Correction: This story has been modified from its original version. — The new program is being offered by the Department of Religion and Culture and the School of Visual Arts, not the Department of History. Additionally, the new offering is for a Master of Arts, not a Master of Fine Arts. The Collegiate Times regrets this error.
People looking for a career in an art museum, cultural organization or heritage tourism will soon be able to graduate with a Master of Arts from Virginia Tech that will set them on the right path.
After about six years of production, the Department of Religion and Culture and the School of Visual Arts have collaborated to create a new Masters program called Material Culture and Public Humanities. The 30-credit MA program focuses on teaching students to interpret cultural materials and practices in order to relay those interpretations to the public.
According to Dr. Bailey Van Hook, a chair and professor in the Program of Art History who was one of the architects of the program, its' creation came from the two colleges having a lot in common.
"Where we expected students to end up was basically the same: small museums, house museums, cultural organizations and publications like The Smithsonian," Van Hook said.
As the program was developed, the colleges thought it important to show that those who would graduate with the degree would have a good chance of finding jobs afterward.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Fine, a coordinator of Virginia Tech's Humanities program and professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, the results were favorable.
"We were delighted to see that one of the fastest growing areas of jobs right now is in this field of cultural organization, museums and heritage tourism," Fine said.
Despite the fact that getting the program started was hampered by the poor economy, the outlook is still good for incoming students. Graduates of the program can work a variety of jobs, including careers in public education interpreting objects, or in small towns cataloging their material culture.
"A key part of our program is to understand how to interpret, preserve and then present the cultural artifacts of a town, place or region, because they carry the values of the people," Fine said.
The program's focus on local culture is enhanced by Tech's location in southwest Virginia. All around the region, "heritage tourism" trails like The Crooked Road and 'Round The Mountain give tourists greater access to craftspeople around southwest Virginia, including weavers, potters, carvers and many other artisans.
While the program has taken roughly six years to develop, it's still a relatively new and unexplored field. One of the few other universities that include a Material Culture and Public Humanities hybrid programs include Brown University and Bard College.
According to Fine, Bard's program says stresses the public humanities aspect, while Brown's program emphasizes material culture.
"Ours is the first in the country that that's going to foreground both things," Fine said.
Because the field is so cutting-edge, Van Hook thinks it may be a little too soon to say exactly what the college and faculty can expect from the program, but both she and Fine remain optimistic.
"I think one of our national needs is to have what we would call 'public humanists,'" Fine said. "People who can take their background of culture, history or English and critically address issues that communities are concerned with."
The program is currently accepting applications for next fall.