Reflecting on The Mount as a Museum Studies Student

The following blog post was contributed by Amelia Alvarez, a Museum Studies student at Wellesley College.

Amelia Alvarez
Amelia Alvarez

¡Hola a todos desde España! I’m a third-year student at Wellesley College currently studying abroad in Córdoba, a beautiful city in the sunny south of Spain. I like to think of Córdoba as a small yet concentrated dose of Spain, filled to the brim with historical monuments, traditions, and cultural activities.

At the Universidad de Córdoba I am currently taking a Museum Studies course in which I am learning all about the development of museums as institutions over the centuries, how they are classified and run today, and in what direction they might be headed in the future. It has been especially interesting to learn about such things while in Europe, since it was in Greece where museums were born and since museums have been in steady development here since the Middle Ages.

As an assignment for my class we were asked to investigate a single museum to learn all there is to know about how it functions. After working this summer with Historic New England, an organization that preserves upwards of 36 historic house museums (one of which belonged to the family of Edith Wharton’s design partner-in-crime Ogden Codman, Jr.!), I was curious about house museums in particular. And, as an English major who perhaps fell in love with the study of literature after reading The House of Mirth as a high school sophomore, I naturally decided to delve into The Mount.

Though I have yet to visit The Mount in person, I feel as though I’ve already walked through its gardens, skirted up its stairways, and admired the tomes in its library, a testament to the wonderful transparency of the museum to the public. For my purposes, I’ve looked into everything from the history of The Mount to its documentation practices to whether or not the exhibition rooms use special climate-control mechanisms. You’d be surprised how many considerations go into making and creating a museum!

House museums are unique in the sense that the story they tell is already largely established. That is, unlike a traditional art museum in which curators craft a discourse by placing objects side by side, in a house museum the objects left in place naturally tell us about the people that once used them daily. How wonderful it is to be able to step into someone else’s life, into another era even, by simply passing through the doorway of a house museum!

Often the act of “museum-ifying” someone’s life in this way can be dangerous; you run the risk of sealing their story in the past, turning it into something that’s nice to look at but that is far removed from the present. The Mount, however, has done wonders to keep the spirit of Edith Wharton alive and accessible. I am impressed by the number of programs and events that the museum puts on, and I think Wharton herself would approve of the great deal of enjoyment that transpires on her property today.

After all, what better way to celebrate the life of Edith Wharton, a spirited designer and storyteller, than to continue telling her story and making new ones of our own in the place that she lovingly drafted from scratch?