Critical Museum Studies MA

Art gallery.
Cravens Collection display.
Anderson Gallery.

What is Critical Museum Studies?

Critical Museum Studies offers a theoretically informed and politically engaged perspective on the current museum field.

Critical Museum Studies is a pre-professional interdisciplinary MA program under the aegis of Anthropology, Art, Arts Management, Classics and Media Study. Students take core and elective courses through the participating departments and programs, thereby insuring that an interdisciplinary perspective is built into the program.

The museum world is in the midst of new pressures and is struggling with shifting paradigms, attempting to negotiate perhaps the most seismic changes since its 19th century origins. Today, as museums negotiate a digital shift in a newly globalized museum world, a host of new pressures have arisen. The demands of social media and edutainment as well as digital heritage and repatriation are among only the most visible of these rapidly shifting paradigms. As private capital increasingly pours into the new genre of the private or single benefactor museums, traditional city museums are correspondingly impoverished. A series of recent “culture wars” turned on museum exhibitions, making the museum not only the newly politicized arbiter of official culture, but placing it in the cross hairs of as yet unresolved cultural skirmishes. Adding to these woes, newly vocal populations are beginning to question their invisibility within traditional museums, even as new “identity” oriented museums continue to develop.

A newly emerged for-profit museum model, with vastly different standards of educational import, and even historical accuracy, is drawing visitors who view the museum exclusively in terms of entertainment. Even some non-profit museums have begun to operate as entertainment complexes. Increasingly communities view museums as an integral part of the local economy, a reliable generator of tourist dollars, increasing the pressure on museums to be more widely popular and less the preserve of the specialist. Yet even as new museums proliferate, these pressures go largely unaddressed.

The MA in Critical Museums Studies, a new museum studies degree for the 21st Century, will instead place these issues front and center.

MA Program Plan

The MA will consist of a minimum of 36 credit hours and will be entirely self-funded. No TA support is available for this program. All students are required to take core and elective courses offered by the participating departments/programs, write a thesis and complete an internship program.

Core Courses - 9 Credit Hours

Students select 3 courses from 5 core areas. Courses selected must be from 3 different areas.

List 1: Anthropology  
APY 514 Museum Management
APY 618 Cultural Heritage
APY 652: Graduate Survey in Archaeology                                                  [Approved core course for Fall 2020 only]
List 2: Arts Management  
AAP 501: Why Manage the Arts                                                          [Approved core course for Fall 2020 only]
AAP 518 Issues in Museum Management
AAP 519 Critical Questions Concerning Museums
List 3: Classics  
CL 580 Roman Ceramics & Small Finds
CL 712 Roman History - The Classical Art Museum
List 4: Media Study
DMS 532 Graduate Seminar II
List 5: Visual Studies
VS 501 Intro to Visual Studies
VS 521 Intro to Critical Theory

Electives - 12 Credit Hours

Choose courses from the five participating departments:

APY 504 Design Material Culture
APY 509 Classic Ethnographies
APY 527 Anthropological Ethics
APY 540 History of Archaeology
APY 572 Archaeology Today
APY 597 Anthropology and the Arts
APY 610 Method & Theory
APY 652 Survey in Old World Archaeology
Art/Visual Studies
VS 505 Performance Art: History, Theory and Institutionalization
VS 534 Body Criticism
VS 550 Art and Psychoanalysis
VS 579 The Revolutionary Sublime
VS 580 Discourse and Deconstruction
VS 587 Vision, Space and Power
VS 590 Theories of Montage
AHI 548 History of Photography
AHI 585 The Museum and the Other
AHI 586 Another Reading, Another Context: Global Museum Display of Contemporary Asian Art
AHI 588 Displaying Gender: Constructing Masculinities and Feminisms in Museum Exhibitions
AHI 592 Studies in Modern Art
ART 502 Tactical Media (Studio Art)
ART 562 Installation Urban Space (Studio Art)
ART 564 Biological Art (Studio Art)
ART 573 Performative Action (Studio Art)
Arts Management
AAP 507 Special Topics
AAP 508 Cultural Policy
AAP 521 Cultural Production
AAP 585 Legal Issues in Arts Management
AAP 586 Law and IP: Arts Management
CL 506    Problems in Greek Archaeology
CL 712    Roman History
CL 787    Special Topics
Media Study  
DMS 505 Ethnographic Media
DMS 512 Film and Media Theory
DMS 515 Film and Media Theory II
DMS 528 Social Web Media
DMS 545 Gender and Technology
DMS 557 Locative Media and the City
DMS 558 Media Curating
DMS 570 Media Philosophy
DMS 605 Media Theory and Poetics

Independent Study - 3 Credit Hours

Choose 1 three-credit hour independent study from any of the three departments:

AAP 599 Independent Study
APY 601 Individual Readings in Archaeology or  APY 602 Individual Readings in Cultural Anthropology
VS 595   Independent Study: Advanced Reading

Internship - 6 Credit Hours

AAP 511     Fieldwork in Arts Management
APY 538     Fieldwork (under supervision of Dr. Peter Biehl)
AHI  598     The Politics of Museums in New York
   Museum Studies Internship

Master's Thesis - 6 Credit Hours

Register with the department of enrollment:

Anthropology:  APY 600 MA Project/Thesis Guidance
Arts Management:  AAP 513 Thesis Guidance
Visual Studies:  VS 598 Thesis Guidance

Program Admission

February 15 is the application deadline. Applications received after February 15 will be considered on a rolling basis, thus to maximize your chances for admission submit your application before February 15.


A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a GPA (or equivalent) of 3.2 or above unless a compelling explanation justifies a lower GPA.  

Application Instructions:

Complete the Application

Use the link to access our online application system. You should begin by creating an account. Once created, you will be promoted to choose an application, select your term year and program. Please read the directions on your College of Arts and Sciences application carefully. Returning users can use this link to log in to their existing application(s).

Submit All Application Documents

You should not have to send in any hard copies of your materials. You will be able to upload these documents in your applicant status portal after filling out the application. 

  1. Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  2. Statement of Intent: This should describe your preparation (academic and related work/life experience) and motivation for graduate study in Critical Museum Studies. Describe areas of focus that you are interested in pursuing, career objectives, and any other information that may be helpful to admissions committee.
  3. Writing Sample: A well-written paper from an undergraduate course. This is a critical component of the application.
  4. Copies of Transcripts (Official transcripts will be required upon acceptance to the program.)
  5. Three Letters of Reference: The reference letters should preferably be written by former professors or museum professionals, should attest to your ability, level of maturity, and readiness for graduate level Critical Museum Studies. When you submit your references’ email addresses they will receive an automatic electronic solicitation. It is crucial that you provide a viable email address for each referee. You may wish to notify them in advance so that they can have their letter ready to upload.  Please note that your recommenders will only receive this solicitation after you have submitted your application for final review.  As such, we recommend that you plan to finalize your application prior to the deadline.

Pay the Application Fee

When you have finished your online application, you will be emailed the link to submit your application fee payment. You can also use the link below.

Master's Application Fee Waiver
A fee waiver is available for New York State residents who meet the following eligibility requirements. Applicants must:

  • Submit a Master's application for formal review to a department in the College of Arts and Sciences
  • Present an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0
  • List a permanent N.Y. State mailing address
  • Meet all posted departmental deadlines for admission

Information about fee waiver eligiblity is supplied upon submission of your application. 


To be reviewed for admission you must fill out the supplemental questions on the application for international students and upload the following documentation to your application.

These documents should be uploaded to your applicant status portal.

International applicants must also provide the following:

  1. Complete the Financial Form with supporting bank documents;
  2. Officially verified TOEFL score from ETS;
  3. English translation of transcript;
  4. Proof of degree; and
  5. Copy of passport.

If you have questions about these documents, please ask - we are happy to help!

Peter Biehl

Professor, Department of Anthropology; Director of Studies, Critical Museum Studies

380 Academic Center, Ellicott Complex

Phone: (716) 645-0407


Maria Portera

Graduate Program Coordinator

Department of Anthropology

380 Academic Center, Ellicott Complex

Phone: (716) 645-6242