Art 120: Introduction to Museum Studies

Introduction to Museum Studies
Art 120  (credit: 3:3)

Instructor: Nathan Harpaz, Ph.D.
Office room: 1400 (Museum’s office)
Contact: (847) 635-2633   e-mail:

Division 3: room 2430  tel: (847)635-1950

Course Description:

This introductory course emphasizes the role of the curator in the museum field, especially in the areas of collection management and exhibit preparation. Although the course focuses on the art museum, the basic principles also apply to other types of museums such as history, science or nature. The Koehnline Museum at the Des Plaines campus serves as a lab for this course. 

Learning Objectives

  • The student who successfully completes this course will understand the basic functions of the museum curator.
  • The student will be able to evaluate art history material in the perspective of the museum field.
  • The student will have the opportunity to exercise computer data entry of artifacts.
  • The student will understand the financial issues involved in operating a museum.
  • This course will provide the students an educational experience in the museum field by improving problem solving and critical thinking skills. 

Academic Integrity:

The very nature of higher education requires that students adhere to accepted standards of academic integrity.  Therefore, Oakton Community College has adopted a Code of Academic Conduct and a Statement of Student Academic Integrity.  These may be found in the Student Handbook.  You may also find a summary of the Code of Academic Conduct in the College Catalog.  Among the violations of academic integrity listed and defined are: cheating, plagiarism, falsification and fabrication, abuse of academic materials, complicity in academic dishonesty, falsification of records and official documents, personal misrepresentation and proxy, and bribes, favors, and threats.
It is the student's responsibility to be aware of behaviors that constitute academic dishonesty.
Pursuant to the due process guarantees contained in the Policy and Procedures on Student Academic Integrity, the minimum punishment for the first offense for a student found in violation of the standards of academic integrity is failure in the assignment.  In addition, a disciplinary record will be established and kept on file in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs for a period of 3 years.

Outline of Topics:

  • Introduction to Museums: History of Collections and Museums, Architecture of Museums, Cultural and Social Roles of the Museum Today. 
  • Collection Management: Policies of Collecting, Accessioning and Disposal, Documentation, Cataloging, Computerization, Conservation
  • Field trip to a restoration studio.
  • Exhibitions: Psychology of the Museum Visitors, Interpretation, Permanent and Temporary Exhibitions, The Exhibition Brief, Conceptual Planning, Orientation and Environment, Presentation Techniques, Text and Labels, The Catalog, Exhibition Evaluation, Exhibiting Art in Non-Traditional Spaces. 
  • Field Trip to Museum. 
  • Museums on the Internet.
  • The Koehnline Museum of Art and Oakton’s art collection
  • Presentations of students’ final projects (review and critique)

Course Requirements:

Attendance, assignments (5-page work sheets each) and final project.

Instructional Materials:

Required textbook: Museum Basics (T. Ambrose and C. Paine)

Method of Evaluation:

Grades are determined by two assignments (a survey of a museum – 20% and a survey of an exhibition – 20%) and a final project, a production of an exhibition (concept and design, including a presentation of ground floors, models and a catalog – 60%).

Additional Course Information:

If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability you may be entitled to reasonable academic accommodations or services.  To request accommodations or services, contact the ASSIST office in Instructional Support Services.  All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements.  The college will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

Assignment #1: A survey of a museum 
Name of the museum, address, the type of museum (Museum Basics, pp. 6-7), the collection of the museum, mission of the museum (pp. 9-11), architecture of the building, the museum visit (pp. 34-37: Transport, Arrival, Appearance, Buying a ticket, Opening hours, Psychological orientation, Physical orientation, Intellectual orientation, The museum staff, Sequence and Flow, Pace, The museum shop, Publications), interpretation (pp.67-71), presentation techniques (pp. 71-78), lighting (pp. 79-81). 
The text must be typed. For extra credit add photos, floor plans, copies of publications.

Assignment #2: A survey of an exhibition 
Name of the museum, title of the exhibition, the thesis of the exhibition, the objects of the exhibition, presentation techniques, sequence and flow, labels, lighting, evaluation’s tools, catalog or other publications, interview 2 visitors to find out their response to the interpretation of the exhibition.
The text must be typed. For extra credit add photos, floor plans, copies of publications.

Final Project: A production of an exhibition 
The thesis of the exhibition, proposal of presentation (design techniques, sequence and flow, labels), a catalog for the exhibition (introduction, checklist, bibliography).
The text must be typed. For visual presentation use 3-D models, floor plans, sketches, computer software or photos. 


Required textbook at the Oakton’s bookstore:
Ambrose, Timothy and Paine, Crispin. Museum Basics. London & N.Y.: Routledge and ICOM, 

Books available at the Oakton’s library (Des Plaines campus):
Alexander, Edward, P. Museums of Motion: an introduction to the history and functions of 
museums. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1979 
(AM5 .A38)
Belcher, Michael. Exhibitions in Museums. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 
1993 (AM7 .B39 1993)
Bloomer, Carolyn, M., Principles of Visual Perception. New York, N.Y.: Van Nostrand 
Reinhold Co., 1976 (BF 241. B57 1976)
Burcaw, Ellis, G. Introduction to Museum Work. Walnut Creek, C.A.: AltaMira Press, 1997
(AM5 .B88 1997)
Commission on Museums for a New Century. Museums for a New Century. Washington, D.C.:
American association of Museums, 1984 (OVERSZ. AM11 .A63 1984)
Gregory, Richard, L. Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1997 (BF 241. G7 1997)
Hein, George, E. Learning in the Museum. London, New York: Routledge, 1998 (AM7 .H44 
Hein, George, E. Museums, Places of Learning. Washington, D.C.: American Association of
Museums Education Committee, 1998 (AM7 .H447 1998)
Meyer, Karl, E. The Art Museum: power, money, ethics. N.Y.: Morrow, 1979 (AM7 .M47 1979)
Newhouse, Victoria. Toward a New Museum. N.Y.: The Monacelli Press, 1998 (NA 6695 .N49
Reibel, Daniel, B. Registration Methods for the Small Museum. Walnut Creek, C.A.: AltaMira 
Press, 1997 (AM139 .R44 1997)
Sherman, Lee, E. (editor). On Understanding Art Museums. Englewoog Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-
Hall, 1975 (AM7 .O51975
Witteborg, Lothar, P. Good Show: a practical guide for temporary exhibitions. Washington, 
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1981 (AM7 W57 1981)

Samples of exhibitions’ catalogs available at Oakton’s library (Des Plaines campus):
Harpaz, Nathan. A Gift to Biro-Bidjan, Chicago, 1937: From Despair to New Hope. Des Plaines,
IL: Oakton Community College, 2002 (AM7 H277 2002)
Harpaz, Nathan. Plucked Chicken Press: The Oakton Community College Collection of Stone 
Prints by Will Petersen and Contemporaries. Des Plaines, IL: Oakton Community College, 2001 (AM7 H27 2001)
Harpaz, Nathan. William A. Koehnline Gallery: Exhibitions 1998-200 .Des Plains, IL:
Oakton Community College, 2000 (AM 7 E94 Vol. 1-3)

Books available at other libraries:
Caring for Collection. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1984
Davis, Douglas. The Museum Transfer. N.Y.: Abbeville Press, 1990 (Museum’s Architecture)
Dolloff, Francis, D. and Perkinson, Roy, L. How to Care for Works of Art on Paper. Boston: 
Boston Museum of Fine Art, 1985 (Conservation)
Levin, Michael, D. The Modern Museum: Temple or Showroom. Jerusalem: Dvir Pub. House,
1983 (Museum’s Architecture)
Schwarzer, Marjorie. Graduate Training in Museum Studies. Washington, D.C.: American
Association of Museums, 2001 (General)
Snyder, Jill. Caring for your Art. N.Y.: Allworth Press, 1996 (Conservation)
Sternau, Susan, A. Museums: Masterpieces of Architecture. N.Y.: Todtri, 1999
(Museum’s Architecture)
Thompson, John, M.A. (editor). Manual of Curatorship: A Guide to Museum Practice. London: 
Butterworths, 1986 (General)

Magazines and Newsletters:
Museum News: the magazine published monthly by the American Association of Museums,
Washington, D.C. (available at the Des Plaines Campus library). 
AVISO: the monthly newsletter of the American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C.

Professional Organizations:
ICOM:       The International Council of Museums, Paris, France
AAM:        American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C.
IAM:          Illinois Association of Museums, Springfield, IL
ACUMG:   Association of College and University Museums and Galleries