In the last few years Science Museums and Science Centers are getting great relevance for many reasons throughout the world, including in the Latin American countries. However, a troublesome aspect may be noticed in most exhibits ‐‐ a disregard of a critical historical perspective. In these spaces, Science and technology are presented in a way that reinforces the notion of finished knowledge not subject to questioning or refutation. Or, in other instances, Science is presented as part of the evolution of humanity, a linear development, without conflicts or ruptures, towards the progress. This fact ends up reinforcing some myths and distortions of the public image of Science and technology.

The objective of this work is to elaborate on the lack of critical historical view in the presentation of Science in museums and Science centers, showing how they reinforce either (1) an ahistorical view or (2), when approached historically, in an evolutionist and linear conception.

The hypothesis is that museum visitors are not led to understand Science and technology as a social process whose political (conflict of interests), economic, and cultural (beliefs and values) aspects interfere with the collective work of production of knowledge.

To test this hypothesis, 4 Science and technology museums of Belo Horizonte (the third largest Brazilian city) have been investigated. The choice was not based on their impact on the public, even though they are among the six most visited one and the ones most frequently mentioned in the media. They have been chosen because the cover different areas of knowledge and they have distinct management models. Namely, they are Telecommunications Museum, Natural Science Museum of Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, which stands out for its Peter Lunt Exhibit, http://www.pucminas.br/museu/index.php?pagina=216; the Morphology Science Museum of Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (www.ufmg.br/rededemuseus/mcm), and the Arts and Trades Museum (www.mao.org.br). Having defined the museums, the representation of Science they passed on to visitors was evaluated the through three means: (a) a questionnaire applied to the visitors. (b) Focal discussion groups with elementary school students who visited the museum with their teachers and (c) analysis of three Science historians about the analysis of the social‐historical meanings of materials/ideas presented in these Science museums. The questionnaires, discussions with focal groups, and analyses followed these questions in general terms. How were these objects/ideas/procedures discovered/invented? What are the advantages of these ideas/procedures/products in relation to the ones that existed at the time? Would there have been ay reason(s) to refuse such innovations? Which?

The results show that regardless of the pleasure/interest displayed by the visitors in relation to the subjects explored, there is a very large difficulty to evaluate the social and historical meaning of the discoveries/inventions presented. Most visitors did not succeed in formulating much more than stereotypical remarks that “there was total ignorance before” or that “things have become much easier” in relation to the discoveries/inventions presented. In the case of a small group that hinted at a historical comprehension, it was justified with information and experience previous to the visit to the museum.

Although the cases examined are local, we believe that their conceptions and the reactions that they produce in the public go beyond the regional and national contexts. In our viewpoint, both the initial questioning and the analysis methods used and even the results obtained may help to revise the public communication about science and technology in museums and science centers. It is not a matter of transforming the existing Science centers to Science history museums. The main point of this communication is to endorse the social history of Science as a tool to organize science museum exhibits.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

How does the history of Science get into the museums?

Bernardo Oliveira   Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Betania Figueiredo   Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Graciela Oliver   Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

In the last few years Science Museums and Science Centers are getting great relevance for many reasons throughout the world, including in the Latin American countries. However, a troublesome aspect may be noticed in most exhibits ‐‐ a disregard of a critical historical perspective. In these spaces, Science and technology are presented in a way that reinforces the notion of finished knowledge not subject to questioning or refutation. Or, in other instances, Science is presented as part of the evolution of humanity, a linear development, without conflicts or ruptures, towards the progress. This fact ends up reinforcing some myths and distortions of the public image of Science and technology.

The objective of this work is to elaborate on the lack of critical historical view in the presentation of Science in museums and Science centers, showing how they reinforce either (1) an ahistorical view or (2), when approached historically, in an evolutionist and linear conception.

The hypothesis is that museum visitors are not led to understand Science and technology as a social process whose political (conflict of interests), economic, and cultural (beliefs and values) aspects interfere with the collective work of production of knowledge.

To test this hypothesis, 4 Science and technology museums of Belo Horizonte (the third largest Brazilian city) have been investigated. The choice was not based on their impact on the public, even though they are among the six most visited one and the ones most frequently mentioned in the media. They have been chosen because the cover different areas of knowledge and they have distinct management models. Namely, they are Telecommunications Museum, Natural Science Museum of Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, which stands out for its Peter Lunt Exhibit, http://www.pucminas.br/museu/index.php?pagina=216; the Morphology Science Museum of Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (www.ufmg.br/rededemuseus/mcm), and the Arts and Trades Museum (www.mao.org.br). Having defined the museums, the representation of Science they passed on to visitors was evaluated the through three means: (a) a questionnaire applied to the visitors. (b) Focal discussion groups with elementary school students who visited the museum with their teachers and (c) analysis of three Science historians about the analysis of the social‐historical meanings of materials/ideas presented in these Science museums. The questionnaires, discussions with focal groups, and analyses followed these questions in general terms. How were these objects/ideas/procedures discovered/invented? What are the advantages of these ideas/procedures/products in relation to the ones that existed at the time? Would there have been ay reason(s) to refuse such innovations? Which?

The results show that regardless of the pleasure/interest displayed by the visitors in relation to the subjects explored, there is a very large difficulty to evaluate the social and historical meaning of the discoveries/inventions presented. Most visitors did not succeed in formulating much more than stereotypical remarks that “there was total ignorance before” or that “things have become much easier” in relation to the discoveries/inventions presented. In the case of a small group that hinted at a historical comprehension, it was justified with information and experience previous to the visit to the museum.

Although the cases examined are local, we believe that their conceptions and the reactions that they produce in the public go beyond the regional and national contexts. In our viewpoint, both the initial questioning and the analysis methods used and even the results obtained may help to revise the public communication about science and technology in museums and science centers. It is not a matter of transforming the existing Science centers to Science history museums. The main point of this communication is to endorse the social history of Science as a tool to organize science museum exhibits.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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