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Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate

The Certificate Program in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture augments graduate work in American studies, anthropology, historic preservation and history by training students to understand the particular challenges, issues, and opportunities encountered when conducting and presenting material culture scholarship in the museum environment.

Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate Overview

The University of Maryland College Park’s (UMCP) Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture (MSMC) was started in 1996 to promote graduate training focusing on research about and in museums and historic sites. Curators from the National Museum of American History and other Smithsonian centers as well as faculty from the University’s departments of American Studies, Anthropology, History, and Historic Preservation have participated in designing the program and are represented on the Certificate Committee.

The program centers on three questions:

  1. How do museums function as social and historical institutions?
  2. How is material culture used as evidence in museums?
  3. In what ways do exhibits, collections, and other museum efforts express ideas and create knowledge?

Our ultimate purpose is to explore the ways that museums and historic sites participate in those scholarly disciplines that engage material culture. Core courses offer the participation of staff from the world’s largest museum complex and enable students to combine intellectual inquiry about museums with direct access to local museums and museum professionals. The certificate prepares students to present their scholarship in a museum or historical setting. However, this is not a museum studies program that aims to train students to become museum curators or administrators. Rather, it focuses on scholarly analysis of the role of the curator in American society.

The Certificate has four required courses (3 credits each) that are meant to be taken sequentially to complete the program. These courses include “Introduction to Museum Scholarship,” “Museum Research Seminar,” “Museum Scholarship Practicum” and a fourth course chosen by the student in his/her department which focuses on material culture or another closely-related field. Currently, all graduate students at UMCP can apply for the certificate. The certificate is not available independently of a graduate degree program from UMCP.

View the information below to learn more about the program or contact Mary Sies, the certificate program director and associate professor of American studies.

About the Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate

How to Apply

To enroll in the Certificate program, read and complete the application and submit with the required supporting documents. Applications are accepted once per semester. Students must complete the application before enrolling in the second course of the program (Museum Research Seminar). For questions, contact the program director at To apply, fill out the Application for Graduate Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material CultureDeadline for Spring 2021 admission is November 1, 2020.


The certificate is a 12 credit program with 3 core classes and 1 elective course which often overlaps with related degree courses. Students interested in completing the certificate should enroll in the Introductory course and consult with their degree advisers and an MSMC faculty to ensure successful completion.

AMST 655/ANTH 655/HIST 610: Introduction to Museum Scholarship (3 credits, Fall)

The purpose of this class will be to introduce students to museum practice emphasizing research roles and scholarly considerations. Topics will include the history of museums, evolving collections priorities, exhibition strategies (on site and virtual), and will encompass controversies, both public and scholarly. Students will gain an understanding of museums as educational institutions and their standing within the broader cultural milieu. The introductory class will include visits to Washington area museums. Note: the instructors and locations of this course may vary each year.

AMST 856/ANTH 856/HIST 810: Museum Research Seminar (3 credits, Spring)
Prerequisite: Introduction to Museum Scholarship or permission of instructor.

In consultation with seminar leaders students will select research topics that investigate key issues in museum-based scholarship and demonstrate their ability to research and prepare an extended research project. The project will be presented at the completion of the seminar.

AMST 857/ANTH 857/HIST 811: Museum Scholarship Practicum (3-6 credits)
Prerequisite: Museum Research Seminar or permission of instructor.

Students will devise and carry out a research project using collections at the Smithsonian or another approved institution, and will work under joint supervision of a museum staff member and UMCP Certificate Committee member. Students already in the program should arrange the practicum with a museum professional in consultation with their certificate program advisor.

The fourth course for the certificate is a seminar in one of the three supporting colleges —College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, College of Arts and Humanities, and the College of Information Studies – that deals with major scholarly issues in material culture, as approached by the home discipline. This may include the following courses:

ANTH 448P/689P (Theories of the Past); ANTH xxx (Material Culture Studies of Archaeology); AMST 629 (Race, Class, and Material Culture); AMST 650 (Material Culture Studies Theory); AMST 851 (Interpretation of Cultural Landscapes); HISP 600 (History, Theory & Contemporary Issues in Historic Preservation); HISP 635 (Social and Ethnic Issues in Historic Preservation); HISP 655 (Vernacular Architecture); HIST 406 (History of Technology); HIST 407 (Technology and Social Change in History); or appropriate offerings of HIST 609 in history of technology; INST 728-B (Digitization and Legacy Holdings); LBSC 786 (Library and Archives Preservation); INST 643 (Curation in Cultural Institutions).

Practicum Project

The Practicum Project (AMST 857/ANTH 857/HIST 811) is an independent research and creative project designed to allow students to work with professionals in the field on a project managing collections, interpreting historic sites/tours, exhibition design and implementation, evaluating visitor experience, and other hands-on programs. The practicum consists of three components:  a research paper, the practicum product, and a reflection essay. Students devise and carry out a research project using collections at a host organization like the Smithsonian or another approved museum or cultural center.

Identifying a host institution or site, coordinating with host cultural heritage professionals and administrators, and writing up a practicum proposal will require considerable preparation so students are advised to allocate enough of time to accomplish the initial groundwork. In addition, security and personnel procedures in many institutions require additional paperwork and time to complete before the project can begin. MSMC program director(s), MSMC committee members, and program advisors may help in identifying potential research sites and contacting museum professionals in the region. However, students are largely responsible for initiating and facilitating the whole process.

Over the semester, students work independently under joint supervision of a museum professional from their host organization and a practicum advisor from the MSMC Committee who best matches the student’s degree needs. Students must seek a practicum advisor whose scholarship and expertise will best guide them in their practicum project. The faculty advisor must agree to serve in this capacity before enrolling in the practicum course.

In consultation with the faculty advisor, formal practicum proposal of no more than ten, single-space pages must be submitted to and approved by MSMC program director(s) before the semester in which the student registers for the course. At, this time the practicum proposal form, which can be found on our website, should also be submitted as part of your proposal. The proposal may require revision upon review by the practicum advisor and program director(s). The formal proposal identifies tangible goals and defines what the student expects from the practicum.

Note: Be mindful of your museums’ or historic sites’ security and temporary personnel procedures which may require additional paperwork and time to complete before the project can begin.

View Practicum Proposal Form.

View Practicum Guidelines.

Research Paper

Students should adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Design project with a specific museum or historic site and with the supervision of a UMCP faculty member and a museum professional at the host organization;
  • Center project on research and interpretation of some kind of material culture;
  • Consist of the student’s own work (students should not simply perform research tasks to support a museum professional’s project);
  • Produce an independent product;
  • Meet professional standards of writing, design, research, timeliness, clarity, and organization.

Practicum Product

Previous students have planned (and sometimes executed):

  • exhibitions;
  • written exhibition catalogs;
  • produced a grant application to support a proposed exhibition;
  • designed a walking tour for a historic site or district or a special topics docent tour for an exhibition;
  • developed an annotated bibliography of born-digital museums;
  • proposed an alternative interpretive plan for an historic site or;
  • simply provided research needed to display or interpret a museum collection.

Practicum Examples

Previous students have shared their practicum products to given current and prospective students greater insight into the final product.

Reflection Essay

In the reflection essay, students evaluate their research and development process for the project and assess how the practicum experience has contributed to their understanding of museum scholarship and material culture. The essay is also a reflection of all four MSMC courses completed for the Certificate and how each of those courses has informed the student’s final practicum experience and professional growth.


At the beginning of the semester in which you will complete your last MSMC class, please be sure to complete the two forms below:

  1. By the end of the Add/Drop period, please return the Application for Graduation to the registrar ( Use a separate form for each degree or certificate you are applying for.
  2. Within the first month of the semester, please complete the Approved Program Completion Form. Please send this form to Dr. Sies to sign and submit when you complete any remaining course requirements.
  3. In addition, at the end of the semester in which you plan to complete the MSMC Certificate, please send to the MSMC Director an MSMC Portfolio. This includes a pdf with the following: A summary page listing the 4 courses you took, the semester taken, and grade received. List and include full texts of the major papers or projects for each of the four classes (for example, include the full text of the major papers you wrote for these courses. If you completed a group project or exhibition, provide the link or documentation of your contribution).

If you have questions, please contact Dr. Sies ( For more information on Graduate Degree deadlines, visit the UMD Registrar page. Please note: if you complete the certificate before you complete your graduate degree (this often happens with Ph.D. students), you can apply to graduate from the certificate once you complete all the requirements.


  • Summer Institute for Museum Anthropology (SIMA)
    • The Smithsonian Institution’s SIMA is intended for graduate students who are preparing for research careers in cultural anthropology who are interested in using museum collections as a data source. The program is not designed to serve students seeking careers in museum management or whose research field is archaeology.
  • Small Museum Association
    • The Small Museum Association is an all-volunteer organization serving small museums in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond. SMA’s mission is to develop and maintain a peer network among people who work for small museums, giving them opportunities to learn, share knowledge and support one another, so that they, in turn, can better serve their institutions, communities and profession.
    • Travel and Membership Scholarships:
    • Resources:
  • Committee on Museum Professional Training
    • A Professional Network of the American Alliance of Museums, COMPT strives to assist museum professionals and pre-professionals in their career learning experiences, to address the continuous need to develop and enhance professional goals, and to proactively engage with pressing concerns that affect professionals across the field.