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What is a Museum Studies Degree?
Students who complete a ‘museology’ or museum studies degree program acquire the skills needed to conserve, preserve, organize, and exhibit artwork, artifacts, and other objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest. They learn about the four basic types of museums – art, history, science, and nature – and how to manage their collections. They come to understand the roles of museum curators, directors, conservators, and exhibit designers. Museum studies degree programs also teach students about the role that technology plays in the administration and marketing of museums.
These are some of the subjects covered:
- History of museums
- Conservation and preservation
- Exhibit organization
- Museum budgeting
- Fundraising methods
- Museum education
Bachelor’s Degree in Museum Studies – Four Year Duration
With a museum studies bachelor’s degree, graduates typically qualify for museum curator assistant roles. Some smaller museums may hire job candidates with a bachelor’s for more senior positions. Not all schools offer museum studies degree programs at the bachelor’s level. Therefore, it is quite common for students pursuing a museum-related career to earn degrees in art history, history, or anthropology.
Here is a sample of a Museum Studies Bachelor’s Degree curriculum:
- Collecting in History
- Curation – Contemporary Perspectives
- Fundraising / Human Resources
- History of Museums
- Information Technology
- Museology - Museum Planning, Administration, and Management
- Museum Education and Appreciation
- Museum Environment
- Museum Exhibition Design and Installation
- Preservation Techniques
- Public Museum Programs
Master’s Degree in Museum Studies – Two Year Duration
Most museum curators hold a Master of Fine Arts in Museum Studies or a related discipline. At this level, it is common for students to choose a concentration, such as African art, modern art, American history, Native American history, or natural history. They generally choose their specialty based on the kind of museum they wish to work in.
The master’s degree curriculum varies depending on the chosen specialization. Most programs include one or more internships / practicums in exhibit and program development. These are some of the classes that may be included in a course of study:
- Cultural Resource Management
- Management of Museum Collections
- Preserving the American Past
- Museum Technology
- Instructional Systems Design
- Designing and Developing Interactive Learning Environments
- Visitor and Community Engagement
- Grantsmanship (obtaining grants-in-aid)
- Leading a Non-Profit Organization
Doctoral Degree in Museum Studies – Three to Four Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Museum Studies is research-focused and prepares students for a career in advanced research and/or academia. Available areas of research are often determined by the research interests of each university’s academic staff, who are responsible for supervising Ph.D. students. For example, these research areas are available at the University of Leicester in the U.K.:
- Art and Its Institutions: Histories and Practices
- Cultural Heritage and Cultural Practice
- Culture: Politics and Representation
- Museums: Design, Space, and Innovation
- Museums: Engagement and Participation
- Museums: Experience and Affect
- Museums, Heritage Sites and Cultural Institutions: History and Memory
- Museums: Social Agency and Organizational Change
- Museum Work: Cultures and Practices
Degrees Similar to Museum Studies
Anthropology is the study of the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, and how they communicate and socialize with one another. Subfields of anthropology include sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.
The focus of archaeology degree programs is the study of how people lived in the past. Students of this social science learn about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. They attend lectures and work in labs and on research projects. They get a sense of archaeology degree jobs by conducting excavations to recover artifacts like tools, clothing, decorations, and ancient ruins.
Degree programs in art history focus on the study of the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.
History degree programs study past civilizations and events. History majors may take courses in American, Canadian, Latin American, and European history, as well as in the history of science and the history of politics.
Liberal Arts and Sciences
Liberal studies combine concepts from several academic disciplines, including political science, cultural and anthropological studies, literature, education, and the social sciences (examples: history, philosophy, psychology, sociology).
Degree programs in zoology are focused on the scientific study of the evolution, anatomy, physiology, behavior, habitats, and health of animals.
Skills You’ll Learn
Through the process of earning a museum studies degree, students develop certain skills that are useful in other walks of life as well:
- Oral and written communication
- Attention to detail
- Organization / Cataloguing
- Community outreach / Relationship building
- Project / event management
- Exhibit design
- Aesthetic sensibility
- Grant application / Fundraising / Non-profit management
- Volunteer recruitment
What Can You Do with a Museum Studies Degree?
While the goal of most students who enter museum studies degree programs is to work at a museum, the degree can be also be applied in other kinds of work.
Museums and Galleries
In this sector there are many different roles available to holders of a museum studies degree. The following are among the most common. Some may require a graduate level degree.
- Museum / Gallery Curator – oversees permanent collections and acquires new ones
- Museum / Gallery Archivist – create and maintain catalogues of art, artifacts, and documents
- Museum / Gallery Conservator – preserves and restores damaged paintings or artifacts
- Museum / Gallery Educator – designs tours and educational programs for visitors
- Museum / Gallery Exhibit Designer – plans, designs, and stages exhibits
- Museum / Gallery Technician – assists the curator and exhibit designer
- Museum / Gallery Registrar – manages the logistics of exhibitions; coordinates public and private tours
Anthropology / Archaeology
These two fields are closely related to the museum sector and sometimes hire or contract museum studies graduates.
Education and Research
In addition to the educational roles available directly with museums and galleries, graduates with a degree in museum studies may pursue positions as librarians or at schools as teachers of art history or natural history, for example. These positions also typically require a teaching certificate or librarianship credential.
Archiving and Records
Archivist positions also exist outside of museums and galleries. Various agencies, businesses, and associations need professionals to organize, catalogue, and maintain their collections. These collections may be made up of meeting transcripts, documents, photographs, films, video and sound recordings, stamps and coins, historic buildings and sites, and living and preserved plants and animals. Archiving and records management jobs may exist with:
- Government archives and records offices
- Educational institutions
- Law firms
- Police forces
- Publishing companies
- Television and radio broadcasting companies
- Historical societies
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