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

Avoiding ‘hushed halls of didactic strenuousness’

As the narratives began to develop with the two key principles as guideposts, it became apparent that we also needed to avoid becoming a shrine to great scientific moments, a hall of fame to chemists and the industry, or to quote the lead designer on the project, we needed to avoid becoming a “hushed hall of didactic strenuousness”. This was not always an easy task but CHF felt that it was critical that the museum be an engaging exploration of science as a human endeavour. The visitor will encounter Joseph Priestley, Robert Boyle, Louis Pasteur and other well-known illustrious figures in various narratives in the gallery; however, these ‘great men of progress’ are all presented as participants in a larger historical context.

During the design phase, a unique narrative-based design element was added that CHF called ‘people stories’. These are distinct label panels that tell short stories about individuals or groups and key them to a photograph. But, we purposefully kept our choices for these stories somewhat eclectic, featuring a variety of people and not just scientists. For example, there is the anonymous group of instrument salesmen selling the latest line of Beckman instruments at a tradeshow, Dorothy Nickerson who began as a secretary at the Munsell Color Company and worked her way up through the company and became known as the ‘prophetess of color’, and even Richard Nixon and Ralph Nader who appear as key figures in passing environmental legislation that was influenced by Rachel Carson’s environmental work and her book, Silent Spring.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170811/009