Go back to article: Museums theme – Beyond the Black Box: reflections on building a history of chemistry museum


This paper shows how the curatorial team of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) dealt with institutional tensions in the process of creating a new museum within an existing institution. The initial desire to emphasise narrative evolved into an exhibition that was much more about structuring narratives around artefacts: ‘the two guiding principles were to structure the narratives around the artefacts and to emphasize the social context over the scientific or technical information.’ The importance of determining audience early in an exhibition project and allowing the audience decision to drive content decisions is explored. The paper emphasises, moreover, the need to satisfy several competing interest groups. It was important to maintain an objective distance from the chemical industry, normally assumed to be calling the shots in exhibits such as this, but also not to be so distanced from public expectations as to evoke the well-recalled wrath that had attended the Smithsonian exhibition, Science in American Life. The crisis in museums, as perceived by the team, was therefore an active factor both in provoking an approach to issues of social and technical impact and in warning of the limits.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170811/001