Museology is about museum theory and practice. As an academic discipline in India it is not new but it has been about a decade or so since museums have accepted museology as a stream of study. Museologists are primarily involved in documentation of artefacts and collection management. They also conceptualise exhibitions and workshops. Sometime ago, NMI held exhibitions for blind children. Museologists work in museums, galleries as well as non-government organisations. Museology professionals can work as education specialists, who spread knowledge through objects .
What do they do?
Museologists are privileged professionals. Unlike us, who marvel at historical treasures from behind glass barriers, they touch and handle centuries old statuary, mighty emperors’ swords or fabled empresses’ jewels. We content ourselves just by chewing on tidbits of information on the labels. Museum professionals, on the other hand, are privy to confidential information, namely the value of such valuables in today’s time and who it belonged to before becoming their museum or gallery’s property.
A museum professional’s profile can be very interesting. One could study at Delhi’s National Museum Institute (NMI) and later work as consultant for, say, a World Bank project to upgrade a state museum. Integrating technology with history through touchscreens to access content for museums in Delhi could be part of the job. Why, even the armed forces could have work for you like redoing a regimental museum etc.
You see, it’s not a “one-dimensional job,” says Kanika Kuthiala, assistant curator, National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi. “It has a management aspect, documentation part as well as visitor focus. Curators conceptualise exhibitions, which involve hand-picking exhibits, working on their placement, text, and labels, and deciding on the flow and pattern of visitors’ movement. They also supervise preparation of brochures or gallery (or museum) guides.”
Museum professionals do historical research and 3D designing as well.
Outreach and social relevance are increasingly on museums’ agendas. “A museologist’s job is not only to conserve and write catalogues but also how to connect it with the audience,” says Manvi Seth, head, department of museology, NMI.
Of late, former royal families have been hiring professional hands to document and manage their collections. “In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Hyderabad, (erstwhile royal) families are looking at documenting their huge collections. That’s one area where our students get most of the projects initially,” says Seth. One of their alumni has been a part of the documentation team for the Chowmahalla Palace (Nizam’s) collection of silverware, photographs and paintings.
This career can open as many doors as you make an attempt to open. It can take you to cultures far and wide, taking one’s own culture and history along. One PhD candidate at NMI interned at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Utah, United States — an “amazing” experience.
“It’s an interesting profession if you take it seriously,” says Rekha Verma, collections manager, Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur, who was recently in Delhi. “A museum has many branches,” says Verma, adding that aspirants can venture into museum photography which calls for extra care, given the delicate nature of certain objects. “If you know about museum ethics, you can set up an art warehouse to provide services to collectors.” In museology, you must know where you want to go — there are divisions like anthropology, textiles, numismatics and so on, says Kuthiala.
“But it’s not a fast-paced, corporate kind of job which keeps professionals on their toes 365 days a year. There are lows and slumps.” The pay in India is low too, lament practitioners.
Then, you hear the oft-repeated words: you have to love it to sustain.
- A grounding in history (science if you intend to work in a science museum)
- Management skills
- Ability to communicate a topic through visual aids
- Strong team spirit
- Research skills — understand the material and be able to re-write or translate it for your audience
- Knowledge of an additional language (such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian, or French)
How do I get there?
Graduates in a variety of disciplines can enrol for a masters in museology. Universities accept candidates with a bachelors or masters in subjects such as history, ancient history, archaeology, anthropology, Sanskrit, fine arts, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, geology, earth science, agriculture, environmental science, and marine science. Check the individual institution’s requirements.
Pros & Cons about this career
Getting to know about ancient scriptures and artifacts Regular work timings Unconventional nature of work
Physically and mentally taxing Having to work on weekends as well Keeping knowledge of all the artifacts can be highly stressful