The project “Museums and Civic Discourse: History, Current Practice, and Future Prospects” has received a 2018-19 Whiting Public Engagement Seed Grant from the Whiting Foundation’s Humanities Program, which supports faculty in the humanities who embrace public engagement as part of the scholarly vocation. The project’s research focuses on the fact that while the 20th century marks museums’ gradual entrée into intentional civic discourse work, there is no critical accounting of this history, no scholarly overview to contextualize and inform current deliberations over future paths that museum work in this area might take.
In short, decision-makers in museums, funding agencies and communities lack a ready assessment of what has (and has not) been thought, done, and evaluated. Divorced from this historical knowledge, the field becomes prone to cyclical patterns of immediacy and reinvention in response to local and national crisis points. Also lacking is inclusion of scholarly perspectives from groups historically underrepresented within these decision-making circuits.
Work on this multi-faceted research effort began in 2015 led by the editorial-research team of Jennifer Scott, Director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago; scholar-curator Elena Gonzales; Nicole Ivy, Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums in Arlington, VA; Robin Grenier, Associate Professor of Adult Learning in UConn’s Neag School of Education; and Clarissa Ceglio, Assistant Professor in the Digital Media & Design Department. Initial grants from the Public Discourse Project of UConn’s Humanities Institute and UConn’s Research Excellence Program supported the team’s early work, which has also involved DMD students as undergraduate researchers. The Whiting Foundation grant will enable the team to collaborate with Greenhouse Studios | Scholarly Communications Design at UConn in the design, production, and dissemination of its research to the museum, public humanities, and allied fields.