Date of Graduation

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Museum Studies


College of Arts and Sciences


Museum Studies

First Advisor

Stephanie Brown

Second Advisor

Marjorie Schwarzer

Third Advisor

Paula Birnbaum


The democratization of American museums has been accelerated by societal changes caused by the development of new, multiway channels of communication created by the Internet and social media. Social media is prompting public participa- tion which has led to a paradigm shift in museology towards public engagement. The rise of vernacular creativity, especially among the younger, digitally native generations who are “curating” their identities by replicating, manipulating and sharing culture on- line, challenges the authority of the museum and curator as arbiters of culture. This paradigm shift also broadens the definition of authenticity from the object to the au- thentic experience. This paper argues that museums have a responsibility to remain relevant and to model the use of new technologies in the service of public good and in the pursuit of democratic ideals. They can only do so through nimble experimentation with social media. An examination of the evolution of the museum’s role in American society is followed by an analysis of the impact of technology on museum practice and philosophy. The description of a number of case studies involving social media initia- tives by museums suggests that engaging the public in the curatorial process throughcrowd-sourced and crowd-curated exhibitions may be the key to museum sustain- ability. Finally, an outline of a social media campaign designed for an exhibition at the University of San Francisco’s Thacher Gallery, co-curated by the M.A. in Museum Studies Curatorial Practicum serves as a lesson in the use of the new media platform,Instagram.