Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Museum Scholarship and Material Culture Certificate

Equipping students with skills for research, scholarship and presentation that are appropriate to museums of history, culture and material life.

A unique program in this region, the certificate aims to equip students with skills for research, scholarship and presentation that are appropriate to museums of history, culture and material life.

The University of Maryland, College Park’s certificate program in museum scholarship and material culture (12 credits) augments graduate work in American studies, anthropology and archaeology, historic preservation, history, library and information studies and other disciplines by training students to understand the particular challenges, issues and opportunities encountered when conducting and presenting material culture scholarship in the museum environment. The program is currently directed by Associate Professor Mary Sies with guidance and support of a steering committee that includes a multidisciplinary cohort of scholars and professionals.


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 which 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.

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 Culture. The deadline for Fall 2021 admission is April 1, 2021.


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.

AMST655/ANTH655/HIST610: “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.

AMST856/ANTH856/HIST810: “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.

AMST857/ANTH857/HIST811: “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—the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the 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:

ANTH448P/689P: “Theories of the Past”; ANTHxxx: “Material Culture Studies of Archaeology”; AMST629: “Race, Class, and Material Culture”; AMST650: “Material Culture Studies Theory”; AMST851: “Interpretation of Cultural Landscapes”; HISP600: “History, Theory & Contemporary Issues in Historic Preservation”; HISP635: “Social and Ethnic Issues in Historic Preservation”; HISP655: “Vernacular Architecture”; HIST406: “History of Technology”; HIST407: “Technology and Social Change in History”; or appropriate offerings of HIST609 in history of technology; INST728-B: “Digitization and Legacy Holdings”; LBSC786: “Library and Archives Preservation”; INST643: “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.

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 three actions 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. In the Graduate Certificate Program field, please enter “Z016, Museum Scholarship and Material Culture”
  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. The program code is Z016.
  3. In addition, at the end of the semester in which you plan to complete the MSMC certificate, please submit the MSMC Class Verification form and send the MSMC director your MSMC portfolio. The portfolio includes a PDF with the following: A summary page listing the four courses you took, the semester they were taken and grades received. List and attach the 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.


American Alliance of Museums
The American Alliance of Museums (formerly the American Association of Museums) is the one organization that supports all museums. Through advocacy and excellence, the alliance strengthens the museum community. We support 21,000 museums, individuals and companies by: developing standards and best practices, providing resources and career development and advocating for museums to thrive.

Resource Library

Smithsonian’s Museum Studies Resources

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.


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.

Program Staff

Dr. Mary Sies

Dr. Mary Corbin Sies is an associate professor of American studies and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the Historic Preservation program and the Consortium on Race, Gender & Ethnicity. She received her Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan in 1987. Her research and teaching interests span material and visual culture, planning history, architectural history, urban/suburban history and cultural and social history of the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her most recent edited book (with Isabelle Gournay and Robert Freestone), “Iconic Planned Communities and the Challenge of Change” (University of Pennsylvania, 2019), was awarded the best-edited work in planning history by the International Planning History Society in 2020. One of the four founding members of the Museum Scholarship and Material Culture graduate certificate program, Sies previously directed the program from 2006 until 2013. She has consulted on museum exhibitions for the Margaret Strong Museum, the National Building Museum and the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. Locally, she volunteers with the Greenbelt Museum and the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, where she is part of the Lakeland Digital Archive team, a community/university collaboration pioneering an equitable and community-driven digital heritage project. She is an avid museum-goer with a special appreciation for community museums and local heritage societies around the world. 

Dr. Quint Gregory 

Dr. Quint Gregory wears many hats at the University of Maryland but spends most of his time in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, a space he designed and runs, collaborating with teachers, researchers and students interested in employing digital technologies to enhance their work, be it pedagogical, academic or rhetorical. He has taught seminars for the Honors College at the University of Maryland that focus on museums and society, inspiration for which he drew from nearly a decade’s worth of work in area museums (National Gallery of Art, Walters Art Gallery) while pursuing his doctorate, a goal only accomplished after his Fulbright-fueled year of research in the Netherlands in 2000–01.

Gregory first came to the University of Maryland as a graduate student focused on 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting (he worked on such exhibitions as Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen), a subject for which he retains great passion, even if he does not wade in those waters daily at present.


Kenna Hernly

Kenna Hernly is the current graduate assistant to the MSMC program. She is a Ph.D. candidate in teaching and learning, policy and leadership in the College of Education. Her research focuses on art museum education and ways to engage visitors in exhibitions. Before coming to UMD, Hernly was a curator of public programs and interpretation at Tate St Ives, UK. She has a B.A. in art history from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an M.A. in contemporary visual art from Falmouth University, UK. In 2020, she was the Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Diana Marsh

Diana Marsh is an assistant professor of archives and digital curation in the College of Information Studies (iSchool). Her work focuses on how changing technologies, cultures and values affect the communication of knowledge in heritage institutions. Her current research focuses on access to anthropological archives and the circulation of digitized ethnographic collections in Native communities.

She was previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA). From 2015–17, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow at the American Philosophical Society where she curated exhibitions drawing primarily on archival collections (“Curious Revolutionaries: The Peales of Philadelphia,” from April-December 2017 and “Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America,” from April-December 2016). From 2014–-15, she was a Postdoctoral Research and Teaching Fellow in museum anthropology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she taught courses in museology and heritage. She completed her Ph.D. in anthropology at UBC, where she conducted an ethnography of exhibition planning and the renovation of the National Museum of Natural History’s fossil hall. She has an M.Phil. in social anthropology with a museums and heritage focus from the University of Cambridge and a B.F.A. in visual arts and photography from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. Her work has been published in the Journal of Material Culture, Museum Anthropology, Practicing Anthropology, Archivaria and Archival Science. Her book, “Extinct Monsters to Deep Time: Conflict, Compromise, and the Making of Smithsonian’s Fossil Halls,” was recently published with Berghahn Books Museum and Collections Series.