Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate

Since 1996, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institution have participated in a joint Program in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture.  Curators from the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian bureaus and faculty from the departments of American Studies, Anthropology, and History, and the Program in Historic Preservation have designed the program to promote graduate training focusing on research about and in museums and historic sites. The program centers on three questions:  How do museums function as social and historical institutions?  How is material culture used as evidence in museums?  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 museums and museum professionals.

Program courses are open to graduate students in any appropriate discipline.  Students enrolled in the four participating departments may, additionally, complete a four-course curriculum to earn a “Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture,” awarded upon graduation from their regular degree program.  The certificate is not available independently of a graduate degree program from the University of Maryland, College Park.

The program’s introductory course is a seminar at the Smithsonian, in which general issues of historical and material culture scholarship in museums are discussed through readings, investigative projects, and site visits to museums, collections, and exhibits. This is followed by a research seminar in which students select research topics drawing on museum resources at the Smithsonian or other appropriate institutions, and prepare and present an extended study. A third museum-based course is the program’s practicum in which students work closely with a museum curator or specialist and a member of the MSMC faculty on a research project that demonstrates the student’s mastery of museum materials and approaches.

The fourth course for the certificate is a seminar in one of the four supporting departments—American Studies, Anthropology, Historic Preservation, History, or History and Library Science (HILS)– that deals with major scholarly issues in material culture, as approached by the home discipline. This may include seminars in American material culture, the history of technology, cultural resource management, ethnology, or cultural analysis.

NOTE: The certificate aims to equip students with skills and knowledge for conducting research on and about museums of history, culture, and material life. It helps prepare students to present their scholarship in a museum or historical site setting.  This is not a museum studies program, however.  It is not directed toward museum administration or care of collections.  While we study the role of the curator in American society, we do not train you to become curators of particular kinds of artifacts.

HIST 610/AMST 655: Introduction to Museum Scholarship (3 hrs.)
Introduction to key issues involved in the study of history and material culture in museums, taught at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Topics include the history of museums, the theory of collections, exhibition strategies, and artifact-based research and controversies, both public and scholarly, involving museum-based scholarship and presentation.

HIST 810/AMST 856: Museum Research Seminar (3 hrs.)
Prerequisite: Introduction to Museum Scholarship or permission of instructor
In consultation with seminar leaders from UMCP and SI, students will select research topics that investigate key issues in museum-based scholarship and demonstrate their ability to research and prepare an extended research project. The project will be presented publicly at the completion of the seminar.

HIST 811/AMST 857: Museum Scholarship Practicum (3-6 hrs.)
Prerequisite: Museum Research Seminar or permission of instructor
Students will devise and carry out a research program using collections at the Smithsonian or another approved institution, and will work under joint supervision of a Smithsonian staff member and UMCP faculty member. Students already in the program should arrange the practicum with a museum professional in consultation with their certificate program advisor.

The fourth course will focus on material culture or closely-related studies as pursued by the student’s host discipline. Examples include: ANTH 448P/689P (Theories of the Past); ANTH XXXX (Material Culture Studies of Archaeology); AMST 629 (Race, Class, and Material Culture); AMST 650 (Material Culture Studies Theory); AMST 851 (Interpretation of Cultural Landscapes); HISP 600 (History, Theory & Contemporary Issues in Historic Preservation); HISP 635 (Social and Ethnic Issues in Historic Preservation); HISP 655 (Vernacular Architecture); HIST 406 (History of Technology); HIST 407 (Technology and Social Change in History); or appropriate offerings of HIST 609 in history of technology).

For more information, contact Dr. Mary Corbin Sies, Professor & Director of Undergraduate American Studies at or Dr. Robert Friedel, Professor of History, at, or Dr. Judith Freidenberg, Associate Professor of Anthropology, at or Dr. Don Linebaugh, Director and Associate Professor of Historic Preservation, at