Combining Theory and Practice in GW’s Museum Studies Courses

GW’s Museum Management class in the midst of a whirlwind tour of the Smithsonian on a hot and humid day in Washington, DC.

As I enter my second semester as a full-time faculty member in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, I’ve adopted a “flipped classroom” format and am fully integrating theory with real-life experiences.  It’s been an incredible amount of work to revise my syllabi this summer, but so far, the students seem to be learning and enjoying their classes more (we’ll see how the evaluations look at the end of the semester!).

In my museum management class, students will complete an abridged version of a MAP Organizational Assessment for a museum, relying on information available from the website, newspaper articles, IRS Form 990, and the AAM Standards. I assigned the museums based on a random selection to represent the diversity of museums in the United States.  We work through the Standards and as we discuss each topic in class, such as governance or collections, we’ll talk about how their particular museum has approached it. This week we’ll be discussing mission so they’ll be evaluating the mission statements for the 25 museums we’re examining in class to determine a set of criteria and identify model mission statements.

New this semester is my course on project management in museums. Our core readings are:

  • Allen, David. Getting Things Done. New York: Penguin Books, 2015.
  • Kogon, Kory, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood. Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2015.
  • Morris, Martha. Managing People and Projects in Museums. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.

As you can see, I incorporate a variety of perspectives both inside and outside museums, from close-up details to the big picture. For the final assignment, each student will develop an application for the Museums for America grant program at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  A month ago I sent out a call to museums to see who would like a head-start on an IMLS grant application and as a result, we’ll be working with the Delaware Historical Society (Wilmington, DE), Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle (Doylestown, PA), and San Francisco Heritage/Haas-Lilienthal House (San Francisco, CA)—all terrific institutions.  In early December, each museum will receive five applications that can serve as inspiration, guide decisions, and perhaps even be submitted to IMLS. In exchange, students will gain experience in preparing a federal grant application and in planning a major project for an actual museum, giving them useful real-life experience for future employment (no kidding around with imaginary tasks).  If your museum or historic site would like to participate next year, look for the announcement in August.

The Haas-Lilienthal House, Mercer Museum, and Delaware Historical Society will serve as case studies for projects this semester at George Washington University.