A new Virginia Tech program that prepares students for careers in museums, heritage tourism, and community and cultural organizations offers them a chance to begin their graduate work as seniors and to complete their master’s degrees in just one year.  

This cross-disciplinary degree in Material Culture and Public Humanities shares common intellectual issues and employment goals. Material culture is the study of material or physical objects, as well as the placement of those objects in critical, theoretical and historical perspectives as the products of distinct cultures. Public humanities bridges the divide between academia and the public by encouraging dialogue between scholars and communities on cultural and social issues.

For the accelerated Bachelor of Arts / Master of Arts option, undergraduates may apply for the program in their junior year and, as seniors, count as many as 12 hours of bachelor’s degree courses toward their master’s degree work.

The degree will produce graduates who are able to interpret material culture within informed historical and cultural frameworks so that they are prepared for a wide range of careers.

“This program focuses on folk art as well as fine art, in addition to the wide variety of objects, old and contemporary, that surround us in our everyday life” said Elizabeth Fine, a professor in the Department of Religion and Culture. She is coordinating the program with Bailey Van Hook, a professor of art history in the School of Visual Arts.

The degree is jointly administered among faculty in the Department of Religion and Culture and the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, as well as the Program in Art History in the School of Visual Arts in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.

The 30 credits required for a master’s degree include a 6 credit-hour internship at a museum or other cultural institution in the region, giving students hands-on experience with objects and historical sites. Students also may opt for a 36 credit-hour program in which a thesis is written. Course work includes the exhibition, design, and display of art and artifacts, theories and methods of material culture and public humanities, public history, preservation of historic interiors, and many other curricular opportunities.

Graduates will be qualified for positions with museums, historical societies, educational programs, and community initiatives focused on preservation and diversity issues — for instance, how best to celebrate the sites and artifacts of African-American or Appalachian heritage.

The program has alliances with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Taubman Museum of Art, and the Harrison Museum of African American Culture.

Fine said the program, the only one of its kind in Virginia, has already accepted five students for the 2014-15 session, with another half-dozen applications pending. The deadline is April 15. Information on the program’s curriculum, faculty, and admission requirements are available on its website.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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