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The Art of Displaying Science: Museum Exhibitions

  • Hilde Hein
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 182)

Abstract

Science museums have recently become important instruments of science education. Unlike schools and universities, which continue to be the chief centers of formal education and training for professional research, museums are resources for spontaneous discovery in an informal setting. Addressed to both the general public and to scholars, museums collectively have a mission that is complex and diverse. They are required to combine elementary education and exposure to basic concepts of science with collection and preservation of rare and sophisticated research materials. They must combine serious pedagogy with artful entertainment and offer something of interest to both the expert and the novice.

Keywords

Natural History Museum Science Center Aesthetic Experience Science Museum American Museum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 4.
    The three story building housed the collection of the Tradescants, father and son, and was left to their heir John Ashmole. Edward P. Alexander, Museums in Motion (American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, Tenn., 1979), p. 42.Google Scholar
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    Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, trans. by John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    Gary Kulik, ‘Designing the past: History-museum exhibitions from Peale to the present’, in Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig (eds.), History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment (Urbana, Ill. Univ. of Illinois Press, 1989).Google Scholar
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    By comparison to today’s technology, the anatomically perfect glass flowers in the Harvard University Botanical Museum’s Ware Collection seem tame. They were produced over a period of fifty years by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka (1886–1936) nominally as botanical teaching tools. Now preserved as museum objects, they are still inspiring as much for their detailed verisimilitude and the skill of their workmanship as for their beauty. Stephen Jay Gould calls them the perfect solution to the problem “What is the proper balance of specimen and artifact, of the natural and the manufactured? (in a museum exhibition)” “They represent the most sublime union of natural beauty and human ingenuity, of science and art” Discover, November 1993, p. 92.Google Scholar
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    Some exhibitions include demonstrations in the form of skits. The Boston Museum of Science’s “Mysteries of the Bog” (1994), for example, features a one-woman performance that supplements the largely ecological message with a bit of social and cultural history.Google Scholar
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    ‘Always true to the object in our fashion’, in Ivan Karp and Steven Lavine (eds.), Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. 1990). Production for museum display is a new notion associated with the modernist aesthetic. Most objects designated as art, even in the western art historical tradition, were produced for other sites — church walls, public buildings, private sanctuaries. They have come to rest in museums as a kind of apotheosis.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Raymond Bruman, Cookbook I: A Construction Manual for Exploratorium Exhibits (San Francisco: The Exploratorium, 1987). Volumes II-IV were subsequently published by Ron Hipschman.Google Scholar
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    Hilde Hein, ‘The museum as teacher of theory: A case history of the Exploratorium vision section’, Museum Studies Journal 2, 4, Spring-Summer 1987. See also The Exploratorium: The Museum as Laboratory (Washington D.C: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990).Google Scholar
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    Insights: Museums, Visitors, Attitudes, Expectations: A Focus Group Experiment, Sponsored by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts and the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991, Los Angeles, Ca.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hilde Hein
    • 1
  1. 1.College of the Holy CrossWorcesterUSA

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