Incorporating diverse stories

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) has as its mission the inspiration of all its visitors, including future scientists and inventors, with the story of how ideas can change the world, from the industrial revolution to today and beyond. Their vision is to be a world-leading, inspirational museum about the potential of science and industry to change our lives.

Challenge

Currently working on a 10-year masterplan, MSI’s ambition is to develop four major new narrative galleries.  MSI has identified diversity and underrepresentation within the institution and collections as a priority for consideration in the redevelopment of its narrative galleries. In order to enrich their collections and the stories that they tell, they aim to diversify the content of their galleries so that they better represent their audiences.  They would like to reveal stories relating to people that are currently under-represented in their museum.  For example, this could include the role of women, BAME people, LGBT people and people with disabilities in the history and contemporary practice of science and industry in Manchester.

Project team

Catriona McCallion, Ph.D. researcher in Pharmacy. Catriona is working with graphene for biomedical applications, she has strong interests in women in science and science education, in particular the role of education outside of the classroom, and beyond school age.

Natalia Moreira, Ph.D. candidate, School of Materials, Faculty of Engineering. Natalia is developing her research in the involvement of consumers in the development of new sustainable fashion products in the UK market. With a background in fashion and eco-design, she has lived in several countries and uses her cultural and technical expertise to improve SMEs in the country, combining different assets throughout the textile supply chain.

Matthew Stallard, Ph.D. Candidate, American Studies. His Ph.D. project is on economic, social, labour, and gender history in New Orleans in the early nineteenth-century, and the history of global capitalism, work, and slavery. Matthew works with large social and geographic datasets and is interested in the way in which modern technologies can generate new methods of engagement and analysis from both an academic and public history perspective.

Eleanor Ward, Ph.D. Candidate, Centre for New Writing. Her thesis focuses on identity and gender in contemporary poetry about disability. She is a published poet. Her background also includes work for a national children’s charity.

Solution

The project created a report that will serve as a toolkit for museum staff to improve the museum’s representation of women, BAME, disabled, and LGBT communities in their current and future projects. The report addressed the
demographic background to underrepresentation, museology on the subject, academic research into underrepresented histories in science, and a SWOT analysis of diversity at MSI.

In terms of demographics it was established that MSI’s visitor figures, although within average ranges compared to benchmarked institutions, still do not fully represent the diversity of the local area in which it is situated. More broadly, participation in STEM industries and education and attendance of museums and galleries is inconsistent among underrepresented groups, making addressing diversity a key part of SMG’s stated mission to improve STEM engagement.

The review of relevant museology demonstrated that what is ignored or not included in a collection or exhibition can be of great significance to those who identify as part of underrepresented groups, that inclusion may not always be seen as wholly positive for persons who define themselves as ‘other’ from the mainstream, and that allowing input and agency on behalf of communities and researchers can bridge the gap between integration and independence.

A series of exemplary case studies from New York Hall of Science, the
British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Library, and Northampton Museum and Art Gallery were used as models of best practice in various areas. A summary of key themes, recent research, and prominent local and national academics in the history of all four underrepresented groups was compiled as a starting point for curatorial staff in redeveloping galleries. This included suggestions for collection strategies, interesting individuals and stories, and significant community and academic organisations.

As a result of this research, a series of recommendations and suggestions for future projects were proposed, focusing on four separate areas for future development: a) Diversifying the museum, b) Diversifying content c) Engaging communities and d) Engaging with research and academia.

The report also included a comprehensive bibliography and appendices listing resources and organisations for reference in planning and implementing future projects.