The present article attempts to map the professional progress of museologists in Greece, tracing the factors that determined their training in museology, their professional development, and the mark each of them has made on museology today. On the one hand, this undertaking is based on theoretical approaches to the professionals’ training in museums, on museology being an interdisciplinary science and the organizational consideration of human groups (note 1). On the other hand, it is based on data from original research undertaken by the author four years ago using as her subjects those museologists who are active in our country and to whom were given an extensive questionnaire to complete, relative to the research. Various museological websites were used for the questionnaire’s circulation as well as E mail but it also became directly known to the public at the scientific conference On the Trail of Contemporary Museology held in May 2010 (15-17. 5. 2010) at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The wide range of comments in the eighty two (82) fully completed questionnaires handed in was remarkable, comprising a very important material that can contribute to the further study of the progress of museology in Greece and to its more complete understanding. Part of this material is presented and commented on briefly in this article.
Professional identity: museologist. Basic observations on issues of training, career and being an interdisciplinary scientist
One of the recurring questions, although treated differently in each period, concerns the limits, type and content of knowledge required to master each scientific field as well as the tools needed to develop the required skills and talent which will make the trainee or the already active professional competitive in the museum labour market which faces increasing challenges (fig. 1-2) in both our country and internationally. If indeed one follows the debate taking place over recent years within the International Committee for the Training of Personnel (ICTOP belonging to ICOM, note 2), one will immediately find that the issue on the teaching of museology constantly generates new data.
The broad scope of knowledge and understanding needed for the comprehension and function of the museum is perhaps the most important feature of the science of museology combined with its interdisciplinary character. For a long time in the mid 20th century, museology’s scientific structure had not been obvious. There were gaps, contradictions and identity crises which were also usual and frequent in other cognitive fields. The confrontations that took place in the 70s and 80s are, of course, well known. These essentially concerned the differences between the empirical museum professionals who were mainly interested in issues of a technical nature (supporters of empirical-descriptive museology) and the theoretical researchers of the museum phenomenon (shapers of the new museology) who, through theoretical discourse, tried to give new life and a vision to museum work, while at the same time convincing the sceptics that theory and practice were indivisible. A careful study of the different definitions of museology since 1950 is indicative of its different traditions in Central, Eastern, Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon countries. It is also indicative of museology’s gradual move towards its scientific and academic emancipation from other scientific areas which it did not replace but used as guidelines instead in an ongoing effort to comprehend the world.
Gradually, museology became even more complex with the widening of its philosophical and research field beyond the museum phenomenon and the study of questions concerning the ways in which man relates and understands both the material and spiritual reality that surrounds him. Nowadays, the museum with various adjectives describing it, constitutes a very dynamic social and educational field, where new opportunities are constantly being created for fresh interpretations of material and spiritual culture as well as for dialogue, the exchange of viewpoints and contact between people.
More than ever, it is necessary –this being its great advantage and at the same time a challenge at both a scientific and practical level– that museology today crosses paths creatively, discusses and complements, in choices concerning both thought processes and methodology, many different social and humanitarian sciences. The latter would be other than those sciences, of course, that, depending on the case, concern the categorization of museum collections and their own body of theories and practices (i.e. archaeology, art history, biology, geology, etc.). Museology is therefore connected with sociology, social anthropology and cultural studies, since it is concerned with issues such as concepts of power, representation, memory, evaluation, the creator’s subjectivity depending on the systems that influence him, social cohesion, the ideological and political role played by the museum in multicultural societies and its relation with different groups of citizens. It is also associated with critical pedagogy and cognitive psychology since it has an established essential interest in the building of knowledge and the development of learning through the material world. It converses with history as it retains a permanent interest in the history of the museum as an institution and in cultural heritage. Moreover, it contributes to the study of law in matters of principle and is on the same wave length as the science of communications since the museum is the medium for: disseminating messages, new technologies, economics, managing changes, managing human resources and organizations etc.
As Sharon Macdonald mentions in the introduction to the collective volume A Companion to Museum Studies,“They have also come to recognize that understanding the museum requires moving beyond intra-disciplinary concerns to greater dialogue with others, and to adopting and adapting questions, techniques, and approaches derived from other areas of disciplinary expertise. All of this has contributed to museum studies becoming one of the most genuinely multi-and increasingly inter-disciplinary areas of the academy today” (Macdonald 2006, p. 1). Consequently the museum studies curricula lend an ear or should lend an ear to the needs, the changes, the complexity and the differences within society and museums at both a local and global level and to adapt to them. The design of the content and the choice of their teaching tools should aim, on the one hand, towards the development of knowledge and skills and on the other towards cultivating mentalities with qualities of leadership and vision capable of redefining the potential, the dynamics and the current and future social perspectives of museums (fig. 3). As a position it is on the same wave length as the scientific view that approaches learning with a much broader mentality, similar to a social process that equally engages the mind and the emotions, the instinct, the senses and the body by receiving and decoding information through experience. It is a process of transformation and personal development that includes a variety of areas having the following as their main learning goals: the knowledge to learn how to learn, the will for continuing education, adaptability and flexibility in a complex, ever changing society, the understanding of the concept of change, the building of an individual identity, the development of self esteem and ultimately of self fulfilment.
Gary Edson’s confirmation (note 3) is in the same spirit, when he points out that a new generation of professionals in museums should be sensitive barometers of social change and likewise of changes in museums. However, their work should be driven by passion and not by a dry and possibly sterile commitment to realistic standards of museum practice, because such an attachment can deny them the joys of a personal quest, their imagination and creativity. For Edson, when faced with the dilemma “imagination and creativity or blind adherence to processes of standardization”, the dominant choice must be the former.
Another model also useful for the understanding of the learning process at an individual as well as a collective level, comes from the area of Organizational Learning which offers a very interesting reference framework for the development of techniques of self analysis, the design of strategies for professional training and continuing evolution, the cultivation of skills and aims that will make professionals adequate in a constantly changing professional arena. Peter Senge (note 4) who represents this specific field of thought and research, bases his proposal on five principles of theory and method which he calls disciplines, hence the title of the book The Fifth Discipline. Based on these, according to Senge, each person will develop three key skills (a) cultivating personal expectations, (b) developing reflective thought, (c) understanding complex situations and structures. Senge notes that the maturing of a person begins with his/her commitment to something that is truly important for him/ herself. This is a very significant observation, whose dimensions we should consider, both as professionals in the field of culture but also as teachers and the ones responsible for the forming of young professionals.
This then is the broader theoretical framework within which the author carried out her research, some of whose data is presented below.
Professional identity: being a museologist in Greece. Challenges, individual experiences, composite findings
Key features of the survey and informants of the sample
The questionnaire drawn up to meet the research objectives of this study consisted of seventeen (17) questions, some of which (the majority) were open ended while the others were closed with preselected multiple choices. The questions explored:
1. An account of the respondents’ progress in museology and their personal experiences. Specifically, (a) the different sources of their training in museology (studies, continuing education, learning by doing, close collaboration with reputable professionals in the field), (b) their personal reasons for choosing to specialize in museology, (c) the time lapse between specializing and acquiring their first degree, (d) the changes made by their studies on their personal development, (e) the most important landmarks in their career, and (f) their expectations for their future as professionals and acceptance by their peers in a difficult profession (questions 1-7).
2. The museologist’s values and skills as well as the parameters for the successful completion of a museum project. First, (a) their experiences regarding the circumstances that make an ideal or inhibiting support structure for work in the field of culture, (b) their personal values and skills and their ways of development, (c) the basic skills required by a museologist and last, (d) the informants’ evaluation of the contribution made by specific prerequisite parameters suggested by the author towards the successful completion of a museum project (questions 8-13).
3. Their personal approaches to and assessments of museums and museology in Greece. First, (a) their positions regarding the country’s museum scene during the time of the survey, (b) realistic proposals made by them regarding its reconstruction and (c) their views on the issue of further training in museology as offered by the Greek university curricula of museum studies (questions 14-17).
Due to the article’s unavoidablyshort length, a summary of some data will be presented next, chosen from the first and second group of questions, while the complexity of the issues raised by the third group will be thoroughly addressed by the author in another study.
While conducting the survey a satisfactory sample was collected of eighty two (82) questionnaires the great majority of which (76 in all) were completed by holders of a post graduate degree in museology while the rest by persons who, over many years, have been practically involved in museology as professionals, without however officially having the relevant expertise. The sample’s almost totally female character (76 women, 6 men) reflects perhaps this gender as being associated with the profession’s identity in Greece, although we should of course note that the sample was a random one. Other interesting features of the sample relate to the institutions which employ the informants, the university where they specialized in museology as well as the scientific field of their first studies before focusing on a postgraduate degree in museology (note 5).
Museology expertise, personal journeys, expectations, museologists’ values and skills, parameters for the successful completion of a museum project.
In Graph 1 (fig. 4) quantitative data is summarized regarding the informants’ sources of knowledge in museology. Studying them, the following are confirmed: 1. The influence the offer of lessons in museology at an under graduate level can have on students in their choice of a future career, 2. The importance attached to the continuing education of museologists (e. g. by a personal study of the current bibliography in museology, attending relevant seminars, conferences and open lectures, regular visits to new exhibitions et al), 3. The importance attached to knowledge stemming from a practical engagement with museums or more generally with the sector of cultural management and museum education and, 4) The (still) relatively small influence from working with respected professionals in the field, either because it is not always feasible to collaborate directly with them. Or because, as commented on by one informant- archaeologist, with postgraduate studies in the reconstruction and enhancement of monuments, working in a large regional archaeological museum: “Do leading figures in the field of museology really exist in Greece? Or are there simply a few people with long term experience who having “seized” the opportunity to become active freelancing established themselves, having, indisputably, some worth? Should we perhaps wait for a considerable period so as to recognize a leadingfigure if he/she exists? Is perhaps the recognition of the professional museologist directly related to the practice of museology in the field, which presents significant difficulties and shortcomings in the absence of the most basic parameter, that of the actual recipient of the act of museology: the public, for the real role of the museologist to be reinforced and certainly not just at an “academic scientific” or “collegiate” level? I believe that an epistemological debate on museology is essential”. The very opposite of this confirmation are two others of importance coming from museologists working in big museums in Athens: “Communicating with colleagues from different disciplines has helped me as a stimulus for reflection, but mainly in understanding the possibilities and limitations that exist or arise on the way from museum theory to museum practice” and “collaborating with qualified professionals was crucial, since due to their particular scientific expertise and rich experience from different areas, they always enrich common and personal experience. I owe them a great deal. I am not just referring to excellent colleagues either ethnologists, museologists, architects etc but also inspired graphic designers, decorators, lighting designers, specialists in theatre games, and many others”.
The time to specialize in museology in relation to the time for the completion of the first studies and gaining experience in the workplace varies and divides the sample into two basic groups: those who chose to study museology directly after acquiring their first degree and make up 39% of the sample in which the majority (66%) have archaeology degrees. This is a fact that shows the obvious link between the two scientific fields and the search via museology for prospects of a future professional development and the socialization of archaeology by fresh graduates of such departments. Besides, as the previous informant from a regional archaeological museum said “Ultimately probably just like each museum specialist, I find museology constantly in front of me (or it is the one that appears constantly in front of me) so much so that I wonder if “roofed archaeology’’, the road from the trench and the outdoors to the Museum-“shelter’’ is inevitably Museology, with extremely interesting versions”. 54% of the sample chose to follow studies of museology later, aiming to specialize so as to find employment in a cultural institution. As a particularly interesting detail we should mention that in the sample of the conservators (15 professionals in the survey), two out of three choose museology after having been involved over several years in the conservation of museum collections.
The questions concerning the reasons for choosing to specialize in museology and the changes that this brought to the informants’ itinerary were open and the variety of comments does not allow us to present them analytically. Of course it would be particularly interesting to comment on the reasons for their choice as well as the changes experienced by the subjects of the survey depending on the field of knowledge from which they were led to museology, the specific academic framework of their studies, their present work status as well as their experience in the museum area. Such an analysis however will be the aim of another publication.
Attempting, nevertheless, a comprehensive synthesis, we present some of the main reasons, selected because of the frequency with which they are referred to in the sample of responses. These are:
1. The broadening of horizons and the job prospects that museology offers as an up and coming interdisciplinary branch of specialization in a country with a rich cultural heritage, many (archaeological) museums and archaeological sites in need of upgrading and promotion.
2. The inherent love and interest of the informants for material culture, art and museums as places of inspiration, self discovery and of course professional employment.
3. The potential offered by museology for multidimensional and combined activities and creativity, serving museums’ mission in society as well as the informants’ need for contributing to society.
4. Museology’s combination of theory and practice, its interdisciplinary and multifocal elements, its breadth in interpreting objects and the world at large by utilizing various fields of knowledge and embodying them in the study for a museum presentation of subjects with which it is preoccupied in each case. Similarly, the informants are fascinated by the anthropocentric interpretation of objects as well as the process of designing and realizing an exhibition avoiding old fashioned typological or other interpretative approaches often recommended by other related fields of knowledge.
5. The need to make (mainly) archaeology a sociable science and for it to consequently develop more extrovert ways of transferring archaeological information to the general public inherent with the interest in mastering knowledge related to the management and exhibiting of archaeological collections.
6. The particular interest in museum education and the emergence of museums as
places offering both informal education and more opportunities for experiential learning and alternative forms of teaching.
From the above observations it becomes obvious that there are a variety of reasons covering a wide range of factors such as museology’s potential favourable, competitive position in culture’s difficult labour market and, perhaps most importantly, its interdisciplinary character, its contribution to the interpretative process of material and intellectual culture along with its strong social identity and mission. We present two characteristic comments by two women museologists, the first being also a conservator and the second an art historian: 1. “My feeling of responsibility and the need to repay society played a part in my specializing in museology since the latter brings the general public (the taxpayers) closer to the science of archaeology and archaeological research which, in Greece for the most part, is a matter for public bodies”. 2. “Museums are increasingly part of the cultural life of our time. Ambitious institutions –since they aim at being eternal- are subjected to many rules that are determined by conditions other than cultural, whether social, political, or economic. This great involvement with sciences, different forms of culture and the fact that these are institutions that gather a huge mass of knowledge on human existence and history (even though often “well hidden”) led me to deal more intensively (and professionally) with what we call the history of museums that also includes museology”.
The overwhelming majority of informants assess as positive the changes brought to their lives by their specializing in museology and indeed point them out as the following: (a) finding work in a museum or generally in the area of culture, (b) developing a career and academic work, (c) broadening of research horizons, (d) cultivating a variety of tools of methodology and the awareness of the existence of a solid ideological framework behind every museum application, (e) acquiring essential knowledge –special and interdisciplinary – concerning the various aspects of the museum profession, (f) acquiring greater self confidence as professionals (g) development of skills both social and cognitive (such as combinative and critical thinking, team spirit, an appetite for real collaboration with other disciplines, creativity, transmissibility and communication of concepts in different ways depending on the recipient, accepting the “other”, patience, empathy et al), h) awareness of the relationship between cultural heritage and civilians (of all ages and classes) and the need for to constantly supply it in various ways, i) enrichment of the educational process with creative approaches in utilizing material culture and J) awareness of the important social role and work of museums thus giving even greater value to museological expertise.
We choose two characteristic statements about both the personal “metamorphosis” and the scientific turnaround achieved by museology. Both statements belong to archaeologists: 1. “museology taught me to see the world through the values of the material world”, 2. “A new interdisciplinary language is now being spoken by young scientists, a beneficial scepticism is apparent regarding scientific self determination and the possibilities of utilizing this and the advent of museology was certainly the catalyst. Besides solving or not solving whatever issues are related to its field, museology has, above all, initiated the most timely discussion: the actual redefinition of the concept of the Museum together with all those who serve it. It is a debt to the only ‘innocent one’: the visitor. This, alone, is extremely important”.
To the question the survey’s subjects were asked evaluating the help given to their careers by their specializing in museology, by assessing five specific aspects of this on a scale from one to five (the greatest positive assessment being 5), the answers given reflect, on average, very good to quite good experiences regarding:
– Your cooperation with professionals from other disciplines (average assessment rate: 3, 94).
– The carrying out of your professional duties (average assessment rate: 3, 91).
– The finding of specialized work of a museological nature (average assessment rate: 3, 39).
– Your acceptance by your colleagues (average assessment rate: 3, 30).
– Finding work in general (average assessment rate: 2, 85).
As was expected, the overwhelming majority of the subjects of the survey hope for continual professional progress and steady employment in the field, preferably working in museum organizations and on the object of their specialization (e. g. designing and realizing exhibitions and educational activities, carrying out studies for the enhancement of archaeological sites, participation in management programs, enhancement and promotion of archaeological heritage, visitor surveys et al), or alternatively being used in education (at all levels including higher education in the hope of pursuing an academic career). Moreover, they hope to further strengthen the school-museum relationship, the offer of opportunities and possibilities for their continuing education in new or/and established areas of museum theory and practice, perhaps the writing of a doctoral thesis (which for some is a priority) and generally continuing to do research for museums. It is interesting to note that conservators –museologists more precisely express the desire to work actively not only on conserving and restoring monuments but also on the preventative conservation of artefacts in museums and other similar cultural organizations, the complete management and protection of the former as well as the designing of exhibitions.
Nevertheless, the difficulties of uninterrupted employment in Greece in the sector of culture make many of the participants feel insecure about the future of their careers. The comment of an archaeologist-museologist says a lot about her experience as an ex employee in the services of the Ministry of Culture: “in regards to the specific economic conditions and given that culture was never a priority for the state, it is very difficult in a contractual system for one to succeed in advancing one’s career in museums. Personally, since I am working for a living, I am fighting to remain in a familiar environment through organizing events since to a certain degree I have the possibility of using the skills I acquired through my studies and work over the last years in museums.” The comment is interesting because apart from it being realistic it also raises in an indirect but eloquent way the issue of transferring directly or indirectly to other areas related to culture, the skills cultivated by a specialization in museology and relative professional experience. These would be areas which perhaps now have greater probabilities of development in Greece such as e, g, the tourist industry with all its particular manifestations. Coming, perhaps, as a contrast to this comment is the more idealistic remark by a woman historian-museologist who works in relative stability at a local governmental museum: “There are no targeted professional aspirations in the narrow sense. Only the steady effort for scientific improvement and coordinated action by strengthening collective initiatives such as NGOs, networks, scientific forums for spreading the example of an appropriate museum, both socially and scientifically, to as many people as possible.”
The statement of a woman archaeologist-museologist holds an interesting place between the two ends of the spectrum. She further specializes in the field of cultural technology which secures her an even more specific professional identity and constant employment inside and outside Greece: “In the hierarchy of the public sector, my expectations were and are to continue having the possibility to contribute – as far as that is possible- in transferring knowledge and experience, in the modernization and the coordinated, adequate handling of issues related with the documentation and management of culture, by putting to use new technologies and with the ultimate aim of creating an accessible cultural content for the benefit of an engaged public. Our allies have been the developments at a European level in the field of digital culture (in which we are asked to join in actively as a country), while obstacles are created by a technophobic mentality and a tendency to introversion. This is a logical occurrence given the insufficient recruitment of specialized personnel, the lack of a satisfactory number of continuing education programs and training of the existing personnel, the, till now, spasmodic-opportunistic treatment of programmes concerning documentation and promotion, resulting in the departure of the specialized personnel upon the termination of subsidized projects, and in the cessation of work”
In the second big section of questions we tried to collect views and experiences that are related to the essence of practicing the work of the museum, the values, skills and formative factors required for its successful realization. Out of the bulk of comments to be received, we have selected and are quoting composite texts where the frequency of the most important personal values in the professional lives of the survey’s subjects are presented in an ascending scale (Graph 2, fig.). Also presented are the three most basic skills that museologists should possess, according to the survey (Graph 3, fig. 6).
In both cases we can observe that at the top of the list of preferences are values and skills that enhance the complex character of museology and its work. On the one hand, it requires a critical knowledge of the scientific object, constant updates, research and training of the museologists engaged as they are in a constantly changing object of research and practice. On the other hand, it requires the development of particular values and skills demanded by the strong social, interdisciplinary and extrovert character of museum work.
In graphs 4 and 5 (fig. 7-8) data are respectively presented regarding the assessment made by the participants on the contribution of specific parameters, chosen in advance by the author, that affect the implementation of a museum project. The participants were asked to assess these parameters on a scale from 5 (being the most important) to 1 (the least important) and next to choose the three most prevalent for achieving the goal. In graph 4, the parameters’ classification results from the average of each parameter’s assessment, while the corresponding one in graph 5 results from the sum of the three first choices of the informants regarding the specific question. We can observe that in both cases the most important parameter is that of the team spirit which should guide the members of the group and naturally all of us who have taken part in similar works are familiar with the presence or absence of this parameter in our work. Other factors are also judged to be especially formative, such as the ability of the team leader to coordinate its members and to manage crises, the adaptability and flexibility of the professionals cooperating in a museum project, their creativity, the actual structure of interdisciplinary teams, constructive dialogue and the polyphony that develops in the context of their work. We can also observe that in Graph 4 the existence of scientific knowledge as the most objective and necessary condition for each project’s successful realization is in 13th place and correspondingly is in 6th in Graph 5. Without, of course, underestimating its worth, it seems, however, that it, scientific knowledge, does not always constitute an essential initial condition for the successful completion of a group project.
In the book The Careers Directory – the one–stop guide to professional careers (Reynolds & Mainstone 2009) which includes brief descriptions of most professions
The general profile of a museum curator whether male or female, is described as follows:
“He/she is a person who possesses real interest in art and historical objects, good organizational skills, the capacity to interpret and arrange exhibits in imaginative ways which will please the museum visitors. He/she also needs to have good communicative skills for the better presentation of a specialized subject either by oral lectures or by written texts, article, catalogues etc.”. However, in his book, Eccentric Spaces, Robert Harbison reminds us that “it is probably futile or senseless writing instructions on how to use a dictionary or a museum because it is like trying to write orders on how to use the human mind” (Harbison 2000, p. 31). It is an interesting point if not entirely accurate since this is the exact aim that museology wishes to serve: to establish a theory and practical rules aiming for a better protection and understanding of the material or immaterial world surrounding us, while specialization in museology aims at the best possible preparation of future museum professionals.
Museum work is complex and setting its boundaries preoccupies all those who chose it as a field of research and practice. Moreover, as we know, the good professional cannot be distinguished and cannot only be judged by being an expert on his/her subject but also by important skills (known by some as “soft”), which are directly related to his/her personality, his/her passion and energy in life and work and generally in his/her emotional intelligence can be broken down into many separate skills such as creating trust in others, intuitiveness, the ability to make constructive criticism, cultivating interpersonal relationships, creativity, adaptability, empathy, self knowledge et al.
The research data briefly presented in this article, confirm these views.
Dr Marlene Mouliou
Lecturer of Museology, Department of History and Archaeology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens