The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded Hamilton a $150,000 grant for a new curricular effort that will connect students and faculty with regional cultural institutions, as well as the College’s Wellin Museum of Art, and Burke Library’s Special Collections.
Marissa Ambio and Thomas Wilson
Maria Ambio and Thomas Wilson.

The grant proposal, “Curatorial Studies: Expanding the Impact of the Humanities through Interdisciplinary and Experiential Partnerships,” was co-authored by Thomas Wilson, the Bates and Benjamin Professor of Classical and Religious Studies, and Marissa Ambio, assistant professor of Hispanic Studies. With support from Director of Corporate and Foundations Relations Krista Campbell, their efforts earned the maximum grant award available in the highly competitive Humanities Initiatives at Colleges and Universities category. Roughly 16% of grant proposals in this category receive funding.

Over the next two and a half years, the grant will support a new curatorial studies initiative at Hamilton, related faculty course development, and student research and internship opportunities.

One of the initiative’s defining features will be the College’s new partnerships with the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse), Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum (Cooperstown), Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (Utica), and the Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology (Syracuse). When the grant period officially begins in July, Wilson and Ambio will host a series of workshops focused on curricular development and grant implementation that will bring Hamilton faculty together with museum partners for the first time to discuss the current practice of the curatorial process and learning outcomes.

Mia Horvath '25, John Murphy '85 Munson Williams Arts Inst.
Mia Horvath '25 discusses a painting at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute with her internship supervisor, John Murphy '85, director of development at MWPAI. Photo: Zack Stanek

According to Wilson, this initiative will build upon existing areas of faculty expertise and student experiential learning opportunities in conversation with museum professionals at the partner institutions.

“I believe any discipline that deals with material and visual culture would be interested in participating in this initiative,” he said. “This includes Anthropology, Art History, History, Literature, and Religious Studies, among others. It also incorporates the history of science, which would create opportunities for STEM students. The archival component of the proposal points to a broad range of hands-on experiences that students could explore.”

“These places may feel like they are scattered throughout Central New York, but it takes about as long for somebody at Hamilton to get to any one of these museums as it does for somebody in New York City to travel from the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] to the Whitney [Museum of American Art] if they take mass transit. We tend to think of these as remote places, but we’re closer than we think.”

Existing related Hamilton courses include a textual and material study of lived religion in Asia, an art history course on collecting and curating American art from 1900 to 1950, and an archaeology course about the College’s founding in which students work with the Wellin Museum and curate virtual reality exhibitions on the ethics of museum acquisition and repatriation.

Ambio said the initiative will also include workshops, guest speakers, and coordination with the Wellin Museum and Special Collections with the aim of making faculty aware of the resources on campus. Site visits with museum partners will enable faculty to become better acquainted with their collections. “The infrastructure for this will help foster course creation, and ultimately the hope is to design a minor in addition to these other opportunities that the grant will offer,” she added.

The initiative aspires to provide place-based and experiential learning opportunities for Hamilton humanities students that will facilitate their acquisition of skills, offer hands-on experience with collections, and introduce them to the variety of professional roles associated with curation. Students will also work directly with professional staff and faculty to conduct independent research that results in public presentations and publications, and participate in summer internships at host institutions.

As the co-authors met with various museum personnel to learn how this effort could be most beneficial to their institutions, they heard a common theme: there is a need for more diversity in their workforce.

“Hamilton has incredibly smart students and a diverse student population, so getting students from underrepresented backgrounds who are studying the humanities to seriously consider these opportunities and gain the expertise they would from this program would open up a range of possible career choices that they might not be considering. This would benefit students, partner institutions, and Hamilton’s curriculum,” Wilson said.

The partnerships will also create new pathways for students to experience more of what Central New York has to offer Hamilton students.

“These places may feel like they are scattered throughout Central New York, but it takes about as long for somebody at Hamilton to get to any one of these museums as it does for somebody in New York City to travel from the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] to the Whitney [Museum of American Art] if they take mass transit,” Wilson noted. “We tend to think of these as remote places, but we’re much closer than we think.”

According to the NEH, grants awarded in the Humanities Initiatives at Colleges and Universities program “strengthen the teaching and study of the humanities at institutions of higher education by developing new or enhancing existing programs, resources (including those in digital format), or courses that explore, interpret, and preserve the diversity of human cultures, ideas, and practices, past and present. Projects must address a core topic or set of themes drawn from humanities areas such as history, philosophy, religion, literature, or humanities-informed composition and writing skills.”

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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