History 788 

Museum Studies

Professor Emerson Baker

Course Syllabus

Some Interesting Web Addresses Related to this Course

Museum Web Addresses

Museum Organizations and Links to Museums
American Association of Museums
New England Museum Association
The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums
National Council on Public History
American Association for State and Local History
Canadian Heritage Information Network
Museum Computer Network
Museum Computer Network - Museum Sites On Line
International Council of Museums (ICOM)

Outdoor and Living History Museums, US
Mystic Seaport Museum Connecticut
Old Sturbridge Village Massachusetts
Plimoth Plantation Massachusetts
Shelburne Museum Vermont
Historic Deerfield Massachusetts
Strawbery Banke New Hampshire
Penobscot Maritime Museum Maine
Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village
Colonial Williamsburg

Outdoor and Living History Museums, Non-US
Fortress of  Louisbourg
King’s Landing

National Museums
Smithsonian Institution
British Museum
Canadian Museum of Civilization

Science, Technology & Natural History Museums
Hagley Museum
Corning Museum of Glass
Boston Museum of Science
George Eastman House
American Museum of Natural History

Art Museums
Uffizi Gallery
Tate Gallery
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Archaeology Museums
Jorvik Viking Centre

Department of History
HIS 788-S1  Museum Studies
(Monday 7:00-9:20 PM)

Professor Emerson W. Baker

Office Hours:M 3:30-4:30
Office: Sullivan 106a   WF 11:30-12:30
Phone:  978-542-7126 (office)    Or by appointment-
Email:   emerson.baker@salemstate.edu    please feel free to contact me at any time


This course provides a graduate level introduction you to the many aspects of museums and museumship. Museums are complex organizations, so our discussions will include management, collections, exhibits, interpretation, education, preservation, and other facets of the museum. Much of the class is in lecture format, but there will be plenty of chances for class discussion, and I encourage you join discussions and questions as they arise.

Course Objectives

Content Objectives - 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
Skills 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.
3.  Writing in grammatically correct English.
4.  Effective verbal communication, and the ability to lead a discussion.
Course Grade

Written Assignments  45%

Class Attendance & Participation  25%
Option of Research Project
     or Take Home Final  30%
Course requirements and responsibilities
Required Reading (available at college bookstore):
G. Ellis Burcaw, Introduction to Museum Work, Third Edition
Stephen Weil, A Cabinet of Curiosities: Inquiries into Museums and their Prospects
 Mike Wallace, Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory
 Richard Handler and Eric Gable, The New History in an Old Museum : Creating the Past at Colonial
 See also articles placed on reserve in the library
1. A total of three short written assignments will be made during the semester. See below.

2. 25% of the grade is determined by attendance and participation. We will have many class dicussions, and I urge you to actively participate. You should also feel free to bring up any question (either informational or philosophical) at any time. Your tuition for this course represents a substantial investment. I urge you to get your money's worth!

3. Students have the option of a take home final or a 10-15 page research paper. The research paper or project can be of any topic approved by the instructor. If you have a particular research interest, or if you work in a museum and are working on a project, this would be a good option for you. The take home exam will be comprehensive, on all materials for the semester. Either your final or paper is due on December 13.
4. Mechanics for written assignments (including take home final). All papers are to be typed, double spaced, with one inch margins on all sides of the paper (dot-matrix computer printout is acceptable too). 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.

Papers are due in class on the due dates listed above.  I will not look kindly upon late papers, and they will be marked down for lateness – the later the paper the more it is marked down

Salem State College is committed to nondiscrimination of Handicapped persons as specified in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students who qualify as handicapped persons under the definition of this act should notify the instructor at the beginning of course so that reasonable modifications may be made when necessary.



A total of four written assignments will take place:

1. Internet Assignment. An exercise designed to introduce you to the internet and the world of virtual museums. If you do not already have access to the Internet, you will apply for a computer account at Salem State, and briefly explore the Internet. Your task is to go on-line on the World Wide Web and explore museums on the internet, and write a five page paper on your experience. The paper should include a detailed review of at least three sites on the web. Take sometime to check out a variety of sites. Then, study three closely, and write a review of each of them. 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, whether the information was accurate, how useful was it to our course, etc). Be sure to be critical in your analysis. There are a lot of great sites on the web, with wonderful information, but there is also a lot of misinformation. (10% of grade, due in class, February 28).

2. A roughly five page report on the following problem of museum interpretation, exhibition, and preservation: Pick a room in your home. Prepare an object list fifteen to twenty objects in that room, and create the exhibit text and labels to accompany these objects in the exhibit. Also discuss these objects from the perspective of a museum of the year 2100, which is doing an exhibit on life in Massachusetts in 2000. 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?  (10 % of course grade, due April 3).

3. You are the director of a museum of history and art, serving a community of 40,000, and having an operating budget of 300,000. Your budget comes from admissions fees and an annual appropriation from the city government.  Solve the following problems:

a. List, with salaries, the staff positions for your museums.
b. You have the offer of volunteer help, how might you use them?
c. Your board of trustees recommends hiring part-time professional help. What is your position on this?
d. Your museum receives a lump sum gift of $500,000. The trustees ask you advice. How do you suggest this money be spent?
e. Because of increased expenses, you may have to fire a staff member unless you can raise more money. Give some possible solutions.
f. Things get even worse, and the budget is cut to $200,000. What do you do, while trying to maintain standards and serve the public?
g. Finally, after hanging in for several years, your situation improves dramatically. A new wing of the museum is built, and ready for use. and your annual budget is raised from $200,000 to $375,000. What would your new salary budget be? (Assume the new wing is adequately furnished and equipped).
All together, this assignment should be roughly five pages. (10% of course grade, due  April 17.)


4. Exhibit review: (15%) -  You are the ace cultural reporter for the Boston Sunday Globe , and have been assigned to review an exhibit. You may review any exhibit your editor (professor, that is) approves of.  You will want to visit the exhibit, and think, and write about it in the following ways:

What is the exhibit about? What is is trying 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?
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? How?
What did you learn from the exhibit?
Your editor has been very kind, and has allowed you 5-7 typewritten, double spaced pages for the review!  (15% of course grade, due May 1).

Salem State College is committed to nondiscrimination of Handicapped persons as specified in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students who qualify as handicapped persons under the definition of this act should notify the instructor at the beginning of course so that reasonable modifications may be made when necessary.


Schedule is subject to change. Keep your syllabus current!  Mar 3 or 31 for makeup…
Jan. 24   Introduction to the Course; What is a Museum? The History of Museums
Jan. 31 Different Types of Museums
 Read:  Burcaw ch 1-4; Wallace, vii-xiv, 3-31, 115-129; H & G Intro, ch 1
Feb.  7  Virtual Museums & Managing Museums (Class Meets in SB 109C)
 Read: Burcaw ch 5; Wallace 75-114; H & G ch 2 & 3; Weil ch 1, 18, 19
Discussion: What the the opportunities and problems that computers, the Internet, and technology pose for museums?
Feb. 14 Museums, Objects and Collections
 Read: Burcaw ch 6-8; Weil 9-11, Malaro ch 9 & 10 (reserve)
 Assignment # 1, Internet Review Due in Class
Discussion: The de-accessioning controversy. When any why should museums deaccession collections? Who should decide?
Feb. 21 No Class: Presidents Day

Feb. 28. Care and Cataloguing of Collections

Burcaw ch 9-11;   Weil ch 13;  Malaro ch 6-8 (reserve)
Mar. 6 Exhibits and Use of Collections
Burcaw ch 12-14; Wallace 34-74
Discussion: Many museums appear as elitist, especially in the poor urban settings many find themselves in today. How can they deal with this dilemma?
Mar. 13 Spring Break:  No Class

Mar. 20 Interpretation & Education

 Burcaw ch 15-16; H & G ch 4-5
Mar. 27 Museum Buildings, Preservation and the Community
 Burcaw ch 17-20; Wallace 178-246; Weil ch 2, 3
 Assignment #2, Room Exhibit due in Class
 Discussion: Are museums really worth the cost? Who should pay for them?
 What about money from the government? Does it buy control?
Apr.  3 Museums, Law & Public Policy
 Burcaw ch 21; Weil ch 14, 15, 17, 22; Weil, Repose* and Who Owns the Naharaja?*
 You should have picked an exhibit to review by now.
 Discussion: The spoils of war. How should museums deal with art confiscated as war treasures?
Apr. 10 Museum as Business
 H & G ch 6-9; Weil ch 4;
 Assignment #3, Finances Assignment due in class
Apr. 17 Patriot’s Day – No Class
Apr. 24  Museums and Controversy
 Wallace 115-132, 249-309; Weil ch 5-7, 16
Discussion: What should exhibits be about? How should they deal with controverial exhibit topics?
May   1 Museums, Public Memory and the Future
 Wallace 133-174; Burcaw ch 24; Weil ch 8, 23, 24
 Discussion: Is there a problem with Mickey Mouse running museums?
 Schmitt (reserve), Strand (reserve) Wallace & Jones-Garmil (reserve)
 Assignment #4, Museum Exhibit Review Due in Class
May   8 Take Home Final Exam or Research Project Due by 7pm


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