History 375 



Emerson Baker
Martin's Hundred at Colonial Williamsburg

Course Syllabus

Interesting Web Sites Related to this Course


Department of History

HIS 375-01  Introduction to Museum Work

Fall 2006, Monday 4:30-6:50 in the all new SB 104


<>Professor Emerson W. Baker                                                               
Office Hours: Monday 1:30-4:30      
Office: Sullivan SB 110e                                                                                          
or by appointment                                                                                                                          please feel free to contact me at any time <>                                                                                                                                 

Using regional museums, this course focuses on relevant topics intended to introduce the student to the place of museums in society and education. Various facets of museum operation will be highlighted. Attention will be given to career opportunities existing in museum work.


This course introduces you to the many aspects of museums and museumship. Museums are complex organizations, so our discussions will include collections, exhibits, interpretation, education, preservation, and other facets of the museum. While method and theory will be included in the materials, much of the class will be practically oriented to life in the real world of museums. In the course of the semester, questions and problems are bound to arise. Please feel free to contact me whenever and wherever the need arises. <>  

Course Goals

After completing this course, you should understand and be able to comment accurately on the following themes:

1.   The nature of a museum and the vast range of organizations that comprise the museum community.

2.  The organization of a museum: administration, curation, interpretation and education, etc.

3.   The role of collections in a museum

4.   The relationship between museums and their diverse public audience

5.   The governance and administration of museums

Instructional Objectives

In this course you will have the opportunity to develop the following:

1.   A general knowledge and appreciation of the functioning of museums.

2.   Knowledge of potential museum career paths and the skills necessary to pursue such a career.

2.   Writing in grammatically correct English.

3.   Effective verbal communication.

Course Grade


First Written Assignment                 5%

Second Written Assignment            15%

Third Written Assignment               20%

Midterm Exam                                 20%

Final Exam                                       25%

Attendance & Participation             15%       


Course requirements and responsibilities

1. Required Reading (available at college bookstore): <>                                                        

Anderson, Gail, ed. Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 2004. <> 

Edson, Gary and David Dean. The Handbook for Museums. New York: Routledge, 1994. <>           

Handler, Richard, and Eric Gable. The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997 <> 

Plus other handouts, and selected on-line readings.


<>2. One mid-term examination.  I tend to stress materials covered in my lectures in the exams, but you should have a firm grip on all the reading. <> 

3. A final examination. The final covers material from the entire semester, but will be weighted toward materials covered after the second exam. <> 

4. Class participation and attendance. 15% of your class grade will be based on attendance and class participation.  While most class time will be spent in lecture, you can plan on some class discussions as well, particularly on the readings in Anderson. So, I advise you to complete the assigned reading by its due date. <> 

5. Three written assignments:

           - web page review (5% of grade)

            - home exhibit (10% of grade)

            - exhibit review (20% of grade)

Web Page Review Your task is to go on-line on the World Wide Web and to write a detailed critique of two museum’s web sites.   Take some time to check out a variety of sites. Find one that you like, and one that you are less fond of. In your reviews, be sure to give the site name, address, a general description of the content, and your editorial comments (why the site was effective or not, would you want to visit this museum, could you actively learn from the site, or was it just for publicity)  Be sure to be critical in your analysis. You should write one page on each of the sites. In your review, be sure to address the following: <> 


What is the authority of the site?

            .edu – educational

            .org –  tends to be non-profit organization

            .com – commercial

            .net – network, also commercial

            .gov - government

How credible is the site?

Can you tell who is responsible for the site? Who hosts it?

Is it a personal page, or an organization’s page?

Does it give full names, and contact information?

What is the purpose of the site? Why was it created?  Would you want to visit this museum?

How current is the site information?

            Can you tell when it was last updated?

            Do site links work?

What accurate is the site?

            Does it cite its sources?

            Does it have a bibliography, or other print sources?

            Are there typos or grammatical errors?

What do other people think of the site?

Has it won any awards?

 Is it reviewed by sites like the Merlot Project (www.merlot.org/Home.po)  or Scout Report (http://scout.wisc.edu/) ?

            How many sites link to it? (Go to google and type “link:” and the url).

Site Appearance and Layout

Is the site well organized? 

            Are there navigation markers throughout?

            Can you easily determine where the information you want is?

Does it have an effective front page? Does it provide a good site summary?

            Does it attract your attention?

Is the site visually appealing?

            Does it make sensible use of graphics? Does it have excessive “noise”?

            Does it load in reasonable time? Does it have consistency of design?


<>Home Exhibit.  An approximately four page report on the following problem of museum interpretation, exhibition, and preservation.   Pick a room in your home, dorm room, or apartment.  List fifteen to twenty objects in that room. Now, discuss these objects from the perspective of a museum of the year 2104, which is doing an exhibit on life in Massachusetts in 2004. Categorize the objects for historical significance. Which best illustrate life today? Which are less effective? Why? Also, what preservation problems might these constitute? In other words, how well would these objects survive 100 years? Would they need special treatment in an exhibit? 

Exhibit review. Choose an exhibit at an area museum, and write a review of it, as if you were reviewing the exhibit for a scholarly journal.   The review should be roughly five typewritten, double-spaced pages. Before visiting the exhibit and writing the review, be sure to get your choice approved by me. For those who might want to review an exhibit at Peabody-Essex Museum, SSC students can get in free of charge, by going to our library and getting a pass to the museum. Examples of museum exhibit reviews can be found on-line in J-STOR, in the American Historical Review, and the Journal of American History.  In writing your review, you should minimally address the following issues:

What is the exhibit about? What is ittrying to teach? (Does it have an underlying thesis?)

How well does the exhibit communicate this theme?

Is the exhibit well laid out? Good lighting? Aesthetic presentation?

Does the exhibit try anything new, or different? (Does it succeed at this?)

Is the exhibit text useful and appropriate? (Is there too much or too little?)

Do you recommend it? What kind of audience do you see being attracted to the exhibit?

What did you learn from the exhibit? 

Paper Mechanics: All papers are to be typed or word-processed, double spaced, with one inch margins. The more effectively you communicate your historical ideas, the more responsive your audience will be to them. Sloppy, poorly written papers distracts your readers, which usually means a lower grade than your good ideas would otherwise deserve. Remember, great history is also good literature. Remember too, the official college policy on minimum writing standards means than I cannot give a grade of "C" or above unless your paper has all of the following: <> 

1.  A clear and readily identifiable thesis statement.

2. A clear and coherent overall structure.

3. Paragraphs with topic sentences and adequate, specific development.

4. Standard but varied sentence structure and development.

5. Standard usage, punctuation, and spelling.

6. Accurate documentation when necessary.

Papers are due in class on the due date listed.  I will not look kindly upon late papers, and all later papers will be marked down - the later the paper, the more it will be marked down. I will in a very extreme case, grant a paper extension, but you will need an extremely good reason to get one (such as a death in the family). <> 

I do not give make up exams
. Being able to meet deadlines and deal effectively with pressure situations while still facing the challenges of everyday living is part of what college is all about. If you are genuinely seriously ill, I might make an exception. <> 

Salem State College is committed to providing equal access to the educational experience for all students in compliance with Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act and to providing all reasonable academic accommodations, aids and adjustments. Any student who has a documented disability requiring an accommodation, aid or adjustment should speak with the instructor immediately. Students with disabilities who have not done so should provide documentation to and schedule an appointment with the Office for Students with Disabilities and obtain appropriate services.

<>COURSE OUTLINE   -  Schedule is subject to change. It is your responsibility to keep your syllabus current!  All reading assignments should be completed  by the date listed. <> 

Sept. 11        Introduction to the Course: What is a Museum? The History of Museums

                     Edson & Dean 3-12

Sept. 18        Reinventing Museums for the 21st Century

                     Anderson 1-8, 44-79, 99-132

Sept. 25        Museum Organization and Management

                     Edson & Dean 13-53

Oct. 2           Museums as Business

                     Anderson 167-186, 348-49, 363-94.

                     Web Reviews Due

Oct. 9 – Columbus Day – no class

Oct. 16         Collections Management

                     Edson & Dean 54-91

                     Anderson, 269-91, 331-39

Oct. 23         Collections Care and Conservation

                     Edson & Dean 92-141

                     Anderson 292-302

Oct. 30         Midterm Examination

                     Museum Education

                     Edson & Dean 192-202

                     Anderson, 243-7

Nov. 6          Museum Exhibits

                     Edson & Dean 145-191

                     Anderson, 193-211, 248-256

                     Start reading Handler and Gable

Nov. 13        Museum Interpretation

                     Continue reading Handler and Gable

                     Anderson 212-232

Nov. 20        Living History

                     Complete Handler and Gable (for discussion)

                     Home Exhibit due

Nov. 27        Museums, Ethics and the Law

                     Edson & Dean 205-258

                     Anderson, 351-62         

Dec. 4           Museums, Community and Cultural Patrimony

                     Edson & Dean 214-221

                     Anderson, 80-98, 257-263, 303-330,

Dec. 11         Museums, Controversy, and Public Policy

“History and the Public: What Can We Handle? A Roundtable about History after the Enola Gay Controversy”

 Journal of American History Vol. 82, No. 3, pp. 1029-1135. Available on-line through JSTOR.

                     Exhibit Review due     

Dec. 18         FINAL EXAM  4:30 in SB 104



Museum Organizations and Links to Museums

<>New England Museum Association 

Outdoor and Living History Museums, US

Outdoor and Living History Museums, Non-US

Science, Technology & Natural History Museums

Hagley Museum 

Art and Decorative Art Museums

Hermitage Museum
Louvre Museum
Uffizi Gallery
Peabody Essex Museum
Archaeology and History Museums

Maine Historical Society

Jorvik Viking Centre
Abbe Museum
Higgins Armory

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