Teaching through Curating

Exhibition curator and graduate student Alex Hutchings dresses a mannequin.

Exhibition curator and graduate student Alex Hutchings dresses a mannequin.

I live in two worlds. As an academic historian, I publish articles in journals no “regular” people read.  As a curator, I am an editor of ideas, distilling down “big concepts” into something visitors can easily understand. Curatorial work is tactile and visual–two qualities that generally make academic historians nervous.

Historians study the past. Museum professionals preserve it.

I spent years perfecting the fine art of packing boxes and endless hours cataloging collections. My academic training in Museum Studies prepared me for the “best case scenario,” but my day-to-day work at an institution has taught me how to make the best of what you’ve got. In this respect, I am constantly learning: learning how to cut corners while maintaining integrity, learning how to get creative with the materials on hand, learning how pursue funding through grants and private donations. That’s the kind of stuff they don’t teach you in Museum Studies 101.

As a professor of public history, I teach students how to “do.”  If you’re the kind of student who lives and dies by the syllabus, then my classes might be too much to handle. There is lots of playing it by ear, seeing how it goes, and waiting it out. There are late nights and early mornings. For those who take to it, my hands-on exhibition classes is an education like no other.