January 2015

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Though I never planned on it, I’ve moved around a bit in my life—from the east coast to the west coast to the southwest and back east. Each time I moved, it was an adventure, with challenges and benefits. There is nothing like relocating to introduce you to a new part of the country. But ironically, even as I settled into a new city, one of the biggest benefits was actually a broadening perspective on where I come from. When you move or even just travel to a new place, you have a unique vantage point from which to look back at where you’ve come from with fresh eyes.

In 2015, the Museum Education Roundtable will publish the 40th volume of the Journal of Museum Education. Milestones like these are the perfect moment to examine where we are in this moment and look back at where we have come from with fresh eyes.  The Journal is a bank of scholarship written and reviewed over the past four decades by practitioners in the field of museum education. What can we “mine” from the archives of the Journal that may help us reflect on where we are today? Have the pages of our Journal in some way tracked changes in our work as museum educators? And how can our past inform next possibilities?

To mark this milestone year MER will host a monthly blog series featuring essays, guest posts and interviews that examine the themes and threads published on the pages the JME over the course of its history. Our goal with this blogging project is to do more than celebrate the JME. Let’s examine what themes have surfaced over time, what key articles unearthed from the past might tell us about our history as a field and what ideas have traction for our work today.

Just taking a cursory look at some of the old articles from the early 1980s, there are some familiar topics—visual literacy, technology, docent programs, strategies for museum-school partnerships, career pathways, and even a manifesto to “foster communication in the field of museum education.” What does this mean? How are we circling back then, moving deeper or further in new directions? Might the evolving scholarship in the Journal reflect the growth of our profession over four decades?

During the past few years, MER has focused on strengthening the Journal and extending the reach of the content explored in its pages—at conferences and roundtable discussions and through published reader guides and virtual and real life book clubs. Our hope is that this look back into our archive will be another opportunity to use the JME to engage the field in exploring and questioning contemporary and relevant topics in a public way.

In my day-to-day work as a consultant, I am often looking forward—what is happening in the next 6 months, what jobs am I working on or pursuing, what conferences are coming up, what programs and exhibitions do I want to catch, what budgetary planning do I need to do. I’m also squarely in the present—following real-time conversations, issues, and experiments in (and out) of our field online, in print and in person. But I am not as religious about writing up final reports—how did a program go, what worked, what would I do next time? When I worked on staff in museums, these reports were sometimes in service to granting agencies but they also served as an incredible record of my time at a job—a full volume of material charting ideas, contact, results, mistakes, and successes.

In our field, we talk about reflective practice. Perhaps this blogging project can serve as a year-long exercise in reflective work that springs from the thoughts and insights recorded in the Journal of Museum Education. This anniversary year, we’ll start the dialog. And we hope you will add your thoughts to the conversation. What ideas, themes, questions and issues have been explored over the years? Who and what is missing? What resonates today? Please stay tuned, each month, and join in the conversation with colleagues, friends as the discussion begins.

Beth Maloney currently serves as President of the Board of the Museum Education Roundtable and as a peer reviewer for the Journal of Museum Education. In addition to being an avid reader of the Journal, Beth is a museum education consultant, partnering with museums, universities and cultural organizations.