Ethics: How Museum Policies Are Made

Photograph of myself in front of a fossil diorama at the CMNH, a topic of discussion at a meeting.


Ethics: How Museum Policies Are Made

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History—Fall 2018

This semester I worked as the Ethics Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). My experience opened my eyes to what goes into policy and decision making for a large institution. As an avid museum-goer my whole life, I never considered what goes into making exhibits and installations that the public gets to see. The work I completed over the course of this semester exposed me to the other side of museum work and gave me an appreciation for how museums function. 

During my internship, I was responsible for researching Codes of Ethics from American Alliance of Museums accredited institutions and compiled all the information into recommendations for the CMNH’s Code of Ethics revision. This unique internship provided me with opportunities to grow as a researcher and allowed me to partake in meetings with various museum staff and faculty members. 

During my internship, I had the opportunity to attend three meetings with senior museum staff. I met with the Director of the Museum, Director of Science and Research, and the Chairman of the Ethics committee, as well as two staff members who work in the collections department. My final meeting was with my mentor and the Chairman of the Ethics committee to present my findings. During these meetings, numerous museum issues and regulations were discussed, including whether or not fossils should be treated as minerals or human remains, and even how to display ivory in the animal dioramas. Through these conversations, I learned about the ethical considerations of curation and display in natural history museums. My internship experience gave me a new perspective as a museum-goer.  When I walk into museums now, I can no longer look at intricate animal dioramas or Native American artifacts passively. Now, I have an understanding of the ethical issues and procedures that go into displaying these objects.

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