American Museums of the History of Technology


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Slides of my talk at the Eisenbibliothek conference on museums of the history of technology

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  • With a complicated relationship to European museums... Tours, but not much overlap
  • So in the eraly years, an overlap of technology and science and commerce seen as natural.
  • Museums of safety founded to inform employers of new safety apparatus – they also had drawings, charts, presented lectures. Machinery, Sept. 1912, p. 31. Google books
  • From Michael Wallace, “Visiting the Past” NYT September 08, 1929,
  • Mention maker’s movement in US
  • Science museum as tourist attraction
  • American Museums of the History of Technology

    1. 1. Steven Lubar Brown University November 2010
    3. 3. Many ancestors to the technical museum: anthropology, art, commercial, cultural, design, educational, historical, natural history, patriotic, scientific, technical... We have simplified our history and need to look to the past for a broader perspective
    4. 4. A representation of the nation as orderly, progressive, part of natural order of things. National Popular
    5. 5. Organized mechanics exhibitions so that inventors and manufacturers could show off their products and learn from each other. These were both technical and commercial events Commercial Scientific
    6. 6. Patent models on display; a democracy of learning. Science and invention in the service of entrepreneurship and business.
    7. 7. National Popular Commercial
    8. 8. The popular museum, hoaxes and humbug as well as nature and technology. Interactive in a very modern way; Visitors engage with curators to decide what’s real, what’s true Popular
    9. 9. Educational Historical Cultural Popular
    10. 10. “The museum of the past must be set aside, reconstructed, transformed from a cemetery of bric-a-brac into a nursery of living thoughts.” —George Brown Goode, Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1889
    11. 11. Maritime exhibit, from most primitive to most advanced
    12. 12. Textile technology from throughout the world, across time, organized by degree of sophistication
    13. 13. Educational Commercial Community The first task of every museum is “adding to the happiness, wisdom, and comfort of members of the community.” —John Cotton Dana, 1917
    14. 14. Industrial museums in service to industry; informing employers of new safety apparatus. Educational Commercial
    15. 15. To collect and display machinery, and as a school for apprentices. “Life had been better in the old days and it had been getting better ever since” - - a corporate employer's vision of history; “a static utopia,” Historical National
    16. 16. Inspired by Deutsches Museum. A teaching museum, popular, providing a large audience with notions of progress. Educational Popular
    17. 17. Educational Commercial
    18. 18. To show the wonders of modern industry and the value of engineers. One of several similar schemes of the 1920s, including Museum of the Peaceful Arts, New York Educational
    19. 19. Popular Commercial
    20. 20. “A fetishized history, focusing on technological developments and ignoring social relations of production, to say nothing of class struggle.” --Michael Wallace, 1981  Boeing: Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, 1952  The American Iron and Steel Institute: Restored 17th-century ironworks in Saugus, MA, 1954  .R.J. Reynolds, Inc.: helped restore Miksch Tobacco Shop (1957) in Old Salem, 1950s  Textile industry: Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, 1950s- ’60s Commercial
    21. 21. Textile Machinery and Fiber Exhibit, Smithsonian Institution, 1960 Educational
    22. 22. Exhibits of machinery, machine relics, models of machineries, with a good bit of “how it works” text. Educational
    23. 23.  Putting people back in the story; articulating the relationship of people and technology (technology as part of cultural and social history)  Putting technology back in culture; beyond autonomous technology  Overcoming notions of “progress”: How to make technology part of history, but not simply tell a progress story?
    24. 24. Using objects, but not making the show about objects Telling stories without obvious artifacts Moving beyond “how it works”
    25. 25. Increasingly, a public that doesn’t have a personal connection to the subject More interest in very recent technology How to involve the audience and the subjects in the museum in appropriate ways?
    26. 26.  Museums should foster “the ability to live productively in a pluralist society and … contribute to the resolution of the challenges we face as global citizens…... [include] a broader spectrum of our diverse society... [have] respect for the many cultural and intellectual viewpoints that museum collections stand for and stimulate.” —Excellence and Equity, 1992  Museums as tourist hubs and economic engines  Museums as schools or replacement for schools
    27. 27. Old Sturbridge Village, 2009
    28. 28. Tool chests as symbols of pride and indicators of skill
    29. 29. Moving from a parking lot of old cars...
    30. 30. an exhibit that addresses infrastructure, immigration and migration, travel, trade and commerce. Mass transit mixed with the individual cars.
    31. 31.  Museum as site for hobbyists  Museum as economic engine  Museum as educational institution / supplement to schools/job training site  Museum as tourist attraction  Technology and industry as a small part of a larger story
    32. 32. Volunteer, Do-it-yourself, collections and workshops Hobbyist
    33. 33. After-school arts and engineering programs; teach students to make things. Hobbyist Education
    34. 34. “The Institute has become a dynamic agent of change through its rich array of internationally recognized exhibitions and programs, lectures and discussions themed to illuminate issues in contemporary science, community outreach initiatives particularly targeted to girls and to urban youth, and its series of innovative partnerships in public education. “ Tourist Attraction Education
    35. 35. “Encounter ideas that change the world, travel through America’s past, embark on America’s greatest factory tour and more. It all comes together at The Henry Ford, America’s greatest history attraction” Tourist attraction Education Commercial
    36. 36. “...providing learning experiences that support students and teachers making meaningful and tangible connections between what they learn in school with what they value in the world beyond classroom walls through Design Challenges. School
    37. 37. Under development now by the BNYDC, an organization whose goal is to promote local economic development, this exhibit will share space with a Job Training Center whose participants will take inspiration from the stories of hard work and invention told in the exhibition half of the building. Job Training Development
    38. 38. Complete renovation; moving from rows of historic machine tools to an interpretive center. “The guiding principle for the next five years is to blend old and new to tell how the history preserved in the museum and its collections is connected with precision manufacturing and the world of today. “ Education Job Training Development
    39. 39. Increase science literacy in the general public Encourage young people to develop and maintain their natural interest in science and innovation while learning to apply these skills to real life problems Help people understand scientific and business principles and the associated career opportunities. Job training Economic development
    40. 40. History of industry and technology subsumed under the history of business and innovation. Education National Identity
    41. 41. New technology, new techniques New stories to tell New audiences New goals New challenges!