Doctoral Programme for Academic Curators
Within university settings there is growing interest in the potential that material culture, material history studies and museum methodologies can offer to inform innovative academic research and teaching. The “material turn” constitutes a firmly grounded field for interdisciplinary studies, prompting academics to experiment with material approaches to their work, while curators and heritage specialists are working more closely with academics in developing research strategies to produce knowledge and theorise this practice. Thus the theoretical boundaries between the two domains are weakening, but in order to make the fullest use of the potential of historic collections as intellectual and pedagogical assets, there is still a need for researchers and curators to be more cognisant of each other’s methods. At present, the career options in museums remain divided between vocational museology and academic research, with only a handful of PhD-level programmes giving equal weight to training in curation and scholarship, and then almost exclusively limited to the field of History of Art. In light of emphasis placed on creativity and innovative cross-disciplinary thinking both in the Humanities and the Sciences, there is now need for skilled, theoretically informed researchers who have mastery of both material and intellectual tools.
Career paths in both the museum sector and in academia now stress the importance of flexible intellectual frameworks for career development, and place emphasis on skills that enhance the production of original research, whether digital, practical, or methodological. The training of experts has not kept up with this shift, and this is placing increased constraints on the quality and range of expertise in candidates for posts in both the university and the museum. In the latter, the demand is for candidates who have practical curatorial expertise and solid academic training so that they can be respected intellectual partners in departmental teaching and research.
The long-term objective is to set in place a durable Interdisciplinary doctoral programme of instruction for Academic Curators to address the future needs of both university and museum. The aim is to create a career-focused qualification that will enable the candidate to participate fully in the life of both the university and the museum and to contribute significantly to the development of new approaches to research and teaching. The programme will place a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary collaborative working, attracting students across all fields. It will put the physical object at the heart of the process and place specialist knowledge and curatorial training firmly around it, maintaining a strong focus on academic excellence in curating and knowledge production in museums.
The first step is to fund a joint pilot summer programme in 2021 to test ideas with a group of students and to further identify respective institutional strengths, course contributions and teaching skills in order to deliver a full programme.
Both the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow have significant success in piloting teaching programmes that expand the use of collections as academic assets.
Göttingen’s current doctoral programme “Exhibiting Knowledge”, funded by the VW Stiftung, supports doctoral students from various Humanities disciplines in completing their dissertation in the field of collection, museum or exhibition history, with a year of practical museum experience. Göttingen has woven together the acquisition of collections-based competencies with the theoretical teaching of the History of Knowledge in order to link to the respective contents of the specialist courses. Göttingen brings expertise through the professorship “Materiality of Knowledge”, the “Forum Wissen”, and the extensive departmental collections.
The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow has an internationally recognised best-practice model for cross-collections and cross-disciplinary research and teaching, and expertise in delivering both method and practice as part of its university engagement. Hunterian staff have lectured internationally and published on its innovative methodologies for academic partnerships, and on theoretically-informed museum practice for both curators and scholars, and the museum benefits from close relations and excellent connections with museums and galleries across the UK and internationally. The staff of the Museum Studies MA programme provide expertise in material practice, while curators and senior staff are academically active in the university. The Hunterian’s collections, which span the full range of Arts and Sciences, are accessible under one roof for study within an extensive suite of study rooms, laboratories and classrooms.