Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Grad Program Guide: Brown University

I was going to write about the University of Denver’s Museum and Heritage Studies program today, but last night I had a really weird dream that I was wandering around the Hirschhorn Museum (only it definitely wasn’t the Hirschhorn because all it had were dioramas of George Washington’s death and Santa Claus) wondering if I’d really been accepted to Brown University’s Public Humanities M.A. program. I hadn’t applied, but I remembered receiving an acceptance letter, and I spent the dream both being confused about my academic future and trying to find an exhibit that wasn’t an empty room or a gory diorama. If you are a dream interpretation expert, email me, because I can’t find a meaning for “diorama” on dreammoods.com.

In my school-researching experience, there are only three or four REALLY choice programs involving cultural heritage in the U.S., and Brown University’s Master’s in Public Humanities is one of them. Offered through their Department of American Civilization, the program can be completed either as a terminal master’s program or as part of the Ph.D program. The program lasts two years, is designed to prepare students for careers in museums, historical societies, state and federal humanities and cultural resource agencies, and historic preservation and community cultural development organizations. Because Brown has an open curriculum, there are only two required courses: Introduction to Public Humanities and Methods in Public Humanities. After that, students have their pick of ten elective courses.

The term “public humanities” refers to the many ways “that the university reaches out to the public to connect academic understandings to a broader audience. We also include the techniques of recording and presenting art, history, and culture, in museums and historic sites, documentaries, and other media.” They emphasize that they are not just interested in exploring culture, but are committed to working with students, professionals, and the community to preserve, understand, and make use of cultural heritage.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that one can judge a program based on how much information they provide on their website; I don’t feel particularly wooed by a program if there’s only one page with a short description, no links, no .pdf offerings, no course listings, and no personalized information about the directors or students. Why should I want to apply to a school that doesn't seem to have anything to give me? Schools should be all about wooing you, right? Drawing you in with their impressive list of accomplishments, opportunities, and research. Going to a site with the bare minimum is like a guy hitting on you and you realizing the most he has to give are some corn chips and some really old video game consoles. And not even the cool retro kind. Well, the website for the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage is maybe the most rock star of program websites I’ve seen so far, a digital Romeo of cultural heritage with Taye Diggs wooing powers. Not only does it include really detailed information about the M.A. program, including student profiles, a huge course listing (Gravestones and Burying Grounds” or “The Sixties Without Apology” anyone?), and examples of presentations and papers, but it also boasts a museum loan network, a public humanities clinic, a practicum program, and the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. If you are super into the American side of cultural heritage studies, this is the school for you. You won’t often find these kind of opportunities all in the same place. Also, who doesn’t love Rhode Island?

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