A Year in the Life of… Museum Fundamentals I & II (2017-2018: a revised version that places an exhibition track at the heart of the year-long syllabus…)

This was the fifth year of Museum Studies at Ohio University! We decided to try a new structure with the two-semester coursework and emphasize the exhibition track throughout both semesters. Week seven of this year’s iteration of the Certificate Program saw us in the midst of visits to local collections: our own at Kennedy Museum of Art, Southeast Ohio History Center, and Ohio University’s Life Sciences labs and Library Archives & Special Collections.

Armed with a “Big Idea” generated by group consensus (19 voices…no small feat after testing six ideas across campus), students began to think about the search for objects to complement the conceptual backbone of their Spring exhibition (drum roll): Human interactions can be depicted through cultural materials that help to define the evolution of social practices.

Touring Kennedy Museum of Art collections with Jeff Carr, Collections and Exhibitions Manager

Visiting collections with Curator Jessica Cyders at the Southeast Ohio History Center

Visiting with Bill Kimok at the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections

Discussing options with Miriam Intrator at the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections

Touring Life Sciences labs with Karie Whitman, Eric Lund, Nancy Stevens, Patrick O’Connor and Larry Witmer.

BUT LET’S BACK UP…. What inspired that Big Idea sentence? This year the class voted on two “primary objects” from a selection of eight objects from different local institutional collections. The objects selected were both from the Ohio University Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections: a Babylonian clay tablet dated to 2500 BCE from a collection titled “Pages from the Past,” and a set of 1910 – 1960s dance cards from the Ohio University Archives. The challenge was on: how to connect these two objects in a way that would allow each individual student to connect an object of their own choosing to create a cohesive exhibition. The last few weeks of the semester were spent deeply engaged in thought and research to find and justify the inclusion of individual objects within the exhibition’s Big Idea.

The beginning of Spring Semester saw us with a completed exhibition object list. The class divided into three “specialist” areas according to each student’s main interest in museum work: exhibition design, museum learning, or museum stewardship. Each group had a specific list of tasks to accomplish but everyone kept this thought in mind: What would the visitor experience be when their exhibition was finished and open to the public?

The learning team took a trip to the Columbus Museum of Art to meet with a member of their learning staff and to consider visitor engagement strategies.


The design team took a new and bold approach to the function of color within the exhibition that promoted lively class discussions. The stewardship team kept a calm and steady demeanor as they made sure all the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. The learning team advocated for interactive areas within the exhibition as they negotiated differences of opinion that led to shared decisions.

The grand result was revealed with an opening reception and a Gallery Walk & Talk, where each curator presented their objects: Communication Through the Ages: Merging Concepts IV.