Artefacts 2016

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Science Museum Library

165 Queen's Gate

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Understanding Use: Science and Technology Objects and Users

Artefacts Meeting, Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library, 2-4 October 2016

Just as transport has passengers, ovens have cooks, lawnmowers have gardeners, instruments have experimenters, Davy lamps have miners, radio has listeners, books have readers, television and film have audiences  … and museums have visitors.

Objects in science and technology museum collections have all, before their museum ‘lives’, been involved in many histories of consumption and use. In fact the ‘working use’ of an object is often the main reason for its acquisition. The turn towards studies of use in technology studies is therefore highly congenial to curators and exhibition makers in science museums. This can manifest itself in social history displays, object biographies, and some close readings of wear and experience; in other words both object-centred research and display practice (historical and contemporary) have much to contribute in developing user studies as presently conceived in STS.

Across the two days of this conference, with 26 papers and a concert, we will be drawing out comparisons between differing kinds of user history. What methodologies have been used in museums and universities to reveal histories of use, and which approaches have greatest analytical value? At the same time, the organisers argue, a focus on users in the past also offers a route to a rapprochement between object-related research in museums and that other kind of museum research, visitor research, as surely visitors are themselves users of museums. As we understand the relationships between objects and people in the past, so we can apply that understanding to the users of our exhibitions in the present. Equally, the myriad of ways in which social research has sought to understand the responses of visitors and other audiences holds out the promise of many registers in which artefacts in use may be understood.


Artefacts XXI, 2016: Understanding UseScience and Technology Objects and Users

Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library, 2-4 October

SUNDAY, 2 October, Meet at Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library

13.00 Tours of Science Museum Exhibitions and Galleries

14:00 Information Age

Dana Studio, Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library

15.00 Welcome Address: Tim Boon (Science Museum) and Oli Betts (National Railway Museum)

15:15  Session 1: Focusing on Users:

Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi (Brock University): “Larry’s Wheelbarrow and Amelia’s Purse: Forging User Identities through Disability Technologies”

Liz Haines (RHUL / Science Museum): “Colonial Bureaucracy in Action: Using Material Culture to Identify Conditions of Possibility”

Doug Millard (Science Museum): “How Right is the Right Stuff? Astronauts as Users of Technology”

16:45 Tea

17.15  Keynote One

Martin Collins (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum): “Museums and Visitor Self-Fashioning as a Mode of ‘Use’”

Media Space Studio, Science Museum

18.45 Film Screening of ‘Museums of the New Age’ with New Score by Jean-Philippe Calvin Introduction by Jaume Sastre-Juan (Universidade de Lisboa): “Filming the ‘Museums of the New Age’: The Appropriation of European Industrial Museums in New York City (1927)”

Making the Modern World gallery, Science Museum

20.00 Buffet Dinner

MONDAY, 3 October

Dana Studio, Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library

9.00 Session 2 – Technical Objects

Julia Bloemer (Deutsches Museum): “Heritage of Usage, Users of Heritage –Instruments of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in the Deutsches Museum”

Jane Desbrough (Science Museum): “Revealing Uses of Early Modern Clocks and Watch Dials”

Carola Dahlke (Deutsches Museum): “Biography of Use of a German SG-41Z Cipher Device”

10.30 Coffee

11:00 Panel One: Questioning Everyday Objects (15 minute papers and discussion)

Claire Jones (University of Kent): “Selling Smiles and the User Experience of the Toothbrush in Britain, c. 1870-1948”

Artemis Yagou (Deutsches Museum): “How did they play? Children and Construction Sets (c.1830-1940)”

Sophie Waring (Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford): “Back from the Dead: A Social History of Penicillin Consumption and a Long-History of Antibiotic Resistance”

Jennifer Levasseur (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution): “When Seconds Count: Astronaut Personal Timekeeping Devices”

12:30-13:30 Lunch

13.30 News Update from all Museums

15.30 Coffee Break

16:00 Panel Two – Recreating Scientific Contexts (15 minute papers and discussion)

Simona Casonato (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo Da Vinci, Milano): “Laboratory Life in Milan”

Pedro Raposo (Adler Planetarium, Chicago): “Hands on the Heavens: Celestial Cartography and its Users”

Alison Boyle (Science Museum):  “On the Shelf: Unused Collections”

Eugenio Bertozzi (Europa-Universität Flensburg): “Science and Technology Objects and Users: The Case of the Fully-Automatized Cloud Chamber by the Officine Galileo in Florence”

18.00 Paper and demonstration:

Aleks Kolkowski (Science Museum and British Library) and Amy Blier-Carruthers (Royal College of Music): “The Art and Science of Acoustic Recording: Re-enacting Arthur Nikisch and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s 1913 Recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”

Dinner (make your own arrangements; please see list of local restaurants)

TUESDAY, 4 October

Dana Studio, Science Museum Dana Research Centre and Library

9.00 Session 3: Modes of Display

Bart Hacker and Margaret Vining (Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History): “Women Using Uniforms: Symbolizing Citizenship in the Great War”

Jean-Baptiste Gouyon (UCL / Science Museum): “Do Not Touch, Please. Exhibiting for the Blind at the Science Museum, 1948-1950”

Kimon Keramidas (New York University): “The Interface Experience: Staging Computers as Objects of Use and Using Computers as Tools of Display”

Karin Tybjerg (Medical Museion, Copenhagen): “Exhibiting Epistemic Artefacts”

11.00 Coffee

11.30 Session 4: Visitors as Users:

Maroula Bachoridou (Μassachusetts Institute of Technology): “Embodied User Interfaces towards a Tangible Material Heritage”

Jessica Bradford ((Science Museum): “Audience Participation and User-Centric Interpretation at the Science Museum”

F. Robert van der Linden and Margaret A. Weitekamp (Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum): “Teaching Visitors to Think like Historians: The Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museums”

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Keynote Two

Sam Alberti (National Museums Scotland): “Using Scientific Museum Objects in the Later Twentieth Century”

15:00 (approx.) End of conference

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