Museum Studies Class Displays Hillsdale’s Best 

Written by Jennifer Leonard

On my tour as a prospective Hillsdale student, I remember the student ambassador stopping at numerous displays and exhibitions throughout campus. I remarked how unique and interesting it was that Hillsdale had so many historical and natural displays. Little did I know that many of the beautiful displays were actually created by students.

Museum Studies is a class offered every spring for students to explore careers in museum curation. Dr. Dave Stewart—history professor, Lego builder, and rubber-duck collector extraordinaire—has taught Museum Studies for nine years. “The class focuses both on the academic theory of museum operation and the practical level of museum curation,” he says. Dr. Stewart’s office is akin to a museum in itself, complete with a floor-to-ceiling display of historical Lego scenes, a wall covered in mid-20th-century advertising posters, a mount of European swords, and of course, sundry rubber ducks. 

The class appeals to students for many reasons. “The class really bolsters applications and resumes for students looking to enter the field of museum curation,” Dr. Stewart explains. “Even though the course is offered through the History Department, every year students from the science and art departments join as well.”  

It’s no wonder Museum Studies attracts students from across the academic spectrum considering the various inspirational museum spaces around campus: for example, the Heritage Room displays historical artifacts from Ancient Rome through the American founding; the Strosacker Science Center houses its very own museum of natural history; and the Fine Arts Building has a gallery that hosts student projects and visiting artists alike. 

Students in Museum Studies have the opportunity to contribute to the campus-wide taste for educational exhibition by completing a final, hands-on poster project. Past students’ projects are displayed in the Sports Complex, the Heritage Room, and Lane Hall.  “My favorite part was definitely the challenge of the final project,” says history major Hope Schlosser, ’24. “Making an exhibit that appeals to everyone is tricky and a lot of fun.” Hope contributed to a WWII student exhibit in Lane Hall that contains real officer medals, flags, photos, newspaper clippings, and even a diorama of the Battle of the Bulge. Students also have created exhibits to celebrate Hillsdale, including in the Sports Complex, where a display of historical Hillsdale athletes lines the wall, and in the Strosacker Science Center, where students display their own research.

At first, Hope wasn’t sure if Museum Studies would be for her, but she values the experience: “It was genuinely interesting and useful because museum work isn’t just about the artsy component; it’s also about how to run a nonprofit.” She says part of the fun of the class was Dr. Stewart’s lecture style and interaction with students. “A typical day in class meant listening to Dr. Stewart lecture and taking notes to use with final projects…a lot of times that involved Dr. Stewart joking around with students.” 

Anyone who has taken a class with Dr. Stewart knows that along with the one-on-one attention and advice, his good-natured teasing of students is one of the many benefits of small, specialized classes like Museum Studies. Dr. Stewart says he hopes to continue to offer the class for years to come.

Jennifer Leonard, ’24, is a student writer for Hillsdale’s Student Stories blog and an editor at The Forum. She enjoys studying English, pressing flowers, and dreaming about writing her Great American Novel.

Published in March 2023