planning History Society in 2020. One of the four founding members of the Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate certificate program, Sies previously directed the program from 2006 until 2013. She has consulted on museum exhibitions for the Margaret Strong Museum, the National Building Museum and the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. Locally, she volunteers with the Greenbelt Museum and the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, where she is part of the Lakeland Digital Archive team, a community/university collaboration pioneering an equitable and community-driven digital heritage project. She is an avid museum-goer with a special appreciation for community museums and local heritage societies around the world. 

Dr. Quint Gregory

Dr. Quint Gregory wears many hats at the University of Maryland but spends most of his time in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, a space he designed and runs, collaborating with teachers, researchers and students interested in employing digital technologies to enhance their work, be it pedagogical, academic or rhetorical. He has taught seminars for the Honors College at the University of Maryland that focus on museums and society, inspiration for which he drew from nearly a decade’s worth of work in area museums (National Gallery of Art, Walters Art Gallery) while pursuing his doctorate, a goal only accomplished after his Fulbright-fueled year of research in the Netherlands in 2000–01.

Gregory first came to the University of Maryland as a graduate student focused on 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting (he worked on such exhibitions as Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen), a subject for which he retains great passion, even if he does not wade in those waters daily at present.


Kenna Hernly

Kenna Hernly is the current graduate assistant to the MSMC program. She is a Ph.D. candidate in teaching and learning, policy and leadership in the College of Education. Her research focuses on art museum education and ways to engage visitors in exhibitions. Before coming to UMD, Hernly was a curator of public programs and interpretation at Tate St Ives, UK. She has a B.A. in art history from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an M.A. in contemporary visual art from Falmouth University, UK. In 2020, she was the Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Diana Marsh

Diana Marsh is an assistant professor of archives and digital curation in the College of Information Studies (iSchool). Her work focuses on how changing technologies, cultures and values affect the communication of knowledge in heritage institutions. Her current research focuses on access to anthropological archives and the circulation of digitized ethnographic collections in Native communities.

She was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA). From 2015–17, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the American Philosophical Society where she curated exhibitions drawing primarily on archival collections (“Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia,” from April-December 2017 and “Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America,” from April-December 2016). From 2014–-15, she was a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow in museum anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she taught courses in museology and heritage. She completed her Ph.D. in anthropology at UBC, where she conducted an ethnography of exhibition planning and the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil hall. She has an M.Phil. in social anthropology with a museums and heritage focus from the University of Cambridge and a B.F.A. in visual arts and photography from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Her work has been published in the Journal of Material Culture, Museum Anthropology, Practicing Anthropology, Archivaria and Archival Science. Her book, “Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls,” was recently published with Berghahn Books Museum and Collections Series.


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