Brown Bag Lecture: How to Collect an Oil Rig: The Challenges and Opportunities of Contemporary Science, Technology, and Medicine

Lunchtime Lectures
Monday, November 6, 2017
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a Brown Bag Lecture with Sam Alberti, one of our 2017–2018 short-term fellows.

“Something could be modern or it could be in a museum,” the writer and collector Gertrude Stein is said to have observed, “but it could not be both.” Museums today struggle against this misconception, and those who manage science, technology, and medicine (STM) collections also face particular challenges: hazards, immateriality, complexity, and especially scale (some of these things are massive). Rather than be mired in these seemingly insurmountable difficulties, however, I want to focus on the opportunities presented by the material culture of 21st-century STM for historians, curators, and audiences. Exhibitions can use contemporary material to tell stories as well as explain technicalities. We can connect with visitors using everyday objects or put “difficult” material into context while starting from a place of familiarity for visitors who may find STM daunting. In so doing we can challenge their ideas of what a museum does. I am especially interested in the opportunities for research: the research required before an acquisition, the research enabled by new acquisitions, and museological research around the process of acquisition itself. I will use biomedical and technical examples from National Museums Scotland, including an oil-rig acquisition currently under way.

About the Speaker

Sam Alberti is keeper of science and technology at National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh and honorary professor in the Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy at the University of Stirling. He trained in the history of science and medicine. After teaching at the University of Manchester he was director of museums and archives at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (which includes the Hunterian Museum). His books include Nature and Culture: Objects, Disciplines and the Manchester Museum (Manchester University Press, 2009) and Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2011). With colleagues in National Museums Scotland, Sam is undertaking a practical and theoretical evaluation of the challenges and opportunities involved in collecting contemporary science, technology, and medicine. This work deals with the very core of the identity and function of museums.

About the Series

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.