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What is a Museum Studies Degree? Your Ultimate Guide to Museum Studies

A Museum Studies degree is a specialized academic program designed to provide students with a deep understanding of the functions, operations, and historical contexts of museums.

This article will delve into the various facets of this degree, including the definition of Museum Studies, the different levels of degrees available, typical coursework, specializations, career opportunities, benefits and challenges, and much more.

Definition of Museum Studies

Museum Studies is a broad academic field that looks into the history, goals, and operations of museums from different angles.

This subject area combines many aspects of museum work, creating a detailed picture of what goes into running a museum.

One of the main topics in Museum Studies is curation, which is all about choosing, arranging, and explaining the items that are shown in a museum.

Museum Studies students learn how curators use their deep knowledge and understanding of their visitors to plan exhibitions. These exhibitions aim to educate and interest visitors by telling a story or expressing a theme through the thoughtful placement of artifacts and artworks.

Another important part of this field is preservation, which focuses on how to care for and maintain objects in a museum’s collection.

Preservation is not just about keeping objects in good physical condition. It also involves understanding the cultural, historical, and scientific importance of items and making sure these aspects are kept alive for future generations.

Museum Studies also includes museum education, which is all about making learning happen inside museums.

This part looks at how museums can act like schools, using their collections to help people learn and understand different things.

Another important part of Museum Studies is administration. This area looks at the behind-the-scenes work of running a museum, like finding money to operate, managing staff, advertising, and making rules.

It looks at how museums work as groups and the jobs they do in their neighborhoods and the larger world.

Museum Studies combines topics from anthropology, art history, and archaeology.

Anthropology helps us learn about human cultures, while art history gives us a better understanding of art and its styles, and archaeology teaches us about past societies and their objects.

This mix of topics lets students see museums from every angle.

Museum Studies started to be its own subject in the 1960s, but people have been studying and critiquing museum practices for much longer.

Over the years, the field has changed and adapted to fit new social changes and technological developments.

Today’s Museum Studies programs show these changes, taking on new issues like digital transformation, which looks at how digital tech can make museum experiences better, and cultural inclusivity, which encourages diverse representation and access in museums.

In short, Museum Studies is a wide and changing field that brings together many subjects to help us understand how complex and interesting museums are.

As museums keep changing to fit the world around them, so does this exciting and always relevant subject.

Different Levels of Museum Studies Degrees

There are different degrees you can get in Museum Studies. Each degree level has its own rules for getting in, what you learn, how deep you go, how long it takes, and how much it costs.

Bachelor’s Degree

The first degree you can get is a Bachelor’s degree in Museum Studies.

You usually need a high school diploma or something similar to get into this program. It lasts about 3-4 years and helps students understand what museums do and why they matter.

Students learn basic stuff about museums like their history, how to manage collections, how to design exhibits, and more. They also learn about the different areas that make up Museum Studies, like history, art, anthropology, archaeology, education, and business.

Master’s Degree

After the Bachelor’s degree, the next step is the Master’s degree in Museum Studies.

You usually need a Bachelor’s degree in Museum Studies or something similar to get into a Master’s program. Some programs might ask that you have some work experience in a museum or similar place.

Master’s degrees usually last 1-2 years and go deeper into the topic. They let students focus on what they’re really interested in, like teaching in museums, curating, managing museums, or how digital technology is changing museums.

These programs often include chances for students to use what they’ve learned in real life, like internships or big final projects.

PhD Degree

The highest degree you can get in Museum Studies is a PhD.

You usually need a Master’s degree to get into a PhD program, and you need to show that you can do research. PhD programs can last up to 5 years and involve a lot of research on one specific area of Museum Studies.

PhD students are expected to add something new to the field with their big research project, also known as a dissertation.

Costs

How much a Museum Studies degree costs can change a lot based on things like the degree level, the school, and where the school is located.

For example, private schools and schools outside of your home country usually cost more. Other costs can include books, housing, and other costs of living.

Students can look for scholarships, grants, work-study programs, or loans to help pay for these costs.

In the end, there are different degrees in Museum Studies for different goals.

As you go from a Bachelor’s degree to a Master’s degree and then a PhD, you go from learning the basics to learning more specific things and doing your own research.

Each level takes different amounts of time and money, so students should think about these things when planning their studies in Museum Studies.

Typical Coursework and Skills Gained

Museum Studies courses cover a mix of different topics and teach students the ins and outs of working in a museum.

Coursework

Museum History: One of the first courses students take is about the history of museums. This course teaches students about how museums have changed over time. It covers everything from how museums went from private collections to public places, to how the way we collect, display, and explain objects has changed. It also looks at how changes in society have affected museums.

Museum Management: This course teaches students about how to run a museum. It covers things like how to plan for the future, manage people, budget money, market the museum, build relationships with the public, and raise funds. It also talks about legal and ethical issues in running a museum.

Collection Care and Management: This course teaches students about how to care for and manage a museum’s collection. It covers things like how to handle artifacts, report on their condition, prevent them from getting damaged, and make rules for the collection.

Exhibition Development: This course is all about how to create and design museum exhibitions. Students learn about every step in the process, from coming up with an idea and planning it out, to designing and setting it up, to evaluating it. The course also covers things like how to plan what to explain, how to make sure everyone can access it, and how to engage visitors.

Museum Education: This course looks at the role of museums in education. Students learn about how to create and carry out educational programs, make learning materials, engage with different kinds of audiences, and evaluate how well their educational efforts are working.

Skills Gained

Museum Studies programs don’t just teach theory, they also help students build practical skills that they can use in the real world.

Creating Exhibitions: Students learn how to put together exhibitions. This includes picking and explaining objects, coming up with themes, and telling stories. This skill is very important for jobs like museum curators and exhibition coordinators.

Handling Collections: Students get hands-on experience in dealing with, organizing, and preserving artifacts. These skills are crucial for jobs like collection managers and conservators.

Making Educational Programs: Students learn how to plan and carry out educational programs, activities, and learning materials for all kinds of audiences. This skill is helpful for jobs in museum education and public programs.

Preserving Artifacts: Learning the methods used to keep and restore artifacts is another key skill. This knowledge is important for conservation jobs within museums.

Real-World Experience 

To help students apply what they’ve learned to the real world, many Museum Studies programs include practical parts like internships, fieldwork, or big final projects. These experiences let students use their new skills in real-life settings, which gives them valuable insights into how museums work, what problems they face, and how to do things best.

In conclusion, Museum Studies programs give students a well-rounded understanding of the field, and the practical experiences and skills they gain prepare them for a variety of jobs within museums. The mix of learning and doing is a unique feature of Museum Studies, and it’s designed to produce graduates who can make a real contribution to the world of museums.

Career Opportunities with a Museum Studies Degree

A Museum Studies degree can lead to many exciting jobs in museums, heritage groups, cultural organizations, and more. The many jobs available reflect the diverse nature of Museum Studies and the wide range of skills you can learn in these programs.

Jobs in Museums

Curators: Curators are in charge of getting, managing, and showing collections in museums. They also study objects and artifacts, explain their history and cultural importance, and create exhibits that are interesting and educational for visitors. Many curators focus on a certain type of collection, like art, history, natural history, or anthropology.

Museum Educators: Museum educators create and carry out educational programs for different groups, like school groups, families, and adults. They plan tours, workshops, lectures, and interactive activities that help visitors connect with and learn from museum exhibits.

Exhibition Designers: Exhibition designers make interesting physical and online displays that show off museum collections effectively. This job requires a mix of artistic, technical, and interpretive skills, as designers need to create exhibits that are visually appealing, easy to use, and informative.

Archivists: Archivists look after and organize historical documents, photographs, maps, and other archival materials. They also make these materials available to researchers and the public.

Collection Managers: Collection managers look after and organize museum collections. They do tasks like cataloging objects, organizing conservation efforts, managing storage spaces, and keeping up collection databases.

Jobs in Other Fields

Museum Studies graduates can also find jobs in other cultural and heritage groups, such as:

Cultural Heritage Organizations: These groups work to look after and promote cultural heritage, and offer jobs like heritage interpreters, cultural preservation specialists, and program coordinators.

Auction Houses: Graduates with a focus in art history or a similar field can find jobs in auction houses, where they assess, price, and sell artworks and other valuable items.

Archives: Museums Studies graduates can work in archives, managing and giving access to historical documents and records.

Digital Archiving Companies and Cultural Consultancy Firms: There are also new opportunities in digital archiving, where Museum Studies graduates can help digitize and organize collections, making them available online. Cultural consultancy firms offer opportunities to advise on the cultural parts of projects, like planning exhibits, designing exhibits, and getting audiences involved.

How much you can earn and how much these jobs can grow can depend on many things, like the specific job, the size and type of the employer, where the job is, and your level of education and experience.

Usually, higher-level jobs like curators and museum managers pay more, and jobs in bigger groups or city areas often come with higher salaries.

To show the wide range of possibilities, think about successful museum professionals. Some work in traditional museum jobs, curating collections and designing exhibits that attract and educate thousands of visitors each year.

Others use their Museum Studies degree in new ways, like developing digital archives, advising on cultural projects, or leading cultural preservation efforts.

A Museum Studies degree opens up a wide range of jobs, each offering unique ways to connect with and contribute to the preservation, explanation, and communication of our cultural and natural heritage.

Whether you’re interested in the traditional museum environment or the wider field of cultural heritage, this degree can give you the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

Benefits and Challenges of a Museum Studies Degree

Choosing to pursue a Museum Studies degree comes with an array of benefits, though it also presents its own unique set of challenges. Understanding both aspects can help prospective students make informed decisions about their educational journey and career path in this dynamic field.

Benefits of a Museum Studies Degree

Passion-Driven Field: One of the most appealing aspects of Museum Studies is that it’s often a passion-driven field. Those who gravitate towards this discipline typically have a deep appreciation for history, art, culture, or science, and a desire to share that passion with others. Earning a Museum Studies degree allows individuals to transform their interests into a rewarding career where they can contribute to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge.

Specialized Knowledge and Skills: A Museum Studies degree provides a comprehensive understanding of the varied aspects of museum work. The curriculum is designed to impart both theoretical knowledge and practical skills, preparing graduates for the multidisciplinary nature of museum professions. Whether it’s curating an exhibition, managing a collection, developing an educational program, or leading a museum, this degree equips students with the necessary expertise.

Career Advancement: For those seeking to advance in the museum field, earning a degree in Museum Studies, especially at the Master’s or PhD level, can open doors to higher-level positions. It signals to potential employers a serious commitment to the profession and a high level of knowledge and competency in museum practices.

Challenges of a Museum Studies Degree

Competitive Job Market: Despite the various career opportunities, the museum field can be competitive. Positions, particularly those at the higher level like curatorial or director roles, can be limited and often attract a large number of applicants. This competition requires graduates to not only excel academically but also gain practical experience, networking skills, and a strong portfolio of work.

Need for Continuous Professional Development: As in many fields, the museum sector is constantly evolving with new practices, technologies, and societal expectations. For instance, the rise of digital technologies has transformed many aspects of museum work, from collection management to visitor engagement. To stay relevant, professionals must continually update their skills and knowledge, which may involve additional training, workshops, conferences, or even further formal education.

Financial Considerations: Pursuing a Museum Studies degree, like any higher education program, can also involve significant financial investment. Additionally, salaries in the museum field, especially in entry-level positions, can be modest compared to some other sectors. It’s important for prospective students to consider the return on investment and their personal financial circumstances when deciding to pursue this path.

A Museum Studies degree offers numerous benefits, from turning a passion into a career to acquiring specialized skills and advancing professionally. However, it also presents challenges such as a competitive job market, the need for continual professional development, and financial considerations. Prospective students must weigh these factors carefully to determine if this path aligns with their career goals and personal circumstances. With the right preparation and commitment, a Museum Studies degree can lead to a rewarding career contributing to the preservation and communication of cultural and natural heritage.

Final Thoughts on a Museum Studies Degree

A Museum Studies degree offers more than an education—it presents a unique journey into an interdisciplinary field that interweaves history, culture, art, science, and education. For those captivated by the allure of these elements, and driven by the desire to conserve, interpret, and share our shared cultural and natural heritage, a career in the museum sector can be exceptionally fulfilling and rewarding.

Through the course of this degree, students not only gain profound academic knowledge but also develop a wide array of practical skills. They learn to curate exhibitions, manage collections, design educational programs, and navigate the evolving landscape of digital museum practices. Moreover, the degree opens doors to a spectrum of career opportunities in museums, heritage organizations, cultural agencies, auction houses, and more, allowing graduates to find a niche that resonates with their personal interests and career aspirations.

However, choosing this academic and career path also involves serious considerations. Prospective students must contemplate the time, financial commitment, and academic rigor involved in pursuing a Museum Studies degree. Additionally, they must prepare for a competitive job market, and the need for continual professional growth in an ever-evolving field.

Given the diverse range of possibilities and challenges, it’s essential for potential students to conduct extensive research and gain a comprehensive understanding of what a Museum Studies degree entails. Reaching out to educational institutions that offer Museum Studies programs, conversing with professionals in the field, attending museum and heritage sector events, and even volunteering or interning at museums can provide invaluable insights.

Ultimately, a Museum Studies degree offers an engaging path for those who are passionate about the pivotal role museums play in society. For those individuals, the journey through Museum Studies can lead to a rewarding career that truly makes a difference in preserving and promoting our collective understanding of the world in which we live.

MuseumNext offer online learning for museum professionals striving for engaging, relevant and flexible professional growth content. Find out about our upcoming events here.

About the author – Rebecca Carlsson

Rebecca Carlsson is a journalist writing extensively about the arts. She has a passion for modern art and when she’s not writing about museums, she can be found spending her weekends in them.

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