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University of Pittsburgh    
2021-2022 Undergraduate Catalog 
  Jun 20, 2024
2021-2022 Undergraduate Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Museum Studies, BA

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The newly proposed major will expand upon the strengths of the existing minor, pairing professional methods, skill-building, and mentorship in practicum courses with those that center on historical contexts, critical and theoretical approaches, and ethical questions. Below we outline the existing minor requirements alongside those for the new major. We have also provided an annotated curricular map that charts how students will move from pre-disciplinary questions and skill-building, to foundational disciplinary work and the acquisition of content knowledge, to an intensive engagement with museum history and practice.  For the capstone experience, students will have the option of completing an intensive internship or completing an independent project.  The proposed new major is 30 credits.  

Students will gain and deploy their knowledge regarding the approaches, histories and theories of museums, cultural property and curatorial practice. The central disciplinary-specific learning objectives for the new major include the following.   

Students will:

  • Participate in debates about how and why particular objects are deemed to be “significant” by their inclusion in archives, collections and museums 
  • Chart the movement of culturally relevant objects, understand why this matters, and relate this mobility to legal and ethical debates concerning cultural property 
  • Learn the key issues central to the social problems and possibilities engaged by the museum as an institution 
  • Learn how museum practices and policies intersect with issues of inclusion, access and engagement 
  • Examine how museums can serve as contexts for community participation, agency and social change 
  • Connect techniques of display to the socio-political dimensions inherent in the encounter between exhibitions and their audiences 
  • Deploy research skills to interpret and contextualize objects in ways that engage diverse audiences 
  • Communicate historical and cultural narratives through images, objects and spaces 
  • Use a range of investigative tools and approaches with which to analyze the theory and practice of museums through an interdisciplinary approach that is inherent in museum work 
  • Apply key concepts in museological theory and ethics to the critical analysis of museum practice, including collecting and display 
  • Engage in professional-driven hands-on learning experiences to expand their knowledge of museum professions and gain career-focused mentoring through internships, collaborative practice courses, and developmental cohorts 
  • Gain an understanding of the range of practical skills and knowledge required for succeeding in the museum professions including administration, collections management, exhibition development, education, community engagement, development and fundraising 

In addition to the disciplinary-specific learning objectives outlined above, in crafting this curriculum we were also cognizant of the need to focus on the dispositional skill development of our students. We believe it is important to outline the broader professional competencies our students will attain that could be leveraged toward career-advancement in other industries and fields.  We define these as core competencies and have distributed them across the curriculum.  While some of these will be more centrally emphasized in some classes (for example, collaboration, project management and organization, problem solving, and identifying resources and challenges are integral to HAA 1019, 1020 and 1021; and close and slow looking, historical analysis and global understanding are privileged in HAA 0010 and HAA 0101), pedagogical approaches in all classes will touch on many of these.   

The broad educational principles outlined below, and the curriculum we have built to nurture them, articulate why this major is particularly relevant in today’s world which increasingly requires agile thinking, creative problem solving, curiosity, a cognizance of the importance of learning, and adaptability.  

  1. Building Empathy: Ethics and Citizenship 
  • Historical Analysis 
  • Global Understanding 
  • Cultural Critique 
  • Collaboration  
  • Reflective and Mindful practice 
  1. Analysis and Communication 

  • Close and slow looking, visual literacy 
  • Critical analysis of texts, material objects, artifacts, images, sites, and built environments 
  • Design and spatial thinking, visual intelligence 
  • Successful argumentation 
  • Communication - written, oral and multi-modal for scholarly, professional and public audiences 
  • Creative Inquiry (curiosity and research) 
  1. Adaptability, Organization and Productivity 

  • Project organization and management 
  • Problem solving 
  • Identifying resources and challenges 
  • Strategic thinking: recognizing choices, taking purposeful action  

In conclusion, we are purposefully seeking to balance and interweave content knowledge acquisition, curiosity and engagement, and dispositional and metacognitive skill development more purposefully.   

Expanding the Minor Curriculum into a Major

The curriculum outlined in the charts accompanying this proposal (see supporting documents) is designed as a scaffolded structure that is strong and established, yet also malleable, able to adapt as the program and field develops. 

Launching the Major. As an introduction to the major, students are required to take a series of courses that introduce them to the field of Museum Studies and art historical approaches to interpreting images, material objects, artifacts and built environments.  These courses include Introduction to World Art (HAA 0010), and a new course, Museums: Society and Inclusion? (HAA 0125).  Intro to World is a large enrollment course offered every fall and spring to 200 students and consists of lecture and lab sections.  We will launch Museums: Society and Inclusion? in the fall of 2020 as a medium enrollment course (40) but can convert this into an auditorium class for larger enrollments if demand necessitates it. These courses will meet Dietrich School General Education requirements, and begin by engaging students in the content at a pre-disciplinary level - Why Museums?  Why Art?  What are these?  What roles do they play or needs do they serve? What skills can you learn here that are universally purposeful?  These courses are principally centered on issues of diversity and inclusion - where have we been, who are we, and where are we going?  What histories, collections and stories should museums be documenting, collecting, displaying and commemorating in the future?  

NEW: Museums: Society and Inclusion? will prompt students to contemplate the role of the museum in a democratic society by focusing intensively and purposefully on the dependency between the modern institution and forces of colonialism and imperialism, on contested claims of ownership (cultural property), and ethical questions that contemporary museums face (access and inclusion).  This strategy is inspired by the work that has been produced in a series of workshops designed by the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh partnership, supported by the Mellon grant, all of which provided opportunities to address important social justice issues through collections and archives within the city: 

2016: Race-ing the Museum - race, diversity challenges, inclusion 

2017: Consuming Nature - sustainability and the environment 

2018: Making Advances - gender, sexuality, and sexual identity 

2019: Work Forces - labor and production means 

Importantly, the course will address the function of the museum in relationship to its collecting practices and its publics in the past, present, and future. Thus students will not only learn that museums were shaped by and in turn shaped uneven power relationships and inequity-but will also consider ways in which museums can serve and speak with diverse communities more productively in the future.  The syllabus for this course is provided as a supplementary document.  

Breadth and Disciplinary Foundations. Students will be required to take HAA 0101: Foundations of Art History which compels them to engage with an object in the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, develop early research skills, and become more fluent in the critical and methodological approaches employed by the discipline.  This course is a small seminar, and will be proposed to meet the writing (“w”) requirement for the Dietrich School.  In addition, students will extend their content knowledge by taking a series of courses in our department or others that focus particularly on art, material culture, architecture and urban planning in institutional contexts, how these shape power relationships in society, and how these contextual relationships and meanings shift through history.  See below for a listing of “Art and Its Publics” courses that meet this requirement. 

Skill Development.  Students take two 1-credit workshops that are designed to interweave with the content-based curriculum that is the primary focus of the breadth courses.  Students will be compelled to think holistically about their academic major(s), coursework and learning experiences; their goals; personal and professional interests; the skills and knowledge they are gaining outside our department; and practices in which they engage outside of school.   Taken together, these distinctive workshops both advance professional goals and practices while helping students gain metacognitive abilities to become learners for the sake of learning.  These classes focus on dispositional skills and are centrally focused on preparing students more effectively for the capstone. These workshops will be complemented by a course students are required to take beyond the HAA department that will extend a student’s professional competencies, preparing them to carry-out public facing humanities work.  See below for a listing of “Skill and Competency” courses that will meet this requirement. 

Advanced Coursework. The major’s foundational sequence builds competencies required to support the student’s engagement in the program’s intensive coursework in history and practice.  The advanced seminars prepare students to undertake work in a professional museum context or at the graduate level.  Students will take a minimum of 6 credits (a course in Museum History, and one in Museum Practice).   

Museum History. Students will select either “The History and Ethics of Collecting” course, described above, or a new course, “The Global Politics of Display,” which engages with histories and theories of display by surveying a range of important exhibits of art, visual and material culture from the nineteenth century to the present. In the former, students engage in a provenance research project that considers issues of cultural property and ethics of ownership, while students in the “Display” course undertake a research project that uses a local exhibition as a case study to consider techniques of display as well as the socio-political dimensions inherent in the encounter between exhibitions and their audiences.  

Museum Practice. The core courses in Museum Practice, previously discussed, already exist as they were designed for the minor: 

  • Curatorial Development 
  • Exhibition Development 
  • Inside the Carnegie Museums 

These courses are project-based initiatives that prioritize active learning. The focus is on collaborative inquiry and knowledge generation as well as public accountability.  Museum Practice courses will be limited to 19 students each.  

All of the above advanced courses are designed to give students an in-depth understanding of the field’s historical stakes and practices but can be adapted to capitalize on events, exhibitions or museum projects transpiring in given semesters, and/or aligned with particular research projects undertaken by the department’s faculty. 

Capstone: Culminating Internship or Independent Project.  We already work with students to develop tailored internship projects based on their goals and professional interests.  We will continue this practice with the new major.  We will also give students the opportunity to complete an intensive independent project, an option that exists for our current HAA and Architectural Studies majors.  We are adding a 1-credit Pre-Internship workshop which will enable students to think more strategically about the work they seek to do, the institution with which they wish to partner, and how to best prepare for an optimal internship experience. In both the internship and independent project options, students will gain professional experience and generate a purposeful self-authored project in collaboration with a given institution and/or mentor. 

Modes of Work

Throughout the major, students may opt to engage in traditional scholarly research and write papers, but other options will be available: oral history projects; journaling and blogging; creating installations or mini-exhibitions (in digital or real-space); creating a documentary, video or digital media project; designing a public workshop; organizing or participating in symposia; developing a new special-topics course; generating a pod-cast; developing a public interview or panel discussion.



Students are required to take two courses (6 credits) taught in the History of Art and Architecture and other departments that focus particularly on art, architecture and urban planning in institutional contexts and how these shape power relationships in society. These courses should devote at least 60% of content to material artifacts, objects, images, built environments, architecture or sites with a consideration of their shifting contexts through history. 

Any Museum History course not taken toward the core requirement can be taken to satisfy this nexus. 

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