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Technology Museums: Past, Present, Future


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Presentation to American Precision Museum Board of Advisors, August 2013. Technology museums have a long history, and each era creates a museum that is useful to it. As museums change "from being about something to being for someone," how does the American Precision Museum carry out its mission?

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Technology Museums: Past, Present, Future

  1. 1. Steven Lubar Brown University For American Precision Museum August 2013
  2. 2. A long history for today’s industrial and technical museum: anthropology, art, commercial, cultural, design, educational, historical, natural history, patriotic, scientific.... Each era gets the museums it needs!
  3. 3. A representation of the nation as orderly, progressive, part of natural order of things.
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. Patent models on display; a democracy of learning. Science and invention in the service of entrepreneurship and business.
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. “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
  8. 8. Maritime exhibit, from most primitive to most advanced
  9. 9. Textile technology from throughout the world, across time, organized by degree of sophistication
  10. 10. Sponsored by the industry: relics, synoptic series, contemporary trends
  11. 11. The first task of every museum is “adding to the happiness, wisdom, and comfort of members of the community.” —John Cotton Dana, 1917
  12. 12. Industrial museums in service to industry; informing employers of new safety apparatus.
  13. 13. “An endeavor to preserve, for educational purposes, the most important tools and developments of industry, with particular reference to metal working tools“ “Fostering and furtherance of commercial and industrial education”
  14. 14. To collect and display machinery, and as a school for apprentices.
  15. 15. Inspired by Deutsches Museum. A teaching museum, popular, providing a large audience with notions of progress.
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. “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  Do-All Exhibition, Chicago, 1960
  18. 18. Textile Machinery and Fiber Exhibit, Smithsonian Institution, 1960
  19. 19. Exhibits of machinery, machine relics, models of machineries, with a good bit of “how it works” text.
  20. 20.  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?
  21. 21. Using objects, but not making the show about objects Telling stories without obvious artifacts Moving beyond “how it works”
  22. 22. Tool chests as symbols of pride and indicators of skill
  23. 23. Many voices telling many stories
  24. 24. Moving from a parking lot of old cars...
  25. 25. an exhibit that addresses infrastructure, immigration and migration, travel, trade and commerce. Mass transit mixed with the individual cars.
  26. 26. 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?
  27. 27.  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 [and 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
  28. 28. New technology, new techniques New stories to tell New audiences New goals New challenges!
  29. 29. MUSEUM QUESTIONS How can museums connect history to present-day concerns? How can they attract new audiences? How can they involve the audience and the subjects in the museum in appropriate ways? How might they serve as tourist hubs and economic engines? How might they supplement the schools or serve as a replacement for schools, especially as part of job training or retraining?
  30. 30.  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
  31. 31. Volunteer, Do-it-yourself, collections and workshops Hobbyist
  32. 32. After-school arts and engineering programs; teach students to make things. Hobbyist Education
  33. 33. “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
  34. 34. “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
  35. 35. “...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
  36. 36. Developed 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
  37. 37. 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
  38. 38. History of industry and technology subsumed under the history of business and innovation. Education National Identity History National story Innovation
  39. 39. 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. “
  40. 40. APM FOCUS Innovation—What is it? How does it occur? Work—How are technical training, craftsmanship, and skill passed along? How important are these attributes today? American Culture—How did the machinists and tool builders of “Precision Valley” influence the course of American history, helping drive rapid industrialization, the emergence of the United States as a world power, and the development of the consumer culture?