November 2016 Archways

Studying Museums

Archways_MuseumThis summer, Sophie Mongoven ’17 spent her days digging through the Peale family archives at Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society Museum, where she was helping prepare an upcoming exhibition on the 18th-century American painter Charles Willson Peale and his family. “I learned so much,” she says, “not just about museums and curatorial work but also about what kind of environment I like.”

In her final semester, Kirsten Adams ’16 joined her Museum Studies class for an inside tour of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The anthropology major was thrilled to get a behind-the-scenes tour and, she says, “to literally walk in the footsteps of Margaret Mead.”

For Mongoven, Adams, and a host of other Bryn Mawr students, the pilot Museum Studies program is giving them the opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes at museums large and small. Under the direction of Monique Scott, the program introduces students to the history of museums, their roles in society, and the practice of critical, theoretical museum scholarship.

Through coursework and internships, students gain practical, hands-on experience in museums, galleries, and archives in Philadelphia and beyond. And closer to home, they have the chance to work in the College’s Special Collections, which houses more than 50,000 objects from diverse regions around the globe as well as a collection of rare books and prints, photographs, and manuscripts.

If students enrolling in the program need inspiration, they’ll find it aplenty in the recent career accomplishments of a number of Bryn Mawr alumnae: Michelle Joan Wilkinson ’93 has signed on as a curator at the Smithsonian’s newest branch, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. For that museum’s Power of Place gallery, Jessica B. Harris ’68 donated items from her family home on Martha’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Whitney Lopez ’15 curated an exhibition of works by queer and transgender Latinx contemporary artists at Philadelphia’s 40th Street AIR Gallery, and Barbara Toews, Ph.D. ’14, and her work with Designing Justice+Designing Spaces is currently featured in the exhibition By the People: Designing a Better America, at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York.