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Course highlight: Introduction to Museology

by Purim Junkham (He/him)

Every Museology program student is required to take MUSEUM 500: Introduction to Museology in their first year. So, it is only natural to ask: “what is it?” and “why do I need it?”. By the definition of its name, you might have a guess or two about what “Introduction to Museology” is. Or perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you are someone like me, someone who hears the word “museology” and has to go straight to the internet and look it up. 

“The science or profession of museum organization and management”, as defined by Merriam-Webster. 

Now, you might assume that this class is an introduction to the institution that is the museum—how it is structured and how the people working in it function—only to be surprised by the twists the lovely Angie Ong and Anna Rebecca “AR” Lopez have in store for us. The very first task as a student in this class is to define “museum”,or rather, redefine it. Is a museum a place, or is it an organization with connections extended beyond the institution itself? Do museologists preserve, curate, and educate, or are they tasked with much more responsibility? From the get-go, you start to see the theme of dismantling and reconstructing floating at the horizon. 

This course asks you to look at the impact museums have on society, foresee trends of where museums are going, and envision how to execute them in reality. Instead of showing a dollhouse illustration of a museum, pointing you to a tiny desk in the department at which you will potentially work someday and telling you about job descriptions, MUSEUM 500 teaches you to think about things museum leaders are thinking about now. What inclusivity and equity mean in museums; How the museum’s origin is rooted in colonial practice and what museums do and should do to right the wrong; How museums can stay relevant in the context of social justice and civic well-being; How museums meet its community where they’re at; How museums can be agents of change. Just to name a few.

Not entirely sure what I’m talking about? Here, let me paint you a picture. Here’s how a typical  500 class goes: Based on a topic of the week that we read about before class, we discuss what we think. Sometimes we split into teams and apply what we know to a museum situation, then we post our solution back to the class. AR and Angie facilitate these discussions and make sure that the floor is open to everyone. You share your ideas and reciprocate those of others in a way that is respectful, empowering, and creative. As a class, we use this time and platform to express our frustrations on how slowly museums progress toward equity, practice activism for the causes we care about, dream up a future of museums together, examine our personal identities and biases, and even goof around for comic relief. 

This course is as good as the people in it. The words that come out of the person sitting next to you can resonate with you intellectually and spiritually, so much so that it shakes your perspective of the world. The course is designed to be a place where we can come together—stronger—as a cohort.

So, why do we need this course? It is because it reminds us that we all are museum leaders, no matter where or what position we end up in after graduation. Leadership has been redefined and it means the act of pursuing change. MUSEUM 500: Introduction to Museology helps us find reasons to make change and prepares us with the tools to start making it. 

Author’s Bio

Purim Junkham (He/him)

Born in Nan, Thailand. Currently studying in Seattle, WA. Newcomer to the world of museums.