Education: Ph.D. in American Studies, Brown University
M.A. in American Studies with Museum Studies Concentration, Trinity College
B.S. in Advertising and Marketing, Syracuse University
As a U.S. cultural historian trained in the interdisciplinary field of American Studies, Clarissa Ceglio works at the intersections of museum studies, public history, and digital humanities. Much of her research focuses on the affective and rhetorical roles that artifacts—material, visual, and digital—play in constructing national and social imaginaries within the context of museum work. Her book, A Cultural Arsenal for Democracy: The World War II Work of U.S. Museums (University of Massachusetts Press, 2022), traces how, from the 1930s through to the immediate post-war years, the fledgling ideal of the museum as a “social instrument” active in current affairs led to new modes of storytelling through exhibition craft. Ceglio focuses on storytelling exhibitions designed to engage museum goers’ intellects, emotions, and senses in order inspire civic thought, feeling, and action on important issues of the day. She argues that this material rhetoric of social instrumentality posed a novel dilemma for the field—greatly complicated by wartime concerns—because it called what would now be called museum neutrality into question. The museum field grappled actively in these decades with the issue of where the line between social instrumentality and indoctrination lay. Indeed, to pass over wartime exhibitions as mere patriotic propaganda is to ignore how practitioners of the past sought to distinguish their efforts from jingoism. Likewise, to dismiss museums’ wartime activities as unconnected to ongoing concerns of the field is to divest contemporary activist public history and museum work from of its imperfect but instructive pasts.
Through her teaching and research, Ceglio also collaborates with museums, libraries, and communities on interdisciplinary public-facing projects that engage diverse audiences in topics of contemporary concern. Grant-funded research projects include Omeka Everywhere, Museums & Civic Discourse, and Courtroom 600, an educational virtual reality encounter with the history and legacies of the Nuremberg Trials.
Recent Research Achievements:
Co-PI on 2019-20 NEH Digital Projects for the Public Discovery Grant for Courtroom 600 VR project; Co-PI on 2019-21 and 2016-18 grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop Greenhouse Studios as a space for interdisciplinary collaborative design, development, and publication of digital scholarly projects; and recipient of 2018-19 Whiting Public Engagement Seed Grant for Museums and Civic Discourse project.
Over 20 years’ experience in executive and senior positions as a writer, editor, and strategist in the museum, publishing, medical technology, and marketing communications fields.
Note on Ceglio’s faculty landing page image: The #MuseumsAreNotNeutral sign that I hold references the campaign created by LaTanya Autry and Mike Murawski that calls on museums to recognize their status, complicities, and obligations as political and civic actors. See their article “Museums Are Not Neutral: We Are Stronger Together,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 5, no. 2 (Fall 2019): https://doi.org/10.24926/24716839.2277.