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Department of History

Museums and Material Culture

There are a number of unique opportunities for museums training at the University of South Carolina.

Curricular Opportunities. Students in the museums concentration of the Public History Program are able to take advantage of the curricular breadth of a major research university.  Within the Department of History are courses on the history and theory of museums, material culture studies, and historic site interpretation.  Outside the history department museums students may take courses in museum administration, exhibition development, and collections management, to name a few. Some museums students choose to complete the “Certificate in Museum Management” offered through the university's McKissick Museum or the “Certificate in Historical Archaeology & Cultural Resources Management” offered through the Department of Anthropology.  Our students routinely attend the annual meetings of the National Council on Public History, the South Carolina Federation of Museums and the Southeastern Museums Conference, and we are able to support their attendance at professional meetings through a designated travel endowment.

Field Courses. Museums students may choose to take one or both of our innovative field courses. The Charleston Field School is an intensive course in historic site interpretation and historic preservation that is based in the historic city of Charleston.  An international perspective is offered by our Comparative Public History course in England . This multi-week course introduces students to practicing professionals and heritage issues at museums and historic sites in the North of England.

The Local Museums Community. The Public History Program enjoys strong working relationships with our region's diverse and dynamic museums community.  Institutions based in Columbia include the McKissick Museum on the USC campus; the South Carolina State Museum; the Columbia Museum of Art; the historical parks of the South Carolina State Parks system; andHistoric Columbia Foundation,  which operates six historic house museums. Two hours away in Charleston are Drayton Hall, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as the house museums of nationally recognized local organizations such as the Historic Charleston Foundation, the Preservation Society of Charleston, and the Charleston Museum itself. Close by in North Carolina are the Biltmore House and Estate in Asheville and Old Salem in Winston-Salem. In addition, there are a number of units of the national park system in the Carolinas and Georgia. Institutions and sites like these provide numerous opportunities for student internships, and some have also provided assistantship support for museums students in recent years.

Museums Research Projects. USC has an ongoing collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History with the project Exhibiting Local Enterprise (ELE).  Students have the opportunity to create online exhibits on local business history that will be linked to the Smithsonian's website.  Our students are also often involved in exhibitions at local institutions including Historic Columbia Foundation and McKissick Museum.

My Background and Research.  Before joining the faculty at the University of South Carolina in 2008, I worked at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum.  I received my Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology.  Here at USC I teach undergraduate surveys of modern U.S. history, public history, and the history of science and technology.  My graduate seminars include courses in material culture and museum theory.  I am committed to the ongoing professional development of graduate students and have co-curated exhibits and co-authored articles with students and recent alums. I am not only a professor but also an active practitioner of public history.  I am working currently working with Historic Columbia on the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson House, and I am collaborating with the Smithsonian on the development of a mobile app for museums.  My current book project, entitled The Ultimate Vacation: Watching Other People Work, traces the history of factory tours in the United States from 1890 to1940.

Placements.  Our museum studies graduates compete successfully in the national job market for employment in museums and historic sites. They can be found in such institutions as the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Monticello, The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson, the National Park Service, and regional and local museums across the country. For a full list of where our alumni work, click here.

If you have other questions, take a look at the “Ask the Director!” link.  

Allison C. Marsh

 Assistant Professor of History
Faculty Supervisor, Concentration in Museums