The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, located in Brunswick, Maine, is an integral part of Bowdoin College, a four-year co-educational liberal arts institution established 1794. The Museum’s art collection is encyclopedic in scope ranging from classical antiquities to significant holdings of American and European paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts.
As part of their formal training, all beginning Museum of Art docents are required to audit an introductory survey course of Western Art. Most of the Museum’s docents continue auditing courses on Baroque, Renaissance, Asian, and American art.
Since the fall of 1992, beginning docents, auditing the introductory survey course of western art, were “initiated” by a requirement to give their first public talks to the students enrolled in the course. (All entering docents were informed of this requirement in advance, so there were no surprises.)
Students are asked to attend four, 20- minute talks during a five-week period. Three days a week, six times a day, six to nine of the 70+ students enrolled in the course meet a docent in the museum for a “visual analysis talk” provided by the docent. The docent can choose any object in the permanent collection or temporary installation. Weeks 1-2 focus on objects related to one particular historical period. The second talk compares art works from at least two distinctly different periods or cultures.
After each docent presentation, students receive questionnaires to complete and submit to their professor. The responses are shared with the docents and the museum’s education department. These questionnaires become useful, evaluative tools.
As one new docent commented, “the entire experience was very meaningful to my understanding of my role as a docent.” Consensus agreed that the collaboration heightened research and public speaking skills. The talks also allowed beginning docents to meet informally with students in their class, and it gave them an eye-opening preview of the tours they would later give in the spring semester. A few docents, soft-spoken and reserved, learned quickly that students wanted them to speak up and to show their enthusiasm for the objects examined. The experience was certainly new for everyone, but at the same time, it fostered confidence among the docents and gave the students an informal look at the College’s art holdings. Indeed, for some of the students, it was the first time they had walked into the building!
Helen S. Dubé, Coordinator of Education Programs, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
Dubé, Helen S. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 4.4 (Summer 1995): 13.
Each quarter I look forward to my copy of The Docent Educator and appreciated this (Winter 1994/95) issue’s focus on Multiculturalism. However, as a Jewish Museum educator, I need to correct a common misconception. In your piece entitled “Museums Showcase Multicultural Resources” you list The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a resource for Holocaust Lessons. While I applaud educators who teach about this dark, historical period, I must stress that the Holocaust does not comprise a multicultural study of Jewish life and culture.
Educators who teach the Holocaust as a way to include Judaism in their multicultural curriculum are mistaken. The Holocaust is an historical event and must be treated as such. Educators who wish to engage in a study of Judaism should teach about Jewish rituals, holidays, traditions, and customs as they are observed in Jewish communities around the world. While studying the Jewish religion, students may encounter the joys and beauty of another culture while discovering connections to their own experience, an important goal of multicultural education.
Throughout the United States, there are hundreds of Jewish Museums like the Spertus Museum, in Chicago, which are dedicated to welcoming students from all backgrounds to their galleries, using collections to introduce basic themes in Jewish religion and culture to enrich multicultural programs. Educators who would like information about Jewish Museums in their area should contact the Council of American Jewish Museums, National Foundation for Jewish Culture, 330 Seventh Avenue, 21st Floor, New York, NY 10010.
Paula Chaiken, Education Coordinator, Spertus Museum, Chicago, IL
Chaiken, Paula. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 4.4 (Summer 1995): 13.