Museums & Civic Discourse

This project, which has been funded in part by a Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Seed Grant, involves collaborators from other universities and colleagues based in museums. The team, which convened at Greenhouse Studios in January 2019, is in the midst of the understand phase. The research problem the team has staked out concerns the fact that while museums in the U.S. increasingly debate and undertake work in support of civic discourse and social action, there is no critical accounting of the field’s history in these areas; there is no scholarly overview that can be used to contextualize and inform current deliberations over future paths that museum work devoted to civic discourse, constructive debate, and creative action might take. Therefore, decision-makers and researchers in institutions, funding agencies, universities, public governance, and communities lack a ready comprehensive, critical review of what has (and has not) been thought, done, and evaluated in this area. Also lacking is inclusion of scholarly perspectives from groups historically underrepresented within these decision-making circuits.

At this stage, the team envisions that the best means to address this gap would be through an edited volume of essays, rich in multimedia components such as video, interactive elements, and data visualizations, so as to make its scholarship accessible to the needs of the various stakeholders described. (In other words, whereas the written components might be the primary access point for those seeking in-depth information, a video might better serve a museum professional who wants to give her board members an informed but succinct overview of, for example, best practices rooted in analysis of past undertakings.)

Research for this project received early support from the UConn Humanities Institute Public Discourse Project and the Research Excellence Program of UConn’s Office for the Vice President of Research; these funds supported convenings at the National Council on Public History, The American Alliance of Museums, the New England Museums Association, and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. We are grateful to the many colleagues who so generously participated in this formative work and look forward to reconnecting as the project advances.


Project Team: 

  1. Matt Becker / Executive Editor, University of Massachusetts Press
  2. Clarissa Ceglio / Associate Director, Greenhouse Studios
  3. Brooke Foti Gemmell / Design Technologist, Greenhouse Studios
  4. Elena Gonzales / Independent Scholar/Curator, Chicago, IL
  5. Robin Grenier / Associate Professor of Adult Learning, Neag School of Education
  6. Nicole Ivy / Assistant Professor of American Studies, The George Washington University
  7. Jennifer Scott / Director, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum,University of Illinois at Chicago
  8. Ting Zhou / Graduate Research Assistant, Art & Art History Department

Current Phase in the Design Process