ETSU launches new programs in interpretation and museum studies

Published 12:08 pm Thursday, July 23, 2020

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JOHNSON CITY— Northeast Tennessee is home to a large number of museums, state parks and heritage sites, and cultural heritage tourism is one of the most important segments of the region’s economy. This fall, students at East Tennessee State University will be able to enroll in a new undergraduate minor or in a graduate certificate in heritage interpretation and museum studies.
 The programs are offered through the Department of Appalachian Studies, in collaboration with the Department of History, the Storytelling program, and several other departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Clemmer College.
 These programs are designed for students interested in a career in a museum, state park, heritage site or similar organization. In addition, the graduate certificate will be helpful for professionals who desire to enhance their job skills or credentials.
 The programs are distinguished by a strong emphasis on the communication and storytelling skills that are essential to creative interpretation of natural and cultural resources. The curriculum was developed based on input from area professionals in museums, state parks and heritage sites in the region.
 “I am delighted that we are able to launch these new programs. ETSU is uniquely situated to offer instruction in these areas, with our outstanding resources in regional studies and storytelling, our excellent museums and archives, and partnerships with many museums and sites in our area,” said Dr. Ron Roach, chair of Appalachian Studies. “Many of our graduates are already working in this field, and these programs will allow us to be even more effective in preparing students for success.”
 Heritage interpretation is the way in which natural, cultural or historic resources are presented to the public, helping them to experience the resources, discover meaning, and form connections. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines heritage as “the legacy that we receive from the past, that we experience in the present, and that we will pass on to future generations.”
 Roach points out that heritage encompasses both natural heritage (features of the natural landscape) and cultural heritage (the whole range of cultural resources created or built by humans in the past). How a community interprets and uses its heritage, he says, plays an important role in sustainable development by helping to build a sense of community, creating jobs and economic growth through heritage tourism, building respect for history and for cultural and social diversity, and challenging prejudice and stereotypes.
 The new programs include core courses in public history, storytelling and interpretation, and museum administration. Students will also select elective courses from a wide range of subjects to fit their interests, including Appalachian studies, study abroad, biological sciences, communication studies and storytelling, history, geosciences and paleontology, sport and leisure management, sociology and anthropology. The programs will provide practical studies and internships through ETSU’s Reece Museum, Archives of Appalachia, and the Natural History Museum and Gray Fossil Site, as well as other partners in the area.
 Dr. Steve Nash, associate professor of history at ETSU, stated, “History students have often looked at museums as well as state and national parks, as places where they can apply the skills and knowledge they gained at ETSU. The new undergraduate minor and graduate certificate in heritage interpretation and museum studies will help students develop the diverse skills necessary to thrive in those careers.”
 For more information about these programs, visit the Department of Appalachian Studies website at or contact Dr. Ron Roach at

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