Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: Science in Museums (page 1 of 7)

Science in Museums: The Circle of Life

by columnist Jenna Conversano

Hi all – I’m Jenna, a new Science in Museums columnist, with a particular interest in biology, zoos, and aquariums.

The “hot item” in the news last week was the euthanasia of Marius, a two year-old giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, followed by a massive uproar across the web. If you somehow missed this news story, here is a short recap: the Copenhagen Zoo euthanized their two year-old male giraffe with a shotgun on February 7th. The giraffe’s genes were overrepresented in the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) population and would present an inbreeding risk. Other options—such as sending to a non-EAZA zoo or private individual—were not considered viable. After Marius’s death, zoo staff led a public dissection of the giraffe, followed by visible feeding of the giraffe to its lions. The EAZA executive director, Leslie Dickie, published a statement via CNN fully supporting the Copenhagen Zoo’s actions. The AZA, while itself operating under a firm contraceptive policy, has also been supportive.

One point to consider here, in terms of this column, is whether the Copenhagen Zoo’s culminating actions—the dissection and feeding—was a step towards transparency and the furthering of public science or a misstep in the public perception of zoos.

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Science in Museums: Planning and Development of a Digital Gallery Guide

by columnist Cira Brown

I am in currently in the midst of a project at the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University as part of my fellowship, but I thought it would be useful to write about some of my experiences. My primary responsibility has been the planning and development of digital gallery guide for our upcoming exhibition on the cultural history of anatomy. The curatorial team has defined 3 major thematic narratives (Preparation, Practice and Afterlife) as well as 3 key time periods (roughly, the 16th, 19th and 20th Centuries). Continue reading

Rethinking the “Remaking” of Museums

by columnist Cira Brown
A couple of weeks ago I attended the 41st Annual Museum Computer Network Conference in Montreal, Quebec. A strange name, perhaps, but the organization has been in existence way before personal computers… even before the moonlanding! I was very excited to attend, especially since everything was museum related! It was 5 days of nonstop technology show ‘n’ tell, from both museum staff members and designers and developers from around the world. While I managed to avoid [meta] museum fatigue, it was still a whirlwind experience of learning about countless technological strategies, digital toolsets, education and evaluation frameworks, devices and experiential design.
Museum practice goes hand in hand with The Next Big Thing, and practitioners require an ever-expanding set of skills, many in the technological domain. Sure, we could say that museum people are simply a bunch of nerds, but I’d like to think we’re past branding “new media” as “geek out”-worthy. In fact, while it gets the general point across, I feel the term “new media” has become increasingly vague and meaningless. I feel we’re reaching an inflection point where the media isn’t the predominant message – it’s a means of interpreting and distributing content and engaging with an audience. Effectiveness should trump novelty, and it finally appears to be doing so. Having a dedicated museum app or a touchscreen display in the gallery is wonderful, but these devices need to be held to the same educational litmus tests as their analog counterparts. It is the museum’s role to employ all types of media – “new” and “old” – to meet their educational goals.
I found this perspective to be common among those at the MCN conference. The theme of the this year’s conference was, fittingly, Re:Making the Museum, as technology is often cited as the harbinger of change in this field (though when was the last time you saw a museum conference that didn’t implicitly reference change?). However, I think a better summation would have been The Museum Remade (Re:Made?), as I was struck the amount of projects that were not only completed, but accompanied by extensive evaluation and usability data. Surprisingly few proofs of concept or proposals were presented, a shift from conferences held as little as three to four years ago. While there was obviously a sample bias in the population in attendance, I was nonetheless impressed by the apparent degree to which technological initiatives were valued by their host institutions – not only in sponsoring them, but extending their usage into a long-term plan incorporating continued collaboration and evaluation. This investment and valuation of technology in the museum space is essential for its effectiveness. In my next column, I’ll be reviewing one of these “remade” museums, or rather, exhibitions: the newly-opened Hall of Human Life at the Museum of Science here in Boston.

Feedback Wanted! Rapid Contextual Redesign of Mammal Skull Mystery Exhibit at the Museum of Science

by columnist Catherine Sigmond

Lately I’ve been working on a project to evaluate and rapidly redesign the Mammal Skull Mystery exhibit at the Museum of Science. After weeks of evaluating how people use the exhibit (read: stalking visitors and then awkwardly trying to talk to them about it) and reflecting on those observations, we’re now in the storyboarding phase of the design process.

As we prepare to start discussing our high-level vision for the new exhibit with stakeholders at the museum, I thought that I would share where we are so far and a little bit about what’s influenced our designs.

Here’s what the exhibit looks like now:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 10.27.17 AM

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Science in Museums: Carl Akeley, Museum Innovator

by columnist Kacie Rice

Carl Akeley, museum hero and innovator, posing with a leopard he took down bare-handed. Photo from the American Museum of Natural History.

Carl Akeley, museum hero and innovator, posing with a leopard he took down bare-handed. Photo from the American Museum of Natural History.

“Why museums?” It’s a question that haunts the museum world – whether it’s, “Why do you work in a museum?”, “Why should we bring our students on a museum field trip?”, “Why do we need museums?”, or the big one, “Why should my organization give money to your museum?”, we answer this question all the time. We answer that we’re advocates of free choice learning, that we preserve and protect our collective heritage, that we create valuable community gathering spaces, and for some of us, that we really do just like hanging out in smelly rooms full of animal skins. For the last century and a half, museums have been any and all of these things to our society and to the people who work in them, but they’ve also provided a service that many people don’t expect: innovation.

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