Transatlantic Seminar for Museum Curators and Educators: “Museums as Spaces for Social Discourse and Learning”

November 4-7, 2019

This new, four-day seminar was organized by Fulbright Germany and the Leibniz Association, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It brought together 26 German and American curators, educators, and other professionals working in museums or similar institutions, such as memorial sites. Eight participants were representatives of Leibniz Research Museums. Gathering at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., participants explored museums as spaces for social discourse and learning – and, by extension, as institutions which are vital for democracies. The Seminar was part of the Year of German-American Friendship.

Welcome to the Smithsonian Institution! Photo credit: Mike Maguire

As unique sites of public discourse, museums provide remarkable insight into contemporary issues - how these issues relate to the past and how they may impact the future. As spaces for dialogue, inquiry, and engagement, museums provide platforms for learning, questioning, and discovering. By studying which content museums decide to display and in which context, we can learn a lot about how a community’s complex history and present is interpreted. Moreover, the work of museum curators and educators has exceptional reach across audiences with diverse socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. With their exhibitions and programs, the museums of the organizing partners reach approximately 36 million visitors each year.

This seminar aimed to deepen international understanding, while simultaneously supporting hands-on professional development, exchange of best practices, and lasting professional connections between an influential group of peers in the museum field.

Lively conversations between the participants. Photo credit: Mike Maguire

Using a variety of interactive formats such as presentations, site visits, panel discussions with expert practitioners, case studies, and peer learning sessions, participants engaged in the following topics:

1. Exhibitions and public programming - mirrors of social and scientific inquiry

  • How is public discourse and state-of-the-art scientific research “translated” into compelling exhibition design and educational programs?

2. Diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion

  • How do exhibitions and educational programs attract diverse audiences?
  • How are digital tools impacting museums' efforts to become more accessible to wide audiences?
  • How can museums and cultural sites help set global standards for accessibility and inclusion?

3. Collaboration across disciplines and sectors

  • How can different types of museums benefit and learn from each other? For example, what role can the arts play in a natural history museum? Or, what role does history play in a museum of technology?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges of museums cooperating with partners from different sectors, such as the corporate world?
  • In what ways can partnerships help museums stay relevant and attract new audiences?

4. National mission in a globalized world

  • How relevant is the national context for museums?
  • How do museums manage the tension between their unique origins and missions and an increasingly globalized context?
  • How can museums and cultural institutions from across the world collaborate fruitfully?
Participants in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Photo credit: Mike Maguire


Fulbright Germany
Lützowufer 26
10787 Berlin