Museology: Rewarding careers of history

MuseologyA study of history requires gathering evidence relating to a nations or societys past and analysing it. Specialised areas in the study of history are archaeology, museology, and archival studies.

And the rest, as they say, is history! But the study of history doesn’t necessarily mean researching dust-heaps of the past.

The study of history equips you to carve out a rewarding career, as history shapes the political, economic, and cultural life of a nation or society.

Until a few years ago history as a subject didn’t attract youngsters, except those intent upon careers in academia. But now a growing number of young people are opting for the study of this liberal arts subject which is being recognised as a useful qualification for a whole range of careers,” says Dr. Kalpana Desai, director of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghrahalaya (better known as the Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai, one of the most well-administered museums in the country.

The study of history requires gathering evidence relating to a nations or societys past and analysing it. Specialised areas in the study of history are archaeology, museology, and archival studies.

Essentially, archaeologists attempt to understand and reconstruct the past from the study of ancient coins, weaponry, sculpture, deciphering of inscriptions etc. Museologists work in museums and much of their work is a combination of research, administration, and public relations.

Archivists deal with the selection, preservation, arrangement, and description of documents. They assess the value and historical significance of current research papers produced by various bodies and individuals and prepare and document records for reference purposes.

STUDY PROGRAMMES- History study programmes at the graduate and postgraduate levels are conducted in various specialised disciplines such as ancient Indian history and culture; medieval history (Indian); modern Indian history; and Western history. Most Indian universities offer bachelors and Masters degree programmes in history. However, all specialisations are not available at all universities. Archaeology courses are offered by about 25 universities mostly at the postgraduate level. They include the universities of Calcutta, Pune, Allahabad, Gujarat, Mysore, and Nagpur; Banaras Hindu University; M.S. University, Baroda; and Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi.

Museology courses are conducted by:

University of Ajmer
Kurukshetra UniversityBanaras Hindu University, Varanasi
M.S. University, Baroda
Aligarh Muslim University
Osmania University, Hyderabad
Bhopal Vishwavidyalaya
Vikram University, Ujjain
National Museum, New Delhi
Jiwaji University, Gwalior

Archival postgrad study programmes are offered by Ajmer, Annamalai, and Pondicherry universities; Gujarat Vidyapeeth; and National Archives of India, New Delhi.

Foreign universities are also making an effort to introduce history related courses and popularise them. For instance, Mumbai University recently structured modules on Indian culture and philosophy for a Chinese university. With the advent of developed countries in this field and the provision of research grants to them, a career in history is bound to get an impetus.

Employment opportunities for historians are fast expanding as this is one of the most interdisciplinary of all subjects. Generally, qualified historians tend to be employed in educational institutions or in research organisations such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, state departments of archaeology, Archaeological Survey of India, National Archives of India, state archives, and in numerous museums across the country. Salaries are on a par with UGC scales. A fresher with a Masters starts off with Rs.13,000 per month. However, in private firms for jobs such as organising exhibitions or as curators the starting salary tends to be substantially higher.

In a museum which reflects the material culture of the past through its exhibits, you are surrounded by history. The study of a societys culture reflects its thought processes and often leads to development of new ideas. A job in a museum, or any other field of history, has its own satisfaction and fulfilment as you are contributing to the study and preservation of cultural archives and antiquities. Young people entering this field develop self-confidence — a museum is not unlike a university but informs and educates people. Moreover, in this era of globalisation historians have an advantage. They have a deeper knowledge of their culture and roots,” avers Desai, who has been working with the Prince of Wales Museum since 1983.

Dr. Desai has impeccable credentials as a trained historian. After acquiring a Masters in ancient Indian culture from Mumbai University, she wrote her doctoral thesis on the ‘Origin and Evolution of the Iconography of Vishnu in 1969, which was later published and is a useful reference work on the subject. Appointed curator of the Heras Institute in 1974, her most notable achievement was curating the Heras collection at the Gulbenkian Institute in Lisbon in 1981, one of the first cultural exchanges between India and Portugal after Goa was liberated from Portuguese rule in 1962.

Desai has also participated in international exhibitions in Sweden, Japan, and Mauritius.

Author of several books and articles on subjects related to Indian culture and curator of theme exhibitions at the museum, Desai believes that the Prince of Wales Museum has acquired an international reputation. We are known globally for our miniature paintings collection. We also have an excellent collection of Nepali and Tibetan art and oriental antiquities,” she says.

Job opportunities in museology, Desai believes, will multiply as the nation becomes culturally confident and aware of its rich heritage. Formerly a museum was a storehouse of antiquities and natural history. Now its seamless — anything of human interest including textiles, shoes, films can be exhibited. Moreover there are specialist philatelic, textiles, numismatic and other musea, and the number is growing. Currently there are 657 museums, big and small, around the country and a faster growth is predicted in the next few years. Standby for university, bank, corporate, and currency museums as this field is expanding fast. The work is stimulating, challenging, and keeps your mind alert,” she asserts.

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