The MA in Museum Anthropology, offered jointly by the Columbia Department of Anthropology and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), is a graduate program for students interested in moving into the museum world, and for those already employed in museums who wish to obtain a formal graduate degree. The program combines the strengths of a premier academic department of anthropology and an innovative museum department whose collections and archives span the history and geographic range of the discipline.
Students learn the practical skills entailed in working in museums and acquire the key theoretical tools and perspectives essential to those who use material culture to express ideas through visual display. The program prepares students to analyze and interpret ethnographic and archaeological collections; to work in collections management and curation; to gain hands-on experience in planning and designing museum exhibitions, and to develop strategies for effective public outreach. Our Graduates have been successful in securing positions as educators, researchers and curators in a range of museums both in New York City and around the world (e.g. Shanghai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and have helped build a diverse international collaborative network of scholars and museum professionals. Some students choose to embark on research-based Ph.D. programs following completion of their MA degree.
In the Columbia/AMNH MA program, we frame Museum Anthropology as the study of museum worlds from a critical anthropological perspective, focusing on their global history and ever-changing roles in contemporary society. In the twenty-first century, museums have become increasingly contested places. In current decolonial/postcolonial discourse, there are many social, political, and economic challenges pertaining to the formation of new museums, and the radical reformulation of existing ones. These challenges require critical and careful consideration of many key issues in museum anthropology such as cultural heritage, repatriation, race and gender identities, decolonization and the essential project of indigenous collaboration, the social significance of objects and their curation and display, and the effective communication of such debates—often through digital media—to the general public in different local and global contexts and circumstances.
Graduate Students in the program engage with these issues through classes in a cutting-edge anthropology department, and in dialogue with museum professionals who have deep experience exploring such issues in the creation of innovative public exhibits. As a part of this unique opportunity, the program requires students to devise and install a professional public museum exhibition at the AMNH which in recent years has involved collaboration and consultation with representatives and experts from indigenous communities.