Kiersten F. Latham is the Director of Arts & Cultural Management and Museum Studies, as well as Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at Michigan State University. Prior to this, Dr. Latham spent nine years at Kent State University where she developed and taught in the museum studies specialization within the Master’s in Library & Information Science and ran the experimental MuseLab. She has taught all aspects of museum studies, from administration to collections management to user experience. In addition to academic work, she has worked in, on, and about museums in various capacities for over 30 years, serving as a director, educator, researcher, collections manager, curator, volunteer, and consultant. Her research interests convene around the meaning of museum objects—especially with respect to emotion, perception, sensation, and spirituality—and the conceptual foundations of museums as document systems. She has done research on numinous experiences with museum objects, imaginative touch (of museum objects), user perceptions of ‘the real thing’ in museums, museums as ecological systems, contemplative practices in museums, positive museology, and conceptual ramifications of museum object as document.
My research inquiries are led by my curiosity and my interest in what it means to be curious, to be interested, and to wonder. In particular, I am fascinated with the notion of lived experience and what happens when we consider the fuller, more holistic experiences of museum visitors—what they are thinking, feeling, doing, experiencing—all at once. These inquiries often result from my own wondering about assumptions and things we take for granted.
As a part of this, I have always been fascinated with universals and foundational questions. What makes us human? What do I share with someone on the other side of the earth, or from a different time? For that reason, I am interested in finding out similarities and differences of common museum activities and how they manifest in different places and cultures across the world. At the same time, I am in awe of the fact that each person is a unique individual, with a particular accumulation of experiences and encounters and a way of seeing the world that is only his or her own. The research I do tends to start with these underlying foundations—asking what all humans share but also exploring individual differences.
My teaching philosophy comes from my overall view of how I see the world and the way it works. I have a very holistic, integrated view (stemming from systems and design thinking and phenomenology) and this trickles into the design and teaching of my courses, which are very inter- and trans-disciplinary. I welcome multiple viewpoints and backgrounds (courses include many students from other departments) because I believe this improves the student experience in courses and is more reflective of the real world. I recognize different learning styles and provide multiple ways of learning through course materials and assignments that allow variety but also force students to think outside traditional modalities, something they will have to do in their future work environments.
I teach all of my courses with an active learning approach toward student engagement and learning. Active learning is collaborative and involves high levels of participation from the student learner. Since all students in my current school are graduate level, I believe that their ability to think critically and creatively, seek out information independently, and communicate thoughtfully are just as important as the content covered. I see myself as the expert and facilitator and maintain a constant and visible presence in my courses (which in this case, are mostly online). I also know that I, as the instructor, am always learning, even while teaching. I do not claim to know everything, and I leave a lot of room for learning new things in new and better ways, which I am always seeking. Part of this learning involves learning from my students. I listen to them, ask for feedback often and make changes accordingly every new semester. In addition, I believe that it is crucial to be a real person as an instructor. I try to be the human that I am, not a talking head, and I try to inject creativity, humor, and sometimes storytelling into my podcasts, announcements, lectures, and other forms of communication.
Most recently, I have been interested in Contemplative Pedagogy, the integration of contemplative practices into higher education. This approach has been shown to facilitate and foster the development of the whole person, increasing capacities such as creativity, empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills and self-awareness in students. I believe that there is promising potential when bringing together this emerging pedagogical approach with those we use in museums, informal learning environments. So, why not intentionally adapt this to the museum studies classroom?