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Museums and Society

Name: Ryan Bender

Year: Class of 2015

Hometown: Los Alamitos, CA

Majors: International Studies & History of Art

Minor: Museums and Society

Coming into freshman year, I was completely bewildered by the process of picking a major; I wanted to study everything Hopkins has to offer.  I was ecstatic to find this unique interdisciplinary Program in Museums and Society, because museums classes have made my Hopkins experience exciting!  In one place, I can pursue all my favorite subjects, from economics to biology, art history to political science, by studying the world through the distinctive lens of the museum in society.

Some have asked me, “Ryan, why is the museums program only a minor, is it because they don’t have enough professors, or is there just not enough to study?”  To that, I always reply most definitely not!  After participating in museum theory classes, practicum courses, and museum internships at Hopkins, I fully support this program as a minor.  The museum minor adds an enriched dimension and perspective to any major, be it political science, chemistry, or mechanical engineering.  The museums program teaches students how the museum industry taps the individual expertise of professionals from all fields, which is why there are so many types of museums to visit in the world.  I was excited to learn that jobs within the scope of the museum industry range tremendously and include artists, lawyers, businessmen, scientific researchers, art curators, and preservationists.  All in all, the program offers a valuable education to any student at Hopkins who is seeking a niche in the professional world.

It is the unique classes in the museums minor that make the program sensational.  Two required survey courses, “Intro to the Museum: Past and Present” and “Introduction to the Museum: Issues and Ideas”, give students an introduction to the world of museums.  I was lucky enough to take the first of these courses with the head of the department, Professor Elizabeth Rodini.  The class had fewer than thirty-five students.  Because of the small size, the class was a perfect combination of lecture and in-class discussion, a gem among usually large-scale intro courses at Hopkins.   Honestly, I was worried that because I didn’t want to be a curator, the program and its classes would not be for me.  Luckily, Professor Rodini took the time to sit down with me and show me some alternate career paths in the museum industry that I had never thought about, including intellectual property law, the business of art auctioning, and museum marketing.   Professor Rodini’s intro class was outstanding!  I learned about the historic role of museums as the first scientific laboratories, as pioneering centers for public education, and as showplaces for royal power among the monarchies in Europe.

The four other courses required in the minor indicate the program’s interdisciplinary nature.  At least two of these four additional courses must be cross-listed with a department outside of Museums.  There are classes in History of Art, Near Eastern studies, and International Studies, among others.  Classes which qualify, such as “Heaven on Earth: Art, Culture and Wonder in the Vatican Museum and Library” give students a way to see the museum on a global scale.  One of the required courses is a “practicum” course, a hands-on introduction to the museum industry.  In this class, museum staff from different Baltimore museums take students through both the theoretical and material process of setting up a museum exhibit.  My practicum course, “Staging Suburbia”, was taught at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  During the semester, I was involved in putting together a traveling exhibit which documented the historical migration of Baltimore Jews from the city to the suburbs.  I took memorable field trips to Baltimore suburbs, and researched pop culture magazines and artifacts from the 1940s and 1950s, including Life magazine and the Baltimore Sun newspaper.  This class was an amazing opportunity to learn how to create an exhibit from start to finish, and to network with key players in the Baltimore museum industry.

My favorite museum class so far is one which I took during intersession 2012 with Professor Rodini.  “Paris: Museums, Monuments and Cultural Memory” was a three week study abroad course taught in Paris, a mecca for museums of all kinds.  With seven other students, I made it to twenty-two Parisian museums, including the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Palace at Versailles, and even the Perfume Museum!  Our class walked the streets eating crepes, and talked about the importance of museums in making Paris the cultural center it is today.  We studied the role of the museum in telling Paris’ rocky immigrant history, and the use of museums as a proponent of the French Revolution after the fall of the French monarchy.   The trip was a blast; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour Paris with a renowned art historian and museums scholar, learn about the history of the city outside of the classroom, and eat delicious French pastries, all while earning three credits in the museums minor.  During the class, I was both immersed in and studying Parisian history, culture, and society, an unmatched approach to examining a very specific case study in the museum field.


Within the university community, the museums department has been helpful in obtaining a rare internship.  As an intern through the JHU Department of Cultural Properties, I will be helping to set up a cabinet of wonders installation in the Brody Learning Commons, the newest building in the JHU library system.  A cabinet of wonders, or a wunderkammer, incorporates the most fascinating and unusual objects from every field of human study, in this case including each department at JHU.  In conjunction with the Department of Cultural Properties, I will be creating and publishing a field guide for the special exhibit, and documenting the history of Johns Hopkins as the first dedicated American research university.  This internship has provided me a unique publishing opportunity for an undergraduate in the humanities, and serves as an example of the fascinating doors the museum program can open.

A high interest academic springboard, the museums program has offered me a niche to focus on in my broader Hopkins education.  I hope to use my JHU education to go on to law school to study intellectual property law, before moving on to work as a lawyer within a major art museum.  I am sure that my experience in the museums field will connect me to the inner workings in the field of art law.  Whether or not I end up working in a museum, I know that my education in the museum field will have given me a better understanding of how people interact in the public sphere, and will help me in whatever career my future holds.

No matter what major you plan to focus on during your time at Hopkins, the Program in Musuems and Society is a great supplement.  I have developed unbelievable strong connections during my short time in the program, with professors, other students, and industry leaders.  If you want to develop a unique way to market yourself in a competitive job market, and have a great time while doing it, the Program in Musuems and Society is the minor for you!


Click here to access more information about the Museums and Society Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Museums and Society question thread.


Museums and Society

Name: Nora Krinitsky

Year: Class of 2009

Hometown: Libertyville, IL

Major: History

Minor:Museums and Society


Hi there prospective Hopkins students, I’m Nora, a senior History major with a minor in the Program in Museums and Society and I am thrilled to tell you a little (or a lot) about my minor. First of all, Museums and Society is not a department, it’s a program. I’d suggest asking someone in Academic Advising about the exact difference between the two, but one of the most important distinctions is that no one can major in Museums and Society; it’s only available as a minor. The course-load required to complete the minor is not burdensome, and the program is a great supplement to many humanities and social sciences majors. Museums and Society has been growing and expanding over the past several years and now encompasses a wide range of classes and extracurricular opportunities. I’m a huge fan of the program and I hope you’ll all consider taking at least one museums class if you end up here at Hopkins!

I became involved in the Program in Museums and Society at the end of my sophomore year. I was having trouble finding a fifth class to fit into my schedule and while perusing the Hopkins course list I noticed a class called Museum Matters (389.203). The course description said that our class would visit a different museum in Baltimore every week and then discuss what we saw. It sounded intriguing to me, so I signed up. Every Thursday afternoon our class (about 15 students) visited a Baltimore museum, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum, the American Visionary Art Museum, and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. I had so much fun visiting museums and talking about our experiences that I knew the Museums and Society minor was right for me. That wasn’t the only plus, though. One of the best ways to get to know a city is to visit its museums, and Museum Matters not only fostered my love for museums and culture, but for Baltimore as well. Many freshmen aren’t wild about Baltimore when they come to Hopkins, but it really is a great city with a lot of character and personality. After getting to know the city better through Museum Matters I can sincerely say that I am exceedingly happy to have come to Baltimore.

One of my absolute favorite things about Museums and Society is the range of academic disciplines it encompasses and accommodates. Just about every Museums and Society class is cross-listed in another department, like Art History, History, History of Science, Classics, Near Eastern Studies…the list goes on and on. This means that Museums and Society classes are made up of students from all different departments and majors. I’ve had Museums classes with Art History majors and History majors, of course, but also with Neuroscience majors and even Environmental Engineers! This brings a great range of perspectives and backgrounds into the classroom, and you’d be hard pressed to find that kind of range in another department or program. To complete the minor in Museums and Society only six classes are required: two introductory classes and four additional classes. This page describes all the Museums and Society classes that are or have been offered: http://sites.jhu.edu/museums/courses.html.New classes are introduced every semester and there are always unique and fascinating options.

There are three types of classes:

Survey Classes: Every Museums and Society minor is required to take two introductory survey courses, Introduction to the Museum: Past and Present (389.201) and Introduction to the Museum: Issues and Ideas (389.202). The first class is a general museum history course and the second class introduces students to controversies and issues that museums grapple with. These courses have the largest class size in the department, but still only enroll about 25 students. They are offered on an alternating basis and every Museums and Society student is required to take both. These classes are a good way to get your feet wet with museums history and issues. Both classes combine lecture and discussion format. In addition to these two introductory classes, Museums and Society minors must complete for more classes, which may be a combination of seminars or museums practicum classes.

Seminars: Seminars are small classes that are reading and discussion intensive. Seminars focus on a few issues and explore them in great depth, giving students the opportunity to get to know a topic very intimately. My favorite Museums and Society seminar was Who Owns Culture (389.440). In small class of about 12 students, we discussed cultural property law and theory. We often had heated discussions about case studies and issues, and each student researched a final project and created a poster to present the project to the class.

Museums Practicum Classes: This category of classes is sort of a “catch-all,” but it encompasses some of the most unique and memorable classes. As the designation “museums practicum” suggests, these classes give students the opportunity to do hands on work with objects in museums; each Museums and Society student needs to take at least one practicum class. Some of these classes are taught by Johns Hopkins faculty and others are taught by museums professionals from Baltimore. I could go on and on about museums practicum classes, but I’ll try to limit myself here with a few highlights. I guarantee that every Museums and Society student will chew your ear about their favorite practicum class, and I am certainly no different.

Homewood Hopkins owns two museums, Homewood Museum (located right on Homewood campus; http://www.museums.jhu.edu/homewood/) and Evergreen Museum and Library (located about a mile north of Homewood; http://www.museums.jhu.edu/evergreen/), both of which have hosted Museums and Society classes. Catherine Rogers Arthur is the curator of Homewood Museum, and each fall she teaches a class called Introduction to Material Culture (389.361 – as shown in the photo). In this class, students research and assemble a small focus exhibit to be installed in Homewood Museum. Last fall I took part in her class and helped to create an exhibit called “Welcome Little Stranger: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Family in Early Maryland.” We displayed a range of objects from early maternity wear to children’s toys to obstetrical equipment. The class’s newest show is opening in January 2009 and is called “Next to Godliness: Cleanliness in Early Maryland.” One of my favorite practicum classes was African Visions: Art Objects, Context, and Interpretations. The curator of African art at the Baltimore Museum of Art taught this class; we studied the display and collection of African art in the west.

We examined objects in the BMA’s collection to compose a final design proposal for an installation of African art. One final example of a museums practicum class: Behind the Scenes at the Walters Art Museum (389.362). Unfortunately I couldn’t take part in this class myself, but I certainly wish I had been able to. The students met once a week at the Walters Art Museum here in Baltimore to help assemble the exhibition, “Mapping the Cosmos: Images from the Hubble Space Telescope.” The show consisted of large-scale images of outer space and was one of the most impressive and exciting shows I have seen at the Walters. The community response to this show was overwhelmingly positive and the students that took part in the class learned how rewarding and challenging museum work can be. The list of museum practicum classes honestly goes on and on, but for time’s sake I’ll cut myself off here.

Believe it or not, Hopkins students don’t spend all their time in the classroom, and if you’re looking for unique extracurricular activities, the Program in Museums and Society is the place to go. One project that is particularly close to my heart is the Johns Hopkins Kinetic Sculpture Team, which is a collaboration between the Program in Museums and Society and the JohnsSculpture1 Hopkins Digital Media Center. Every May, the American Visionary Art Museum (located in south Baltimore; www.avam.org) hosts a kinetic sculpture race (just imagine a bunch of weird mechanical pieces of art travelling on a 15 mile course around the city and you’ll start to get the idea). I love getting students out into the community, and was able to get support from the Museums Program and the Dean of Libraries to sponsor a Hopkins team. We’ve been designing and building a mechanical Blue Jay that will be racing around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on May 2, 2009. This team is made up of Museums and Society students, mechanical engineers, applied math majors, materials scientists, and even biology majors (that’s a photo taken of some students working on buiding the blue jay!). This is the first year that Johns Hopkins students have entered a sculpture in the American Visionary Art Museum’s annual race, and it’s a testament to the Museums and Society Program’s growing popularity and ability to support projects that interest students from every department at Hopkins. EvergreenSome Museums and Society extracurricular activities give students the opportunity to do moretraditional museum work.

Every year the Evergreen Museum and Library chooses a student curator to create a show to be displayed at the museum. The student curators open their shows with a gallery talk, introducing other students and community members to their curatorial work. (In this photo, Museums and Society alumna Margaret Deli gives a gallery talk at Evergreen Museum and Library.) This fall one Museums and Society student took the initiative to create a Museums Club, the first of its kind here at Hopkins. The new club has been growing over the past semester and regularly plans trips to museums in Baltimore and the surrounding area. Not only do they organize transportation to and from museums, they occasionally arrange to talk to museum professionals or look “behind the scenes.”

So the folks at the Admissions Office have asked me to tell you what makes Museums and Society awesome, and the answer is simple: Dr. Elizabeth Rodini. Dr. Rodini is the associate director of the Program in Museums and Society and she is the only Hopkins faculty member who is technically appointed as a Museums and Society faculty. Other professors and instructors in the program come from other departments, like Art History and History of Science. Dr. Rodini came to Hopkins in 2004 and became the associate director of the Program in Museums and Society when it was established in 2006. She works incredibly hard to engage students in the program and gives an unbelievable amount of support to student projects and museums opportunities. For example, every fall Dr. Rodini hosts a meeting to give students information about finding museum internships and volunteer positions in Baltimore and around the country. She teaches many Museums and Society classes herself and is always willing to talk about the Program.

Without her enthusiasm I doubt that the Museums and Society program would have grown as much as it has over the past few years. Not every student that minors in the Program in Museums and Society will go on to work in a museum, but it is certainly possible. Several recent graduates of the program have gone on to become museum professionals, here in Baltimore and in other parts of the country. I hope to go on to do graduate work in History, but I haven’t ruled out the museum profession by any means. One thing that I have learned from the Program in Museums and Society is that curating exhibitions isn’t the only way to get into the museum world. Museums need educators, lawyers, fundraisers, graphic designers, information technology specialists, preservationists, administrators… Never hesitate to think about a career in museums, there is space and need for every talent. Even if you don’t choose to complete the minor in Museums and Society, I strongly encourage you to take at least one class in the program, no matter what your major is. I guarantee that it will be the class you talk about the most all semester!


Click here to access more information about the Museums and Society Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Museums and Society question thread.