-Taking a gallery at the Birmingham Science Museum as an example
Science interpretation in museums has, until now, largely focused on the products of science-the technological artifacts of our scientific past and the scientific phenomena presented in hands-on galleries. Little, if anything, is said about the process of science- what it is, how it’s done, who does it, and why. This passage will take a new gallery based on science itself in the Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry as an example to show how they plan to interpret science from a cultural perspective, from which science and technology museum in China can learn.
Key words: science, museum, culture, interpretation
Birmingham Science Museum is developing an innovative gallery, Science is . . . , with an aim to ‘look at science itself-what it is, how it is done, who does it and why’. This new gallery aims to raise awareness of science as a key part of our culture. It will inform visitors about the methods, history, philosophy and community of science by looking at topical scientific issues and major shifts in thought in the twentieth century, as well as looking back at the development of scientific thought. The gallery will question misconceptions about science, while promoting more realistic images of science and scientists. It will compare science to other systems of thought, such as art and religion, and will involve visitors to encourage them to develop their natural scientific skills. Five themes will run through the exhibition: values and ethics, the history of science, discoveries and paradigm shifts (with the working title ‘Science is. . . Changing Ideas’), the scientific approach, and images of science and scientists. The challenge is to communicate these ideas to visitors in a stimulating way, encouraging them to develop their scientific skills and ask questions about science and the way it works. If the exhibit is successful we would expect people to pick up on more than just the themes of astronomy and the history of science. We hope that the exhibit at least encourages people to think about how progress in science has had deep, fundamental influences on society. If the visitor leaves the exhibit having had an enjoyable and memorable experience with a sparking of interest in science, its influences and its effects on the way we think about the world, then we have achieved a great deal.
Present situation and the reason
Exhibitions like this have rarely, if ever, been tried before-certainly not in the UK. The only other known examples of similar or related projects are Inquiry at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago; part of Science for Life at the Wellcome Centre for Medical Science in London; and the ‘Science Box’ initiative at the Science Museum, London. Apart from these three examples, museums say very little about science process. However, it is vital to focus more effort in this area to provide a basis of understanding of the products of science. ‘The fundamental essence of a museum which sets it apart from any other type of institution is its interest in acquiring artifacts to mark the passage of time’. This is the primary reason for the inherent lack of science in museum exhibitions. Most western science and natural history museums were originally just storehouses for their collections and have their roots in the curio cabinets and memorabilia collections of the late Reniassance. The Science Museum and Natural History Museum in London grew from the Great Exhibition of 1851, and similarly the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry from the Chicago World’s Fair of 1892. This concentration on the products, or artifacts, of science has resulted in exhibitions of technology or industry, but not of science itself. According to John Durant: ‘These [Science] exhibitions dwell on the past more than the present or future...