TEMSIG History of Technology, Museums, and Public History Special Interest Group

Minutes of TEMSIG Meeting

SHOT--Cleveland, Nov. 5, 2011


We met at 4:45pm, in the Marriott Hotel lobby bar, after returning from a very interesting tour of the Dittrick Medical Museum. Due to the conference session schedule, some members joined us later.

We were welcomed by Allison Marsh, TEMSIG Chair.

One piece of official business -- meeting with Suzanne Moon, editor of T&C, about how to get more public history in the pages of T&C. Museum and exhibit reveiws are there currently, but what more can we do? Special features or regular features? She proposed a roundtable, workshop, something, about questions of Public History in the History of Science and Technology, for next year's meeting, with the purpose of creating more potential articles for the pipeline. Moon wants to brainstorm potential speakers/topics for this. Some ideas:

So just brainstorming -- stuff to pass on to Suzanne Moon?

Doug Lantry would like to see people thinking about how complex SHOT ideas are translated into simple ideas for exhibits. Suzanne Fischer would like to talk about collecting, especially controversial things. Juliet Burba thought we shouldn't just focus on T&C -- this is a challenge for Isis as well. Lantry noted his interest in challenges posed by collections. Alex Bochannek wondered how far we want to go into museological stuff, with a risk of losing some of the T&C audience -- would be interested in the "history of public history" -- Science Museum, Deutches Museum, etc. Also old exhibit reviews are very interesting -- in some cases haven't changed a bit. Bob Casey thought the discussion of collections could get to some of the larger issues -- how do you decide what to collect, especially that will reflect well in 20 years? General assent. Eric Nystrom mentioned perhaps triangulating collection history and museum history -- how these things and their messages came to be.

Marsh: two things that got discussed -- Moon said "I don't know anything about Public History, but I'll know it when I see it, am open to it." Debbie Douglas, a PH, writes for T&C, but the output isn't like Public History -- reviewers have no way to analyze a good label, etc. So what will it look like?

Casey: one thing T&C did during the Henry Ford years -- picked artifacts and wrote little pieces about them, could be an interesting way to get stuff out, think about artifacts, taking these things and open them up to the public? Marsh agreed.

Alex: also, how can you take these articles and inform the research back? Katariina Mauranen -- that's my research, actually.

Aron Levy: what's the balance you would strike now between glass case displays and hands-on? Fischer: depends on what sort of museum you're talking about, science museum vs. history musems etc... Lantry -- depends on funding too. For us, all STEM -- and STEM often means kinesthetic experience, but diff vs. objects -- depents on audience, etc. Burba -- agrees -- At Bakken -- big interest is STEM education, especially for younger audiences. Lantry's museum, also a memorial, dual identity causes tension -- STEM, technical minded, vs. veterans' preference for long acronyms and things they used. Alex -- i.e. who is your public? Burba -- but also finding that audience -- figuring out how to get the history in there, when what people want is STEM edu. General assent -- great topic for roundtable -- history in STEM education. GOOD ROUNDTABLE TOPIC. Burba -- HSS panel on engaging with the public, but it wasn't a museum public. Scripps -- in science policy, seems like you have to take a positive stance on science -- but do we as historians have to take that stance, and what about museums? general discussion. Rhees -- doing history of medical device industry, oral history, so these guys often hate the FDA, regulation is a big issue, but there perspective is very pro-industry, of course -- so how does he develop a program that documents this regulation of medical devices that meets their needs but also offers broader perspectives?

Alex: curious if anyone does any work with public radio/TV/media? Lantry -- History Channel calls all the time. Alex -- engage, or looking for B-roll? Lantry: for us, we have stuff that relates to stories they are interested in... Casey -- right -- we respond -- don't know anyone is going out to the media. Burba -- Minnesota Science Museum with American Anthropolical Association exhibit on Race -- Public TV did a piece on it. But other times, frequently, it's dateline or CBC or whatever coming to us because of a specific thing in collection. Alex -- Public History in your institution is a safe environment, but when you work with external media it leaves your control some. STEM idea here.

Burba: one of the HSS lessons from session this morning was you have to let go of "Your Voice" -- it's not yours anymore. Someone else's voice when it's out in the public. So have to be careful, because the media, for exmaple, will do what they are interested in doing. But there's no bad coverage.

Scripps: CHF does its own podcasts, for example. Alex -- right -- active involement in social media -- see what we can do. Idea: Joint TEMSIG podcast. It's a lot of work, several people agree, but interesting idea. Lemelson Center does it too. CHF ones are shorter, reports Marsh. Oral history programss help with some content you can fold into it. Who is audience? Alex: the museum-going public -- SHOTcast. Lantry has put podcasts on website, but was frustrated because lectures didn't include pictures.

Marsh: so keep thinking about ideas, sent to Marsh or Nystrom -- specific topics, or ideas for good speakers. Nystrom: and use TEMSIG list to continue discussion.

Fischer -- NCPH

Intersection between SHOT interests and PH interests -- many of us meet at NCPH, do we want to plan anything there?

We've done NCPH dine-arounds before.

Alex: Anyone go to AAM? Marsh and a few others do.

Other topics

Aron: thoughts on SI's "museum day" -- what's everyone's feeling? Has it been successful? Conversation-- no idea. Casey -- what consitutes success? If it's return visits, hard to track.

Lantry: evaluation? How do you know how you're doing? Alex just had a summative evaluation at CHM, has really helped understand what visitors like, etc.. but even more useful was a focus group study, what a group that hadn't been would expect to see at the museum. Real eye-opener. We used a marketing firm for that. Learned a ton about local audience.

Marsh: broader question about evaluation. Evaluation a huge part of discussion of NSF Informal Education evaluation panel -- people are very concerned about getting results. Lantry--so how do we make this interesting to history? Creation of evaluation metrics etc? Burba -- exactly -- for history, what are appropriate outcomes for the audience? That's a very difficult one. STEM outcomes are easier though.

Nystrom: how can I, as a historian and academic but non-museum-person help? "Field guide to working for museums for an academic?" or (Lantry) "field guide for museums, how to work with academics?" Lantry reported their plan to bring engineering students to see objects that embody solving problems over time. So trying to make this into an education thing -- sort of a Walter Vincenti thing. Marsh loves it -- tried at the National Postal Museum -- but never got off the ground, as the Education Department in the museum was not on board. Alex -- depends on how other departments get involved. We do the innovation cycle thing with K-12 and it works great. Marsh -- is that the kind of thing museum communities would put into T&C?

Bedi: we're doing something we don't know will work -- early stages of planning new exhibit at NMAH -- "places of invention" -- not STEM but 21st century skills. What charcteristics to de see in stories that tie together place and invention? Maps well on to problem solving, etc., as skills are also characteristic of places of invention. Not just Silicon Valley but other places, through history. Exhibit is scheduled for late 2014.

Jaume Sastre: how could museums interact more with academic historians -- does there exist a thing like "Call for Exhibitions?" You get several propsals, consider the best? Agreement -- funding is the issue -- but interesting. Bedi -- we tried it a little with Second Life .. probably not that useful in the long run but a good learning experience. Comes back to "how you measure success". Marsh -- some of the British museum have been in forefront of community-curated exhibits, using digital technology to capture object-based community history, but there's always a curatorial team behind it to shape things. Alex -- important to also keep in mind the professional perspective -- ends up eroding curatoral jobs.

Marsh: another good point for roundtable -- curators come in for exhibits, but aren't caring for the collections. Professional issues. Discussion. Mauranen: In Britain, they bring in academic advisors. Alex: here, depends on community, funders, etc.

Alex: earlier we talked about how we can push our knowledge out, but taking knowledge in is more tricky. Minnesota state fair -- 100 objects -- worked well for temporary exhibit, but not necessarily permanent exhibit. (Minnesota History Center, Minnesota 150). Debbie Douglas did it with MIT 150.

Marsh: for second year in a row, have been in a meeting place that is tough for talking -- too loud -- but question -- going forward, do we like this format, or do we want to block out a time in a room where it's quiet etc? Cons: when SHOT moved to Sunday SIGs, TEMSIG people objected because we are united by methodology, not content, so had to miss content-oriented SIGs. But do we want something other than cocktail meetings? Bedi liked this, but wished it started after session ended. Lantry likes the comfortable conversational format, but if it could happen in a room, like at a restaurant, that would work well.

Any other topics?

Alex: knowing about the NCPH dine-around stuff on the TEMSIG mailing list would be good. Fischer will coordinate.

Nystrom: do we want to do museum tours for future TEMSIG meetings? General enthusiastic support. Mauranen can talk to the curator at Copenhagen Maritime Museum for next year.


Alex Bochannek: Computer history museum opened new exhibit -- "Revolution: 2000 years of computing" -- very big exhibits.

Bob Casey: if you're in the Dearborn area after January 2012, The Henry Ford has completely redone the automobile exhibit -- 80,000 square feet. The biggest experiment they are doing is 18 touchscreen kiosks with interactive activities and enhanced access to the collection. That piece is something that will need a lot of evaluation to see if it was worth the cost and effort.

Joyce Bedi: they are putting together a prototype website for what they are planning for Lemelson. The site is up, and Bedi will post it to the list. Just to give you something easy to update, down and dirty, to get some ideas and feedback.


Adjourned 5:58pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Eric Nystrom, Vice-Chair
November 9, 2011

[posted to TEMSIG list as draft, April 17, 2012. Minor corrections and formatting, January 20, 2013.]