MSMC at UMD offers a 4 course/12-credit hour certificate that augments graduate work in American Studies, Anthropology and Archaeology, Historic Preservation, History, Library and Information Studies, and other degree programs by educating future professionals, scholars, and activists to critically assess museums as political, cultural, and social institutions in order to create twenty-first-century museums that center the values of (social) justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (JEDIA). The MSMC Certificate provides students with practical skillsets that can enhance their job opportunities and equip them to become agents of change in museums, academe, and other cultural institutions. Students in many graduate programs can complete the certificate without taking any additional credit hours.
For several years, BIPOC staff members, visitors, and critics have demanded that museums reckon with their own discriminatory practices and the racism and colonialism embodied in their bureaucratic structures, collecting and interpreting conventions, programming choices, and hiring practices. MSMC – embracing UMD’s Terrapin Strong values of community, connection, and inclusion – provides students with the critical thinking, racial literacy, and reparative skills to reorient galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs) to become more “morally and culturally responsive and grounded in empathy, respect, and inclusion” (Museums and Race) and welcoming to staff, communities, and creatives of color. Museums can harness their resources to educate community members near and far, empower researchers, preserve an inclusive historical record, and provide a platform for stories and experiences that might otherwise go unheard. From the smallest historical house museums to massive science museums with an international reputation, each museum has the potential to promote learning, participatory engagement, understanding, and equity. Undertaking critical conversations about the social, cultural, institutional, and behavioral realities embodied in the material culture in museum collections illuminates inequities and the means to repair them.
Whether you envision a career in museums, libraries, archives, academe, activism, or other cultural heritage organizations, MSMC can help you prepare. Our graduate certificate program will expand your understanding of the challenges facing GLAMs in the past and present and introduce you to JEDIA values and how to activate them. We offer a flexible curriculum providing opportunities for interacting with museum scholars and practitioners doing transformative work in the DC/MD/VA (DMV) region and beyond. We are a small and friendly program dedicated to nurturing our students’ intellectual growth. The multi-disciplinarity of our program–where we welcome students from graduate degree programs across UMD–enhances the quality of conversations around our seminar tables (real or virtual) and inspires interdisciplinary projects. To meet the needs of students with such diverse interests, we encourage flexibility and provide individualized advising so that students can combine MSMC skills and coursework with their degree program work to enhance their interests, career goals, and employment opportunities.
The MSMC Graduate Certificate Program educates future professionals, scholars, and activists who are trained to critically assess museums as political, cultural, and social institutions and to help implement the values of (social) justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in museum curation, education and programming, archives, librarianship, reference, and scholarship. Our graduates gain knowledge and practical skillsets to advocate for inclusive representation in the collections and the professions and ensure equitable and accessible access to information, artifacts, heritage storytelling, education, and institutions.
Critical Museum Studies
MSMC courses are taught through the perspectives of Critical Museum Studies, which explore and challenge the political, cultural, social, and structural implications of museums, material culture, collections, and scholarship. Our courses train students to interrogate basic questions about why museum practices are done the way they are and how they can be made more just, more equitable, and more inclusive. For example:
- How can museums function as social justice-promoting and reparative institutions?
- How might scholars and museum/information professionals collect and deploy material culture used as evidence in museums differently, to showcase an inclusive and just selection of cultural expression and community heritage and storytelling, instead of perpetuating traditional forms of cultural dominance and power?
- What critical thinking, imagining, and worldmaking practices can our students apply to rethink how exhibits, collections, and other museum efforts can express ideas and create knowledge more equitably?
The MSMC program’s coursework and pedagogy provide students with intellectual tools and model practices to help museums change for the better once graduates enter their chosen professions.
The MSMC program strives to center the values of Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (JEDIA). Many groups – particularly BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled people – have been excluded both from the stories told by museums and the material culture being collected and interpreted. Yet, museums have an enormous capacity to promote justice. The MSMC courses, projects, collaborations, and events place JEDIA issues at the center of what is learned in the program so that graduates can place these issues at the center of their work as professionals. These same groups have also been heavily underrepresented in museum professions, and the MSMC program is working to expand the diversity and representativeness of museum employment by helping to recruit and support a more diverse population of future professionals.
By drawing upon faculty and professional expertise from so many different academic disciplines and professional fields, MSMC is uniquely positioned to prepare students for a huge range of careers within GLAMs. Our students hail from many degree programs in different colleges, contributing to a rich diversity of conversations around the seminar table in our courses. The curriculum and ideals of MSMC draw upon anti-racist and decolonizing perspectives from most of these fields in creating the intellectual and moral foundation for the program. For example, the long-standing social justice mission of library and information science powers the JEDIA principle of the program that equitable access to collections and resources is a human right, while public humanities fields train students in new skillsets for engaging diverse groups and communities to undertake equitable forms of collaboration to transform the collecting, educational, and interpretive work of museums.
Dual Focus on Research and Practice
The MSMC program is designed to support student interests in research and/or in practice related to museums and material or visual culture. A sampling of recent student projects demonstrates the range of work our students undertake:
- Crafting a teaching curriculum for several collections in an art museum;
- Identifying the people and events recorded in silent films with limited documentation and uncovering the historical stories around these films;
- Conducting oral history interviews with community residents to collaborate with them in creating the first digital documentation of their history and heritage and preserving an archive of their experiences;
- Researching and writing catalog entries to understand the contexts for artifacts collected from immigrant families at a major history museum;
- Consulting a university’s historical collections to trace the origin and history of a racist mascot that the university formerly used;
- Documenting the role and discovering the names of enslaved laborers in building and maintaining a historical home in a state capital city;
- Using research and theory to document historical inaccuracies and bias in a major science museum’s exhibition and providing a plan for rectifying those issues using materials already in the museum’s collection;
- Writing a white paper to provide guidance for collecting and interpreting the archives and artifacts of undocumented immigrants in the DMV.
These represent just a small part of the range of types of projects conducted by MSMC students, but they clearly demonstrate the impact of the work done by our students.
Networking and Field Experiences
MSMC students take a required Practicum Project course as a capstone experience for the certificate program. Each student arranges a field experience with a host institution on or off campus and develops a discrete project with input from a supervisor at the host institution and an MSMC faculty advisor. The practicum enables students to seek experiential learning opportunities from the rich range of large and small museums and cultural research or heritage organizations in the region or beyond; MSMC maintains a database of opportunities to support students in finding a good placement. In addition, MSMC course instructors either plan field trips to area museums or archives or invite museum professionals to visit their courses to provide professional expertise and networking experiences for students.
As of May 2022, 63% of our graduates were successful in getting a job, internship, or fellowship in a museum, library, or other cultural institution immediately upon graduation from the certificate program. Another substantial percentage continue their education in M.A. or Ph.D. degree programs after completion of our 12-credit certificate. Alumni have worked at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Glenstone, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture in Baltimore, MD, among many, many other exciting placements.