Holiday greetings and annual update

Dear MSP colleagues, students, and friends,

You are receiving this message at a time when our collective attention is focused on the atrocities of ongoing wars and growing political divisions at home and abroad. During the Museum Studies Proseminar this fall, students grappled with the social conflicts rooted in contested memories and histories while exploring some of the decolonial approaches that have made critical changes in museums and sites of memory. We also saw the importance of activism in this context. We remain grateful that we can engage in serious dialogues that help us to process and interpret the pain and troubles we are witnessing around us while continuing to find inspiration in what the MSP program and our students have achieved. Below we are sharing some of our accomplishments that highlight just a few reasons to remain hopeful as we begin to celebrate the holiday seasons.

Since his appointment as program director in July, Ricky Punzalan (MSP08 and associate professor at the School of Information) has been working closely with the administrative team–Ricky, Deirdre Hennebury (MSP04 and associate director), and Amy Smola (administrative assistant)–to assess the MSP curriculum, identify strategic growth priorities, and develop diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. We have a vibrant program that has been nurtured over the years by previous leadership, alumni, and students. Together with the MSP Steering Committee, we are exploring how we can sustain our strong footing and identify what growth might look like for the MSP moving forward.

We have seen some changes to our MSP Steering Committee recently. Over the past year, we welcomed seven new members, representing various museum and museum-related units on campus, to the advisory body. Amy Harris, who has been a significant contributor to the Committee, is retiring at the end of the current term. We wish to specially recognize her years of commitment and expertise shared with MSP, the U-M Museum of Natural History, and the University. In November, we had a celebratory lunch in honor of Amy, which was attended by previous MSP directors, Kerstin Barndt and Ray Silverman.

In August, we were thrilled to welcome a cohort of eleven students from various disciplines on campus, including social work, earth sciences, environment and sustainability, information, and Slavic languages. The new students attended our Fall Welcome reception where they enjoyed refreshments and lively conversations with MSP students from several cohorts as well as allied faculty and staff. It was a special treat to have our Founding Director, Professor Emeritus Ray Silverman, join us for the evening.

In March, we were proud to host the MSP@20 celebration of the program’s first twenty years! Ray and Brad Taylor, our much-loved longtime associate director, along with former directors Carla Sinopoli and Margaret Hedstrom, were also in attendance. Thanks to the leadership of then-outgoing MSP director, Kerstin Barndt, the celebration was a resounding success. The keynote speaker, Cara Krmpotich (associate professor and director of Museum Studies at the University of Toronto) offered much to think about in her presentation, “The Seduction, Refusal, and Retention of Universality in Collections Care,” and it was heartwarming to see MSP alumni from across cohorts return to Ann Arbor as speakers and attendees at the anniversary symposium. Our key takeaway – MSP alums are thriving! Following on the success of the MSP@20, we’ve resolved to deepen our community connections and enhance opportunities for our alumni to share their museum scholarship and practice.

Speaking of our alumni, we are proud to highlight some who have achieved significant recognition and impact. Erica Lehrer (MSP04), Abigail Celis (MSP11), Allan Martell (MSP15), Mariane Stanev (MSP16), continue to contribute to museum studies scholarship with their outstanding publications. Some received prestigious awards or were elected to leadership positions. Ksenya Gurshtein (MSP06) was awarded for excellence this year from the Association of Art Museum Curators. Shannon Schmoll (MSP11) has been elected president-elect of the International Planetarium Society. We are also proud of those who are newly hired or promoted to their respective positions. Joe Cialdella (MSP09) has assumed the role of Assistant Director of Experiential Learning at Rackham Graduate School. Alison Rittershaus (MSP13) has been working for nearly a year as the Lynch Postdoctoral Associate in Curricular Engagement at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum at Cornell University. Craig Harvey (MSP14) has recently accepted the position of Assistant Professor in Roman Archaeology at the University of Alberta in Canada. Mark Ramirez (MSP19) returned to Ann Arbor after a stint as the Assistant Registrar at the Toledo Museum of Art to take a position as a NAGPRA Project Associate here at the University of Michigan. Finally, our alums have curated numerous exhibitions. Caitlin Clerkin (MSP14) co-curated “A World Within Reach: Greek and Roman Art from the Loeb Collection” at the Harvard Art Museums this winter. Félix Zamora Gómez’s (MSP16) “A Gathering” opened at UMMA in June and will remain on view for several semesters. We love hearing about your achievements and career updates so please keep in touch!

In addition to the MSP@20 symposium in March, the past year was replete with MSP-sponsored programs. The Winter Term launched with an invited lecture by Diana Abouali, the director of the Arab American National Museum and closed with “Museums@Noon” virtual brown bag talks by students who had recently completed their MSP internships: Taylor West (MSP21) shared her digitization and public outreach projects at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in England; Pelle Tracey (MSP21) presented on exhibition archiving and production at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Arts, and Kimberly Ransom (MSP18) spoke of her collaborations with artists researching the Ed Williams Black Memorabilia Collection at the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago.

We continue to showcase the impressive work of our students this fall with gallery visits and brown bag talks: Eimeel Castillo’s (MSP18) “Secrets of State” exhibition tour was followed by three excellent “Museums@Noon” presentations by Alexandra Norwood (MSP18), Denisa Glacova (MSP22), and Heidi Hilliker (MSP20). Alex shared her efforts in designing an exhibit and outreach programs at the Uganda Museum; Denisa offered a thoughtful consideration of her time working at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People (Tel Aviv) this past summer; and Heidi’s talk, “Competing Interests: Examining Identity Politics in the Display of Ancient Egypt,” addressed her internship experiences and research findings. In October, the MSP community enjoyed a private visit to the “Narrating Nubia” exhibition at our North Campus Duderstadt Gallery. Bailey Franzoi (MSP21) and Shannon Ness (MSP15) both worked on the exhibition and provided us with a fascinating, behind-the-scenes tour.

We’d be remiss not to mention the important contributions our MSP students made to the LSA Fall 2023 “Arts & Resistance” Theme Semester. Charlotte Juergens (MSP22) coordinated a multi-day program of panel discussions, workshop, and a screening of her in-process documentary, “Afterthought: Remembering a Pandemic.” (Charlotte also presented this project at the Michigan Museum Association meeting in Flint, MI, in October.) And, just a few weeks ago, Ekaterina Olson Shipyatsky’s (MSP22) collaboration with the Detroit Sound Conservancy resulted in an evening of music and conversation in “From the Ballroom to the Museum: Celebrating Black Resistance in the Graystone Collection” at Detroit’s Jam Handy.

Our Fall programming also included the latest installment in our Museums in Practice series, “Access and Museums: Making Meaning through Online and Digital Connections.” The virtual format of this series has enabled us to bring together scholars, practitioners, and museum thinkers from near and far and we were delighted to have Heather Dunn from the Canadian Heritage Information Network, Liz Harmon (MSP10) from the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Museum, and Douglas McCarthy from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands join us online for this informative and timely conservation. If you were not able to attend, a recording of this event and others, is posted on our website.

If you wish to learn more about our activities, we invite you to peruse the blog posts written by MSP graduate students and undergraduate minors in “Museum Matters@Michigan.” Guided by our editor, Leila Braun (MSP21), entries reflect a range of topics, such as museum engagement experiences, reactions to public lectures and exhibits, and thoughts on current cultural heritage issues. Our graduate students, led by Veronica Williamson (MSP20), just inaugurated a Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop (RIW) called “Rummage: Museums, Exhibitions, and Representation.” The Rummage RIW is a space for a multidisciplinary conversation on exhibition, collection, curation, display, and representation within museums and museum-adjacent spaces.

The Rackham Graduate School and the Museum Studies Endowment continue to provide considerable financial assistance to our Program and students. But we also rely on contributions from the museum community in the form of hosting and mentoring our students, facilitating site visits, and engaging with capstone projects. In addition, the MSP Director’s Strategic Fund supports our public programming, visiting scholars, special projects, and other MSP needs.

We rely, however, on your generous support to maintain the program’s excellence and expand our model of interdisciplinary engaged learning. We hope that you can make a gift this year to help us strengthen this multifaceted program of teaching, research, learning, practice and public engagement. Your gift will go directly to supporting activities that provide an outstanding educational experience to our students, help to engage students with museums regionally, nationally and globally, and bridge the gaps between scholarship, professionalism, and public understanding of museums. Particularly in these deeply divided and troubled times, interrogating the role of museums and cultural heritage spaces in cultural, knowledge, and memory representation and facilitating dialogues has never been more important, and, thus, worthy of support. To donate to the Museum Studies Program, please visit us online at

Thank you for your support and best wishes for a peaceful, restful, and happy holiday season.


Ricky Punzalan, Director

Deirdre L.C. Hennebury, Associate Director