Museum nerds LOVE to be Museum nerds. (Then they complain that “non-traditional” museum audiences feel alienated by museums. 🙂 ) Don’t be fooled by the word “nerd;” museum nerds think that they are very cool. But all Museum nerds are not created equal. You’ve got your art museums, your science museums, the behemoth that is history museums, your zoos. As of 2014, there are 35,144 museums in the U.S. (Ok so this data was from a boom time and according to data from AAM, 30% of museums were forced to close their doors without plans to reopen due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.) (But we are not here to talk about that today. We talked about how endowments and museum finance are effed here.) Each of these 30,000+ museums contains a multitude of nerdy identities and I want to celebrate them in their own special way and that’s what we’re doing today, and nothing else.
- Botanical Garden/Arboretum/Nature Center Nerds
- These people wear overalls and I think if I wasn’t a Virgo, maybe I could be one. They seem generally unbothered because they regularly experience sunlight. They are authentically enthusiastic about plants. Good for them.
2. Planetarium Nerds
- Space nerds. Their Instagram and Twitter handles are definitely related to their space nerd-iness.
3. Zoo, Aquarium and Wildlife Preserve Museum Nerds
- These are the popular kids of the museum nerds, but not in the clique-y way. They’re like the tall girl in your high school graduating class who plays field hockey or is on the swim team and has a purpose that allows her to be above teenage drama. She’s friendly to everyone because her rigorous training schedule makes it so she has no time for petty shit. I mean don’t get me wrong – they’re still nerds. But in a responsible, relatable way. They also always have the most detailed evaluation procedures and data, which is more proof that they’re more in touch with the people who visit than a lot of us.
4. Science Museum Nerds
- Science museum nerds are definitely the rock stars of the museum nerd world. They have visible tattoos. They wear quirky clothes with color. They don’t work in a garden or a zoo, so they can dress up, but they definitely show off their personality through their appearance. They are fun at parties. Their Instagram and Twitter handles also definitely reference their profession/expertise.
5. Children’s Museum Nerds
- Children’s museum nerds love to mock other museum nerds for not being accessible to anyone under the age of 25, not building exhibits, and talking very seriously about their work because they want to prove that places dedicated to educational play for children is important. However, they’re very active in their communities and in social justice causes Children’s museum nerds are very good people.
5. Art Museum Nerds
- Encyclopedic/general art museum nerds: This is who movies think works in museums, like Wonder Woman. These nerds have very specific glasses. And they all wear glasses, whether they need them or not. The epitome of this are the translucent frames. They love to talk about the dish they cooked from the NYT recipes at their dinner party last week. They have favorite restaurants in Paris and Venice, but have never traveled to more than 5 US states. Note: much of this only applies to department heads/curators, because no one else can afford to have these nerdy quirks. Not the glasses though – that’s universal.
- Contemporary art museum nerds: They have the quirkiest glasses which, again, they wear whether they need them or not. They want to tell you about the road trips they took to Spiral Jetty and Marfa, TX. They walk really fast. They either wear all black all of the time, or a statement top. They have great shoes. Their Instagram and Twitter bios always say their museum position and “views expressed are my own.” In spite of this, they are less pretentious than general art museum nerds.
- Art museum nerds that work at a museum dedicated to the art of just one person: see “house museum nerds.”
6. And finally…History Museum Nerds!
I think when I tell people I work in a museum, they do usually assume “art museum” – I think art museum is the default “museum,” because art museums are the place most associated with hushed voices, guards and an absolute shunning of touch (despite that we work hard as educators and interpreters work to change it but we never will ha ha ha ha ha ha) (I’m kidding actually people love museums). In reality there are far more history museums than any other type of museum in the U.S. According to recent data from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 48% of museums are historical societies! Don’t worry history museum nerd homies, I got mad subcategories for y’all to embrace your diversity and very special brands of nerdiness. While art might be the default “museum,” I definitely feel like when someone describes themselves as a “museum nerd,” you assume they mean they are a history museum nerd.
- Ship and Boat Museum Nerds: According to my partner, “boat museum nerds are weirdly attractive.” I agree that ship & boat museum people are surprisingly youthful, sharp and fun for choosing to spend their 40+ hours a week on something that I personally find to be boring and dry. (But it’s not dry at all! Haha get it.) Our theory is that these are usually bigger operations so they have a need for bigger staff, and it becomes a first stop out of college for history museum nerd youths. Then they realize that having a job with benefits and creative opportunities is cool and they stick around. And then – boom. Hot boat museum nerds are born. Plus, since they’re boats, they tend to be on the coasts. That’s an elitist joke!
- Train Museum Nerds: If you know, you know. Train museum nerds (and train nerds more broadly) tend to be straight cis white men of a certain age. But, since trains and railroad history is very cool and interdisciplinary, they are usually the type of older straight white men that you assume will say something inappropriate to you. Then you’re pleasantly delighted to find that they really only do want to talk about trains and you end up exchanging train emails on the reg.
- Natural History Museum Nerds: This is also what movies think museums are. They are well respected both within and out of the field and have titles like lepidopterologist. They’re also very active on social media. Their clothes are sharp, but not too expensive. They go on vacation to Chaco Canyon.
- Historic sites/Battlefield Museum Nerds: There’s a crossover between the characteristics of both the ship nerds and the train nerds; you’ll find a lot of older gentlemen who have a lot to say, for sure, but you’ll also find young people out of college breathing some life into these sites because they are often seasonal and therefore hire young people as guides for the summer months. Like the botanical garden folks, they get to be outside, so they’re less Vitamin D deprived and depressed. They wear jeans and have fun parties.
- Historic House/Village Museum Nerds: You already know. These are the deep nerds. They talk about the things they do at their historic house or village out of the context of talking about work as though it’s super normal. They make jokes about the year that their house or village is set in and pretend they live in that year. They make museum/history memes for fun.
- State History/National History Museum Nerds: These are the nerds that organize meet-ups for museum professionals (nerds) at local bars and dream up museum-themed trivia nights. They drink hard but they’re pretty fun and well adjusted. Because they’re often state/federal employees, they can afford a lifestyle that allows them to be well adjusted.
This post is dedicated to the super sweet and funny finance manager at a former job who had previously been the executive director of the tiny history museum in our town. On the day of her first exhibition opening, when everyone dresses up a little, she was wearing a lovely red top and said “oh, I forgot. I work in an art museum now, I’m supposed to wear black.” It’s also dedicated to all of the women in their 30’s with perfect glasses and conference outfits that made me feel inferior at professional development opportunities all throughout my 20’s!! Who did I miss? What other types of museum nerds deserve the spotlight?