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Museum Understands Its Role in Deaf History and Life Today

The current museum exhibit is shown. Photo by Zhee Chatmon.

When the first museum was established 2,500 years ago, at the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, it displayed antiquities from earlier Mesopotamian civilizations; its founder, Princess Ennigaldi, could not have imagined the “cabinets of curiosities” that would follow.

Similarly, Elias Ashmole, whose cabinet became the world’s first university museum in 1678, could not have dreamed of the massive collections that would follow in the “Museum Age” of the early 20th century, nor could the founders of those museums have foreseen the interpretive work that modern museums do today.

Top American museums of the 21st century now work to meet the standards of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the nation’s largest non-profit dedicated to advancing museum practice and museum professionals.

Written in 2007, the founding documents of the Gallaudet University Museum stated that AAM accreditation was one of the top priorities for Gallaudet’s new educational treasure. Receiving accreditation from AAM is evidence that a museum has been validated as meeting best standards and practices, and shows funders, policymakers, and peers that the museum has a profound impact on its visitors and community.

After more than 10 years of start-up projects, exhibition development, and educational partnerships on and off-campus, the Gallaudet University Museum staff is proceeding on AAM’s path toward accreditation.

Accreditation for many units at Gallaudet is a multi-year process, and the museum is no exception. Although the museum was accepted into the 2018 cohort for AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP), that one-year process is only the beginning of the national accreditation process. Through interviews and extensive documentation, the MAP guides museums through self-assessment, institutional activities, and consultative peer review, which will provide Gallaudet University Museum staff with an analysis of the museum’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, along with a prioritized roadmap for improving operations and meeting standards. The process documents just how closely the museum is connected with every aspect of campus life, from students and faculty to departments and organizations.

The MAP projects, along with AAM’s Core Documents Validation, ensure museums meet core standards, which have evolved along with museum practices. Today, the standards include public trust and accountability-a critical responsibility at Gallaudet, where sharing the story of the diverse deaf community respectfully and accurately requires museum staff to understand their role in public service and education.

The Gallaudet University Museum serves the campus community, including alumni, through exhibitions and programming that highlight the intersectionality of the deaf community. The museum is also part of Gallaudet’s “front porch” and educates the community at large about what it means to be deaf-and, conversely, what it means to be hearing.

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