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What do Museums Communicate? Embedding Participation as an Integral Component of Science Center and Museum Narratives
  • Erik Stengler
Erik Stengler
SUNY Oneonta - Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta - Cooperstown Graduate Program

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Science Centers and Museums are indeed becoming communication hubs for many research areas, including, of course, Earth and Environmental Sciences. Over the last decades numerous new channels have opened for two-way communication and museums have embraced them enthusiastically, promoting dialogue and participation. The incorporation of citizen science, for example, into exhibitions and programming is one of the most recent trends in this direction. Often the question arises, however, of what such activities have to do with the objects and exhibits in the museum, and this perceived disconnect is used as an objection against such activities, which end up being considered as simple contingent add-ons that could just as well be done elsewhere, instead of necessary elements of museum communication. I will present a vision of museum communication that integrates such activities as part of its narrative, as long as they are incorporated using the unique and specific power of the language of exhibitions, a.k.a. the museographic language. To do so I ask the question: what is the museographic language good at communicating? In other words – what do museums communicate? If we center the answer around the concept of “phenomena” or “processes” we will be able to see how museum objects as well as interactive exhibits and a whole range of participatory activities can be successfully combined into a unique mode of communication through exhibitions that complements other channels in the ecosystem of science communication. While there are many scientific disciplines that can be communicated well using primarily collections of objects, other research areas, like Earth and Environmental Sciences need to extend their communication in Science Centers and Museums to include phenomena or processes (as well as objects) in order to actively engage audiences and harness their participation to shape the future of research and of science in society. I will share practical examples and recommendations for these disciplines.