Actor Ben Stiller and his Night at the Museum
movies have nothing on a group of University of Delaware students, who
spent Winter Session getting a look at the behind-the-scenes workings of
museums and historic sites.
The class, a first of its kind in introducing UD undergraduates to
the subject, was created and taught by Katherine C. Grier, professor of history and director of the University’s Museum Studies Program, which is open to graduate students in any discipline.
Every week, the experimental class, “Behind the Scenes in Museums,”
met once as a discussion group and once to take a daylong field trip to a
nearby site. At the museums, students were shown such operations as
collection storage, exhibition development and interpretation, and they
had the opportunity to meet and talk informally with staff members over
“The point of the course is to get undergrads excited about museums —
not necessarily as future professionals but as visitors and
supporters,” Grier said. “I want to turn every Delaware undergraduate
into a ‘culture vulture.’”
During the four weeks of class, students visited the Museum of the
American Revolution, to see the development of a site that is still a
work in progress and not yet open to the public; Old New Castle,
Delaware, to learn about historic preservation and house museums; the
Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base, an example of the
U.S. military museum system; and Hagley Museum and Library, to explore
the operations of a complex historical organization.
The tour at Hagley showed students the variety of activities that go
into processing and maintaining library collections and creating museum
exhibitions at the Greenville, Delaware, site that was the original
black powder works of the DuPont Co., founded there in 1802. The museum
and library today showcase many companies and industries in addition to
DuPont, allowing visitors to explore the history of American business,
technology and innovation.
“I believe that the purpose of museums is to make the world a better
place,” Joan Hoge-North, director of museum services, told the students
as she explained some of what goes into creating an exhibition. “And we
do that through the tools we have — exhibits, artifacts, information.”