Kiersten F. Latham grew up in Novi, Michigan and went to college in Ann Arbor but spent many years working in Kansas and Ohio after college. Currently, she is the Director of Arts & Cultural Management and Museum Studies, as well as Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at Michigan State University. Prior to this, Dr. Latham spent nine years at Kent State University where she developed and taught in the museum studies specialization within the Master’s in Library & Information Science and ran the experimental MuseLab. She has taught all aspects of museum studies, from administration to collections management to user experience. In addition to academic work, she has worked in, on, and about museums in various capacities for over 30 years, serving as a director, educator, researcher, collections manager, curator, volunteer, and consultant. Her research interests convene around the meaning of museum objects—especially with respect to emotion, perception, sensation, and spirituality—and the conceptual foundations of museums as document systems. She has done research on numinous experiences with museum objects, imaginative touch (of museum objects), user perceptions of ‘the real thing’ in museums, museums as ecological systems, contemplative practices in museums, positive museology, and conceptual ramifications of museum object as document.
My research inquiries are led by my curiosity and interest in what it means to be curious, to be interested, and to wonder. In particular, I am fascinated with the notion of lived experience and what happens when we consider the fuller, more holistic experiences of museum visitors—what they are thinking, feeling, doing, experiencing—all at once. These inquiries often result from my own wondering about assumptions and things we take for granted.
As a part of this, I have always been fascinated with foundational questions and universals. What makes us human? What do I share with someone on the other side of the earth, or from a different time? For that reason, I am interested in finding out similarities and differences of common museum activities and how they manifest in different places and cultures across the world. At the same time, I am in awe of the fact that each person is a unique individual, with a particular accumulation of experiences and encounters and a way of seeing the world that is only his or her own. The research I do tends to start with these underlying foundations—asking what all humans share but also exploring individual differences.
Recently my research has taken a deeper turn towards the positive. Stemming from my earlier research on flow in museums, and my interest in contemplative practices in museum-going, I am developing a framework for a Positive Museology. This project marries work from the positive disciplines with the excellent positive, but un-synthesized research in museum studies.
Latham, K. F., Hartel, J., & Gorichanaz, T. (2020). Information and contemplation: a call for reflection and action. Journal of Documentation, 76(5): 99-1017.
Gorichanaz, T. & Latham, K.F. (2019). Contemplative Aims for Information. Information Research, 24(3), paper 836. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/24-3/paper836.html
Latham, K.F. & Simmons, J.E. (2019). Whither museum studies? Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 60(2): 102-117.
Gorichanaz, T., Latham, K.F., & Wood, E. (2018). Lifeworld as a unit of analysis. Journal of Documentation, 74(4), 880-893. [Awarded 2019 High Distinction, Emerald]
Latham, K.F. (2018, August 15) Do we need Positive Museology? [Blog post].
Latham, K.F. & Simmons, J.E. (2017). Using systems thinking in teaching museum studies. In Jung, Y. & Love, A. R. (Eds), Systems thinking in museums: Theory and practice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Latham, K.F. (2017). The laboratory of museum studies: Museality in the making. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 58(4), 219-235.
Gorichanaz, T. & Latham, K.F. (2016). Document phenomenology: A framework for holistic analysis. Journal of Documentation, 72(6), 1114-1133. [Awarded Outstanding 2016 Paper in Journal of Documentation.]
Latham, K.F. (2016). Psychological flow and the numinous museum experience. University of Michigan Museum Studies Working Papers in Museum Studies, Series, 11. [PDF]
Latham, K.F. (2015). What is the real thing in the museum? An interpretative phenomenological study. Museum Management & Curatorship, 30(1), 2-20. [PDF]
Latham, K.F. (2014). Experiencing documents. Journal of Documentation, 70(4), 544-561. [PDF]
Latham, K.F. & Simmons, J. (2014). Foundations of museum studies: Evolving systems of knowledge. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Wood, E. & Latham, K.F. (2013). The objects of experience: Transforming visitor-object encounters in museums. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Latham, K.F. (2013). Numinous experiences with museum objects. Visitor Studies, 16(1), 3-20. [PDF]