Interpreting museology

Last Updated 18 June 2014, 14:03 IST

The Department of Museology at the University of Calcutta was founded in 1959, only the second to have been established in India.

The first such department was established at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

In 2001, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) of India described the department of Museology at Calcutta University as “rare and valuable”.

The department’s strength is the equal emphasis it places on theory and practice.

The course offers practical classes in eight different topics, and includes field study, projects, a dissertation and an internship.

The two-year, four-semesterprogramme includes internal assessment which makes up 20% of the final mark.

The department selects students from a number of disciplines on the basis of academic merit and interview; it then trains them to take a multi-disciplinary approach to the field of museology and to acquire multi-tasking skills.

Unlike other such courses in India, the University of Calcutta course is not focused solely upon museum training, but adopts a holistic approach, treating museology as a philosophy of visual interpretation of heritage, whether that be cultural, environmental or scientific.

The first two semesters are focused on theory, and the remaining two semesters are devoted to practical applications of that theory.

For example, we might study the theory of geology in books initially and then study rocks and minerals in the laboratory; the same applies to geography and learning about topography.

One of the most interesting aspects of the course for me has been the opportunity to do an internship – along with another student, Shounak  Bagchi - in the UK as part of a partnership agreement between the Universities of Calcutta and Glasgow.

It has been a fascinating opportunity to research the links formed between Glasgow and Kew Gardens by Sir William Jackson Hooker, Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow, who became the first Director of Kew Gardens, and his son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was a renowned botanical collector in India and succeeded his father as Director at Kew.

Spending time in the special collection at Kew Gardens has been almost a dream come true for me as I have had access to so much quantity and quality of books, letters and archive materials. 

I have been able to visit the heaven of taxonomy – Kew Gardens – which combines a huge collection of preserved specimens as well as live ones.

I have learnt so many things about Sir William Jackson Hooker and his son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, that I didn’t know before.  

They made a huge contribution to the science of botany and I would not have known how important their work was If I had not had this opportunity.

Sir William Jackson Hooker was the inspiration for his better-known son: the Kew Gardens collection is mind-blowing.

The architecture of the University of Glasgow is particularly impressive. I have watched the Harry Potter films and when I came to Glasgow  I thought it was just like Hogwarts, specifically the main tower.

Dr Ian Anderson and Professor Nick Pearce at the University of Glasgow have both given me guidance on the areas I should be focusing on.

I have spent time in the Special Collection in the University Library and also in the Botany department, although much of the original William Hooker archives were lost in a fire at the University’s Bower building – the home of the Department of Botany – in 2001.

I hope that my experience researching the Hooker father and son at the University of Glasgow and Kew Gardens will enhance my career prospects.

I am pleased to say that the major departments of Indian Museology do engage in collaborative research and training programmes with other museums and universities in India and abroad.

However, despite the strenuous efforts of academic museology departments to keep the content of their courses up-to-date, the employability rates of graduates have not been very encouraging.

I hope that employers in the world of museums will take heed of the comments made by our (former) Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in February this year when he emphasised the need to develop better trained personnel for our museums. 

His words – “Unfortunately, museology is a woefully neglected field in our country” – were sadly very true, but I hope that his decision to highlight this area of neglect will have a positive effect and encourage the creation of new openings for skilled museologists.

(Published 18 June 2014, 14:03 IST)

Follow us on