Museum Studies

MUST 295. Museum Interpretation, spring 2009
Dan Bartlett,

Student Commitment: minimum
Developmental Stage: intermediate
Community Partner(s): Friends of Beckman Mill
Skills taught: Working with a client to meet the client's needs (and dealing with the disappointment of having a good idea rejected), working with a volunteer, non-professional organization.
Resources: Course Syllabus (pdf)


“What we did do was develop an interpretive plan for one of the buildings at the Beckman Mill historic site west of Beloit. We did this as a part of MUST 245, Museum Interpretation, in the spring of '09. The class had been talking about presenting unfamiliar information in engaging ways. I had been working with Beckman Mill and offered the assistance of the class in developing a plan for presenting a newly remodeled building at the site.

We began by learning about the history of the site and the building in question. This was followed by a meeting at the site with as many students as could attend. We met with members of the Friends of Beckman Mill and talked with them about their vision for the building, what they wanted visitors to know about it, and what objects and stories they had that could be used to bring it to life. We returned to the classroom with our notes from this meeting and spent a couple of class periods talking about what specific things we would recommend that Beckman Mill do to achieve its goals. This was typed up and presented to Beckman Mill.”

This assignment is just one example of a basic partnership that helped to provide a tangible service for a local organization while giving students the opportunity situate their work in a broader context.

Points of interest:

  • Professor Bartlett followed up on this work by assembling a team of 4 students the following spring, who volunteered to implement the plan produced from the class. Professor Bartlett writes that “it gave them a very real-world perspective on the goals, motivations and conditions at volunteer historical societies -- something impossible to get across in the classroom.”
  • After the project was completed in the spring following the class, the results were evaluated (they liked it) by the Friends of Beckman Mill, thereby holding the students accountable to the community organization and providing an opportunity to strengthen the partnership.