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The Experience of Museum Advocacy

June 16, 2014

PatriciaHarrisPatricia Harris is a recent graduate of the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis (UM).  She also served for two years as a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  For her Graduate Thesis Project at the UM she assessed a three-year museum advocacy project in greater Memphis, Tennessee, US.  At the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Meetings this past month in Seattle, Patricia was featured in the session Effective Advocacy in Your Community: Learn How! where she spoke about her advocacy project.  Below is a summary of her presentation.

Measuring Advocacy Effectiveness in Memphis Museums

by Patricia Harris

My thesis project at the University of Memphis explored advocacy practices in Memphis area museums, as well as the broader concept of museum advocacy.  My personal advocacy experience began in 2012 in the Museum Practices seminar, one of the core courses in the University’s Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. From 2011-2013, students in the Museums Practices seminar initiated the creation of Advocacy Inventories with eleven Memphis and mid-south museums. These inventories are taken from Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy. Based on the initial inventories, the Museum Practices students made advocacy recommendations for the institutions, conducted follow-up surveys on advocacy practices, and created educational/economic impact statements for each museum.

The advocacy projects carried out by the students with the museums are important for two reasons.  First, the process introduced the students as emerging museum professionals to advocacy. If the museum field desires to continue and sustain advocacy as a practice, new generations of museum professionals must be active participants in advocacy work from the beginning. Second, the projects also introduced museums to advocacy work. Many museums, especially smaller institutions, are unaware of how to do advocacy, and in some cases, unaware of the concept.

Of the eleven museums that completed initial advocacy reports with students from the class, only three institutions participated for all three of the years. So, while it is important to understand the advocacy done by these three institutions, perhaps more significant is why the other eight museums did not, or could not, take part in advocacy work.

The Museum Practices students were providing a variety of resources, and were quite literally willing to do free advocacy work for the institution. Why did some museums not take part? Did they feel advocacy wasn’t important? Did they simply not have the time? Or did they not have the interest? Were the resources being provided not relevant for the size and/or type of the institution?

When speaking about advocacy we are quick to share what went right.  Stories of success are extremely important, but perhaps acknowledging and understanding why things went wrong or why things never even got off the ground is vital to truly institutionalizing advocacy in the museum field.  In so doing, we learn and we can better fine-tune our advocacy resources to encompass more institutions.

The take-away from this project is that we still need to advocate for advocacy. Presumably, you’re all here because you believe in advocacy and what it can do for your institution and your community. In just one metropolis like Memphis, eight out of eleven museums aren’t there yet. Why aren’t they being reached?

It is up to the other three museums out of that eleven to show the hows and whys of advocacy. During graduate school I was a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. We fall into the small museum category with only three full-time museum staff and four part-time graduate assistants – which I know is still much more than many places have. Just in the past three years Chucalissa has sent a graduate student to Museum Advocacy Day each year, participated in “Invite your Legislator to Your Museum Day,” hosted four NCCC AmeriCorps teams (we received Sponsor of the Year award in 2013), and completed economic/educational impact statements now featured on the American Alliance of Museum’s website.  The results of these activities also helped leverage funding from the University of Memphis to support our Museum. I say all of this not to brag, even though I am proud of our work, but to emphasize the importance of grassroots advocacy. The AAM points out that advocacy is not just about making “asks” for money and resources from the federal government, but instead is more about building relationships. Though we often think of this “relationship” as the bond between a museum and it’s elected officials, perhaps museum advocacy needs to start with relationships between museums.

For example, as we’ve seen a small institution with limited staff and resources may not feel that advocacy is the right endeavor for them. Though, if a fellow small museum in their community or the next town over is successfully making strides for advocacy and touting its value, the museum may feel more comfortable and supported in beginning their own advocacy efforts. For smaller museums, it is hard to make that trip to Washington DC for Museum Advocacy Day, or to attend a national conference like this, or even feel that such a large organization’s resources like the AAM are right for them. Thus, sharing advocacy resources and knowledge with other museums in your community may be key to getting those other eight interested and participating. A great example of this is of course museum studies classes at the local university.

State or regional conferences are a great place to share these resources and build relationships. The information in advocacy sessions at state or regional conferences is locally sourced, and comes from museums or colleagues you probably already know.

Advocacy can be intimidating and will take effort by you and your staff to implement at your institution. But the reward is great. You’re not only advocating for your museum, but you are advocating for your community, your city, your field, and yourself. If you don’t think you’re important enough to advocate for, why would anyone else? Building advocacy locally and at the ground level through partnerships and relationships with other museums can be the key to your success.  Remember our voice is strongest together.


Contact Patricia at

Applied Archaeology: Two More Student Projects

June 9, 2014
National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

I recently posted about my course Applied Archaeology and Museums and some of the student projects from the class.  Below are two more student projects of a different type.

Rachel Clark created a Wikispace page for the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  The purpose of the page is to serve as a place to post about internships, jobs, and general information related to the Program – all areas that students expressed a need for more information.  The Wikispace page will rely on student input for added information and maintenance.  This makes sense as the information is primarily intended to support student interests and needs.  Area museums seeking interns or job applicants can also post to the Wikispace.

The idea for the project floated around for a couple of years until a student took the responsibility to act.  Rachel conducted a series of interviews and surveys with her peers in the Program to decide appropriate content.  She also met with each faculty member in the Program to get their buy-in.  The page Rachael created is typical for Wikispace in being stylistically simple but with much data content.

The WikiSpace page will be promoted on the Museum Studies Program homepage as a student based project.  The WikiSpace page is also an experiment in user-generated content for the Program.  If the page is truly relevant to faculty, students, alumni, museum professionals, they will use, edit, and support the page.  If not, the page will go the way of the original Friendster.  Rachel has performed the first step in creating the framework based on peer and faculty survey and interview results.

Jordan Goss, a sophomore in History, conducted a survey and wrote a report on the public support and interest for a cultural heritage venue in her hometown of Marion, Arkansas.  Jordan did a particularly impressive job with the project.

She started the semester proposing to create an exhibit in the town high school on the cultural heritage of the area. Jordan was challenged with questions such as: Does anyone besides you want the exhibit?  Is the high school the best place for such an exhibit?  What will be the content of the exhibit?  She then decided to shift the focus of her project from creating an exhibit to determining the interest and feasibility for such an exhibit.

With guidance from Bernard’s Research Methods in Anthropology she created a survey.  She loaded the survey on Qualtrics (think Survey Monkey on steroids) for which she has free access as a University of Memphis student.  She promoted the survey through social media, mailed copies, and in person.  She also conducted semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Marion.  Finally she submitted and completed an Institutional Review Board proposal to conduct the surveys.

Jordan received over 200 responses that appear to reflect the demographics of Marion, Arkansas.  In her analysis of the survey data she determined:

  • that the majority of residents wanted a cultural heritage center of some sort
  • the demographics of those who support and do not support a center
  • the recommended site and type of exhibit/presentation.
  • the topics of greatest interest  to the respondents
  • how the respondents envision funding a center.

An impressive set of initial of data!  Jordan is currently administering the survey to a broader audience.  In the fall semester, Jordan will create a formal proposal based on her survey results.  Jordan’s survey work is a an excellent first step to determine the feasibility of a cultural heritage center in Marion, Arkansas.

Katie and Jordan’s projects provide important takeaway points:

  • As with all the other student projects from this semester, Katie and Jordan’s were able to make real-time contributions to area cultural heritage venues.  At this point 10 of the 12 projects are actively in place for use in area institutions.
  • Katie and Jordan’s projects each relied extensively on survey results from the intended users of their products.  We stress this point often in the class – the need for project relevance for the intended users.  In both cases, the feedback and buy-in of the anticipated users markedly changed the initial direction of the project.
  • As Katie and Jordan developed their projects, they were aware of the distinct possibility that their end products might not be used.  The WikiSpace page might be ignored by the intended audience.  Marion, Arkansas may never have a cultural heritage center or museum.  However, both students believe that they have taken the correct first steps toward creating a viable finished product.  I agree.

So ends another year of student projects that result in products with real-time applications in area museums!


A Co-created Museum/Archaeology Brochure

June 2, 2014

Image adapted from brochure created by Allison Hennie

I recently posted about several  of the exhibit projects completed by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums class from this past semester.   As I noted, the projects are an excellent opportunity for students to apply their classroom experience in real-time settings that will live in area museums.

Graduate student Allison Hennie’s project was one I have wanted a student to take on for the past few years.  She created a brochure of prehistoric sites and museums along the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri and Natchez, Mississippi here in the US (attached file is front and back, quarter-fold).  I understood the need for the brochure based on my experience at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa where I serve as Director.  We are located in Memphis Tennessee, US at the intersection of two major highways – the east-west I-40 and the north-south I-55.  This north-south route, and the nearby Great River Road, are particularly well-traveled by tourists making their way along the Mississippi River through the mid-South, crossing through several states.  Because the prehistoric earthwork complexes are located in different states that do not coordinate their marketing efforts, there is no single brochure or rack card that list these venues for visitors.  Allison’s brochure resolves that problem.

The brochure is truly a co-created product.    Allison contacted the various institutions with an idea, solicited their participation, asked them to submit text and images to represent their venue, and sent a draft of the completed brochure for their approval.  The brochure fills an existing need as expressed by several of the venues Allison contacted.

As Allison wrote in her process paper:

This wasn’t something I dreamed in my own head, visitors have requested this information, and the other museums see the worth in the project as well. I also didn’t decide how to describe the sites, or an image of how I thought the sites should be portrayed. And no one is obligated to distribute the brochure at their sites. Part of the process in creating the brochure also strengthened the fact that Chucalissa’s environment doesn’t only exist within the boundaries of the C.H. Nash Museum or the site.

What did I do? Part of the process involved contacting other sites, following up with sites that did not respond, organizing information that was provided to create a document that is (hopefully) visually appealing and makes sense to those who open it. These other museums can then choose to distribute or not. The design process also involved thinking of a preliminary framework to make the transition from printed media to digital media. A grant to help make this happen has already been identified.

I like that the process and product drew on a student’s existing strengths (design and marketing) placed in a new context – prehistoric museum venues and applied archaeology.  As Allison noted, the choice to print and use the brochure is up to the individual museum.  She will pursue grant funding to expand the scope of the map beyond the rather artificial end points initially determined by Chucalissa’s geographic mid-point in Memphis.  She will also adapt the brochure for an online presence.

An important point learned by both Allison and the rest of the class in the brochure creation process is the often fragmented and silo-like interest of cultural heritage venues.  State-owned institutions are often not permitted to promote venues outside of their states.  For example, if we employed such a policy at Chucalissa, we could not promote the Mississippian culture Parkin or Hampson Museums located within a one hour drive across the River in Arkansas but we could promote the Old Stone Fort site located 7 hours east in Manchester, Tennessee.  Students in the class were surprised by this reality expressed explicitly by some of the venues contacted and implicitly by those who did not respond to Allison’s multiple inquiries.

Allison’s brochure project also reflects the Wordle from the final day of class I discussed in an earlier post.  That is, applied archaeology is a community process that breaks down boundaries or silos between interest groups to recognize that each institution’s wants and needs are best served by a common whole.  Certainly, the breaking down of silos is one of the lessons that institutions of higher education are learning is key to their survival.  Allison’s brochure provides a glimpse into how this approach might work for cultural heritage venues.  I am pleased not just with the excellent brochure Allison produced but the process, discussion, and education that students and the participating cultural heritage professionals gained from this project.

Applied Archaeology and Museums: The Student Projects

May 19, 2014

I posted last week about the Applied Archaeology and Museums class I taught this past semester at the University of Memphis.    Forty percent of the course grade is from the final project that students propose and complete. I offer several possibilities and discuss projects from previous classes to help stimulate the students thinking. The criteria for the final project include that the product must be broadly based in archaeology or cultural heritage studies and must ultimately live in area museum.  Here is one example of a completed project:


Stone Tool Exhibit created by Garrett Ballard and Rachel Starks in Johnson Hall at the University of Memphis.

A prompt I gave for a possible project was a near empty exhibit case in the classroom building where many archaeology classes occur. I noted the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa curated an abundance of unprovenienced stone tools in our educational collections that could be used in creating an exhibit for the case.  Two students, Garrett Ballard and Rachael Starks, proposed and created a stone tool exhibit that explored function and stylistic changes through time. The exhibit has three shelves. One shelf of their exhibit contains projectile points ranging from Paleoindian through Mississippian. Individual artifact labels include the age of the artifact and a linked QR code contains interpretive information. One shelf contains a series of untyped but numbered bifaces with a single label that asks “Which of the artifacts are really arrowheads?” the popularly assigned term for any triangular-shaped stone tool. A QR code links to a resource that illustrates and explains the function of each tool and identifies the true arrowheads. The third shelf contains a set of ground stone tools and labels that contain functional and raw material information.


Numbered bifaces in the arrowhead identification shelf of the exhibit.

The students pulled the stone tools from an unprovenienced surface collection curated at the Museum.  Robert Ford, a University of Memphis Alum, and the best lawyer in a one lawyer town in rural Arkansas donated the collection in 2000.  Ford donated the collection for use in educational projects. The several thousand diagnostic stone tools that range from Clovis to Mississippian points remained untouched in the repository for over 10 years. Mr. Ford was not pleased and called me one day asking about the artifacts. Having come to the museum seven years after the donation was made, I was unaware of the donation. When I located the materials in the repository, we made quick work of utilizing them in several of our educational programs.


Projectile Point chronology and ground stone shelves of the exhibit case.

Besides physically creating the exhibit, there are a few key lessons the two students gained from the project. First, they took away a keen understanding of the value and potential of archaeological resources locked away in museum repositories. Second, as undergraduates they created an exhibit that is of interest to them and their peers.  Third, they created a meaningful product that will live on after the semester is over – an act in itself that is empowering.

Here are some of Garrett Ballard’s thoughts expressed in his process paper on the exhibit creation:

Ultimately, we all had common interests and decided to pursue a common goal that would satisfy all the parties involved; I would get to create an exhibit using authentic Native American projectile points, Rachel would get to incorporate website design, social media, and QR codes, you (Connolly) would get a Chucalissa exhibit installed at Johnson Hall, and lastly, Robert Ford’s artifacts would get plenty of educational use through our exhibit . . .

I was slightly overwhelmed by the number of artifacts in the collection, and was very concerned about how I would manage to convey a message to the viewers of the exhibit. Luckily, I believed you sensed my frustration and sent me the Serrell Reading to help. Serrell’s guide has been critical in our research design, and has helped me not only to make better interpretive labels and an overall comprehensive exhibit, but it also showed me the importance of having a “Big Idea”.

Armed with a “Big Idea” and a fresh delivered copy of Noel D. Justice’s Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points, the next few visits to the repository proved to be enjoyable and result driven as the project was coming together and pieces started to fall into place . . . While going through the collection I took care in the handling, photographing, and cataloguing of a range of different types of tools and projectile points, increasing my own knowledge on the subject matter in the process.

I consider this exhibit process a big success as an applied educational opportunity for Garrett and Rachel.  In the process:

  • A point reinforced to me is that in such projects, my role is to provide logistical expertise and guidance, but allow the students creativity to come to the fore.  In so doing, they arrived at concepts, such as the Which is an Arrowhead . . . shelf that likely would not have occurred had I dominated the process.  When given such latitude, I find students enjoy the freedom, but also experience an initial sense of frustration as Garrett notes.  However, with guidance, students work creatively to find solutions and directions.
  • I would not have chosen the colors or fonts that Garrett and Rachel used for the exhibit.  But then, their peer group are the primary audience for the exhibit, not me.

Other exhibits created by the students in this semester’s class include:

  • Teo-obsidian

    Stone tool portion of exhibit created by Michelle Faulk.

    Michelle Dallas Faulk organized and created didactic panels for an exhibit of ceramic sherds and obsidian tools from central Mexico.  The exhibit is located in the same hallway as the Stone Tool display created by Garrett and Rachel.

  • Carolyn Trimble created a small exhibit on stone tools supplemented with information through linked QR codes for the Morton Museum in Collierville, Tennessee a suburb just east of Memphis.  The Morton Museum Director contacted me about creating asmallexhibit on the prehistory of the area.  We were able to use

    Prehistory exhibit for Morton Museum created by Carolyn Trimble (does not include large back panel).

    artifacts in our repository from two prehistoric Collierville sites excavated through Cultural Resource Management projects.  A QR code link reports the sites and contextualizes the prehistory of the suburb for museum visitors.


In next week’s post I will report on other types of student projects created in the Applied Archaeology and Museum class from this past semester.



Ideabox: Twigs

May 17, 2014


Very cool educational activities . . .

Originally posted on Brain Popcorn:

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!


Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get…

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Applied Archaeology and Museums – The Course.

May 12, 2014

treetangle2aThis past semester I was the instructor for my favorite course – Applied Archaeology and Museums – a joint undergraduate and graduate class that usually enrolls 15-20 students. I developed the course a few years ago as pretty much an amalgam of what I enjoy and am most passionate about in archaeology – community engagement and empowerment through cultural heritage studies.

There are no in-class exams. Instead, students complete a series of essays, reading journals and projects where they directly apply the course content to real-time situations.

For example, students write a brief essay on repatriation, as applied to the Elgin Marbles. In the past I used a brief article by Jarrett Lobell from the 2006 edited volume Archaeological Ethics. Now as the lead resource I use the Wikipedia article on the Elgin Marbles, a 5000-word piece based on over 70 references. I am not aware of a more up-to-date and comprehensive starting point for the single class Elgin Marble repatriation discussion. Using the Wikipedia page also allows for students to assess the worth of user-generated content.  I emphasize that there is not a right or wrong position on repatriating the Elgin Marbles. I enjoy that depending on the class composition of Anthropology, History, and Art History majors, the discussion is quite varied. Occurring within the first two weeks of the course, I intend for this discussion to set a tone for the diversity of possibilities throughout the semester.

Forty percent of the course grade is from the final project that students complete for the class. I offer several possibilities and past projects to help stimulate the students thinking. The criteria for the final project includes that it must be broadly based in archaeology or cultural heritage studies and must ultimately live in area museum.  The projects were particularly successful this past semester.  I will post some of them here over the next few weeks.

For the final essay students respond to the following questions:

  • What is the social utility of archaeology?
  • Does Archaeology have a viable utility for people beyond other archaeologists?
  • What is the most significant insight you obtained from the course? Explain.

My reason for asking this line of questioning flows from my first field school experience nearly 30 years ago. The instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support keeping this site open to the public, you might as well go home.” I pondered that mandate for many years. Quite honestly, I don’t think I was ever able to adequately respond until I worked in applied archaeology contexts where community members were creating exhibits around their own cultural heritage. I believe that it is critically important that our students be able to show that archaeology is relevant, not just in the classroom, but when they leave as well.

Finally, the two wordles below are from spontaneous/unannounced two-minute trait list exercises for the term “applied archaeology” students completed on the first and the last day of class.  I am not completely comfortable with the shift over the course of the semester.  I appreciate that “excavation” is not the predominant associated term at the end of the semester as in the beginning.  On the other hand, I am surprised that the concept of fieldwork is nearly absent in the final list.  I am pleased that by the end of the semester students appreciate that applied archaeology is a discipline that is not performed for but rather with the community.


applied archaeology





Some Museum and Archaeology Career Resources

May 5, 2014

At the recent Society for American Archaeology Meeting in Austin Texas, I participated in a speed mentoring session sponsored by the Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology.  My assigned focus was on Archaeology and Museums. I prepared a brief handout of resources for careers.  Below is a slightly expanded version of the handout.

Resources for Careers in Archaeology and Museums


Books on Career Development

  • The Anthropology Graduate’s Guide: From Student to a Careerby Carol J. Ellick, Joe E Watkins, 2011, Left Coast Press (Here is my review).  I routinely recommend this volume as the primary resource for developing a career in the social sciences.  I know of no better single resource.  If one follows the step-by-step guidance in this volume, they will maximize their potential for employment upon graduation.  
  •  A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career edited by Greg Stevens and Wendy Luke, 2013, American Alliance of Museums.  This volume covers many of the same topics as Elick/Watkins volume but with a very specific focus on Museum Careers.

Museum Journals of Interest

There are a plethora of peer-reviewed journals in the field of Museum Studies.  Below is just a very small handful of those that include discussions at the intersection of museums and applied archaeology.

  • Museum Anthropology – American Anthropological Association
  • Museums and Social Issues – Maney Press
  • Journal of Museum Education – Maney Press
  • Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage – Maney Press

Major Publishers of Museum Studies and Archaeology

Though not exhaustive by any means, the three publishers below offer a good sampling of research  published at the intersection of applied archaeology and museums

Miscellaneous Resources

  • Society of Museum Archaeology – A worthwhile link from the UK
  • Chronicle of Higher Education – The Chronicle is definitely worth staying on top of for current trends and discussions in the social science and museum studies fields.  Many web links contain solid advice particularly for those seeking careers in academia.
  • Museum Studies Graduate Programs List – A reasonably exhaustive US list of graduate programs in Museum Studies including online and certificate offerings.

Career and Listserv Links

Listservs remain a solid place for finding out about job openings, internships, and current trends in Museum Studies.  If a student has done their homework to ask specific questions and not simply posts general queries like “Any advice for someone seeking a career in Museums?” they will find the membership of these lists quite helpful.  The below lists are rather general, and between the three, contain most job and internship listings that are not highly specialized.

  • Museum-L –  General Museum list of museum professionals
  • Museum-Ed – List of the Museum Education Roundtable
  • AAMG – List for the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.  Particularly good for jobs and discussions related to university based institutions.

Some of My Stuff

My Contact Information

Robert P. Connolly, PhD, Director
C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa,
Associate Professor, Anthropology, University of Memphis
901-785-3160, ext. 15 (museum) – best way to get a hold of me

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