Archive for the 'conferences' Category

conferences, general

Promoting best practice in academic meetings

Apropos Daniel’s blog post the other day about a not-so-well organised conference at the university here in Copenhagen — I’m afraid badly organised academic meetings are the rule rather than the exception.

The usual conference format — a number of plenaries with 20-40 minutes presentations (with powerpoints) in a theatre, followed by a few minutes of questions from the audience, followed by a 20 minutes coffee break in an ugly lobby, followed by another excruciating plenary — is a cognitive, emotional and social killer, and a major reason why I, for one, rarely attend conferences any more.

The entrenched format is rarely transcended. Even “workshops” and “seminars” are often organised in the same traditional way. Few meeting organisers ask the participants for longer predistributed written presentations; few pay attention to the physical space and routinely seat people in a theatre; few consider using other media than powerpoint; almost no organisers utilise social media as a tool to enhance the meeting; and generally there is a deep unwillingness to experiment with new formats, or just break up the monotonous time pattern. Humanities meetings are hardly better than science meetings; and Scandinavian and Dutch meetings are rarely better than German and American.

For sure, I have attended a few conferences that were memorable exceptions to the usual format. Usually they were small meetings of 15-25 people, but occasionally I’ve attended meetings of 50-75 people that were organised in a way that stimulated interaction and engagement. And I guess most of us have positive experiences that stand out as oases in the usual conference desert.

But few of us take the effort to summarise our experiences publicly. This recent report from a workshop on ‘Personhood and Identity in Medicine’  organised by Elselijn Kingma and MM McCabe at King’s College in March this year, is a rare exception:

In order to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and engagement, attendance had been limited to a maximum of 30 participants. Following the success of this format in the previous workshop, the day was divided into four topics, each of which was briefly introduced by two participants, one with a predominantly medical and one with a predominantly philosophical background. After these introductions followed 45 minutes of chaired group discussion [...].

The aim of facilitating genuine discussion and interaction between people with very different backgrounds was met, and an improvement was noticed in comparison with the previous workshop. Group continuity – which meant many people had experience communicating in this format and knew what to expect – undoubtedly helped, as did explicit instructions to interrupt discussions for clarificatory questions.

It would be great to see more such experiences of good meeting formats published online. I’m looking forward to a blog called “Best practice in conference organisation” or something (maybe there already is one?).

I’ve also discussed with a few colleagues in Denmark and Sweden that we should organise a conference about good conference formats! Let’s get started!

conferences, museum and knowledge politics, museum studies, science centers, science communication studies

Public communication of science and technology

My impression of the first and only Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference I’ve attended (Malmö in 2008) was quite mixed. The academic quality wasn’t particularly high, there were pretty few theoretically interesting talks, not much surprising stuff, almost no nerds around, no sudden bursts of creativity — and new media were (with few exceptions :-) totally absent. The whole thing was smoothly organised but there was an aura of a public and business management hanging over the conference venue. I think these biannual meetings are a major hang-out for science communication managers.

But things can change for the better. And even better if researchers and curators from science, technology and medical museums were to attend (there was almost none in 2008). The next meeting will be held in Firenze in April 2012, and the programme will include themes such as:

  • What does quality mean in science communication?
  • Evaluating public communication of science
  • Art and/in science communication
  • Ethics and aesthetics of science communication
  • Reflexive challenges: communicating PCST?
  • Emerging trends and issues in science communication
  • Changing media, changing formats, changing science communication models?
  • Public communication of technology: the ‘Cinderella’ of PCST?

In other words, a lot of themes that are central to curators and researchers in museums of science, technology and medicine. Deadline for proposals is 30 September. More here

abstracts, conferences, material studies, recent biomed

Molecular being – philosophy between genes and proteins

I have had a paper accepted for the annual joint conference of the Society for European Philosophy and Forum for European Philosophy. Here is the abstract:

Molecular being – philosophy between genes and proteins

In this paper, I will attempt to connect the sparking wires of post-genomic molecular biology and new materialist philosophy, particularly the so-called object-oriented ontology.

Life is changing. The gene has, as historian of science Evelyn Fox Keller wrote some years ago, “had a glorious run in the twentieth century.” Since the publication of the working draft of the human genome in 2000 and the completed genome in 2003, however, it seems that the life sciences are at a juncture, requiring new concepts, terms and metaphors to grasp life in productive ways. It is increasingly being suggested that a straightforward relation between genes and their expressions is not tenable. The faith in the genome as the key with which to understand, decipher and decode ‘life itself’ is changing, partly due to the realisation that the translation process from gene to cell is a world unto itself. In other words, the list of parts that the Human Genome Project revealed turned out not to be a complete wiring diagram.

Post-genomic biomedicine is increasingly turning to the study of proteins for new concepts, terms and metaphors. In the hands of 21st century biomedical scientists, ‘life itself’ is taking on new forms. The understanding of life is shifting towards ideas of a multidimensional material body, made up of a complex system of proteins, where molecular structures, movements and interactions carry out the regulated work of the cell. Post-genomic researchers are no longer satisfied reducing the organism to the informational logic of coding system embedded in biological software (DNA); rather, the organism is now increasingly seen as a substantive, material architecture, filled to the brim with three-dimensional protein interactions.

Molecular biology, then, seems to be reconfiguring its underlying conception of life. And philosophy is similarly finding itself “in the middle of time and in the middle of objects, with a desire to become part of this material world,” as Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes. The change from a genetic to a protein-based understanding of life in molecular biology runs in an interesting parallel, I will argue, to the attempts to develop new material and object-oriented ontologies. Using empirical examples from the world of molecular biology and protein research, I will argue that understanding what takes place within molecular biology and its changing conceptions of life can be fruitfully accomplished at the intersections of philosophy, genes and proteins.

conferences, general

Annual SEP/FEP conference on “Philosophy & …”

The annual joint conference of the Society for European Philosophy and Forum for European Philosophy (SEP/FEP) is coming up soon. The call for papers (available here) was held under the title “Philosophy & …” and urged contributors to submit contributions that explore the limits of what can be placed together with, and within, the category of philosophy. Despite the somewhat bleak times for academic philosophy in England (the closing of the philosophy department at Middlesex being the premiere example), the organizers have struck a celebratory and exploratory note in the call for papers:

In a year when the UK has seen devastating cuts in the funding of the arts and humanities, it would be easy to be pessimistic about the future of Continental Philosophy. Yet, while reflection on the challenges ahead is certainly necessary, recent events also offer us the opportunity to respond to those who dismiss European Philosophy, not only with a vigorous defense, but also a demonstration and celebration of the profound impact it has had and continues to have on an enormous range of other disciplines.

So, while this year’s conference follows recent tradition in not having a theme, and thereby welcomes proposals from the broadest range of European philosophical thought, we particularly welcome papers and other contributions that explore the limits of what can be placed together with, and within, the category of philosophy.

Circling the philosophical wagons, so to speak. The conference has keynotes from Joan Copjec, Michéle Le Doeuff and one of my personal favorite philosophers at the moment, Graham Harman. His work under the banner of object-oriented ontology is fresh and stimulating, me thinks. Visit his (incredible active) blog here.

conferences, philosophy of medicine

Categories and concepts in health, medicine and society

The Nordic Research Network for Medical History (in which we play a minor role) is organising a workshop on ‘Categories and Concepts in Health, Medicine and Society’ to take place in Umeå in northern Sweden, 15–17 March 2012 (very chilly place at that time of year, but also a charming academic town with birchs tree all over and lots of sun and snow).

The workshop takes its point of departure in the fact that health and disease concepts and categories are ubiquitious, both in everyday life and in science. The organisers (Per Axelsson, Umeå, and Signild Vallgårda, Copenhagen) want to discuss different types of concepts and categories, the role of categories, and different theoretical approaches to the study of concepts and categories in medicine and health policy. For example, change and continuity in social categories in epidemiological research; comparisons of the uses of race and ethnicity classifications in different countries; inclusion/exclusion of populations; the evolution of new concepts and categories; effects on health policy of categories used; and how categories are shaped and how they shape those categorised. They have invited Eviatar Zerubavel, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University to give a keynote speech.

The network grant will cover accommodation and conference fees (but not travel expenses). So send a <500 words abstract and a short CV to Per Axelsson ( before 15 September. More info from Per Axelsson in Umeå ( or Signild Vallgårda here in Copenhagen (

conferences, public outreach, science communication studies, social web media

Why control has to die so that information may live

“Why Proteins Have to Die So That We May Live”. This was the title of the talk given by Nobel Laureate Dr. Aaron Ciechanover at the international symposium entitled Protein Chemistry: Applications to Combat Diseases held at the University of Copenhagen earlier this week. Three days packed with talks from the world’s leading protein chemists and researchers. The focus of the conference was the life of proteins from their synthesis to their degradation. This was highlighted by talks from three Nobel Prize laureates: Ada Yonath, Avram Hersko and Aaron Chiechanover – each of whom have contributed immensely to our understanding of these processes.

The symposium featured talks from invited speakers only, and as such the quality of the talks reflected this in being very high. The papers presented were mostly already published, but some did include unpublished data (although I’m sure these were already on their way to being submitted). Each speaker was given twenty-five minutes to present their papers, and unfortunately due to a complete lack of control by the chairs, this was exceeded over and over again. Annoying. Not only are breaks important when you sit through three hours of talks, they are also where a lot of the magic happens! They must be respected and cherished! Thumbs down, organizers!

The conference format for communicating science is interesting. It takes the researchers out of their daily routines (well, more or less), and to some extent forces them to listen in on subjects that they otherwise wouldn’t have paid the slightest attention. This is good. Even the most experienced researchers cannot keep up with all the data being published. Meeting colleagues in an informal setting and discussing work over food and wine also works great. It’s brilliant for networking! However, this must happen organically and cannot be forced. The organizers attempted to schedule informal meetings betweens speakers and audience during breaks (“science dating”), but I think that defies the point of informality. In this case, a lot of empty slots emphasized this. Or maybe it was just the lack of breaks?

What about social media? I’ve been going to a number of medical conferences over the past few years, and to be honest I haven’t really noticed anyone actively using it. My first conference in the museum world was very different. Granted, it was a conference about the web, but everyone was tweeting throughout the entire event. Online forums were being used actively for discussions. And (of course) all information about the conference was available online. Including all abstracts. This is very far from the case at medical meetings I’ve attended. Where the rest of the world is moving towards Web 3.0, they remain an early beta. And this is sad. It seems there is too much focus on controlling information rather than letting it flow free. Sharing. Engaging. Not only for the benefit of the meeting attendees, but perhaps also the rest of the world? Am I being naïve?

art and biomed, art and science, conferences, general, visual studies

Engaging with the unfamiliar

I have just had a proposal accepted by Nordisk Sommeruniversitet who will be holding their Summer Symposium in Falsterbo, Sweden, July 30th - August 7th, 2011. NSU is organized by a Swedish non-profit organization sponsored by the Nordic Council of Ministers. It focuses on fostering cross-disciplinary research networks in the Nordic countries

There are eight study circles and I will be doing a practical workshop in study circle #7, Artistic research – strategies for embodiment.

The study circle will invite distinguished researchers and artists in the field, who have contributed to this emerging discipline. Building on the experiences from the upcoming anthology of the previous study circle 7, the new study circle will end with a new publication. This publication will focus on sharing methodologies and specific examples of artistic research and dissemination through applying multimedia. The aim is to reach out to our peers and art students interested in the field of Artistic Research.

Researchers and artists from all fields will take part in discussions about development of strategies for embodying and disseminating the experiences drawn from the field of Artistic Research on the theme: Strategies for Embodiment within Artistic Research; questioning and probing ways of embodying and communicating artistic research processes and their outcomes.

Previously I gave a paper at the NSU Winter Symposium held at Arkitektskolen in Aarhus. This unusual and lively three day symposium included choreographers, theatre and dance researchers, sculptors and animators and filmmakers, photographers, philosophers, art historians and drawers from Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, UK, Greece, USA, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Czech Republic.

A healthy array of PhD candidates presented. Some used the symposium as a platform to ask questions around their own research and others looked for responses and criticism. Elina Saloranta a doctoral student at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts presented her paper ‘What does silence sound like?’. This included a video and a script of a conversation between herself and her sound technician Eduardo Abrantes, a PhD student at the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen, who investigated the phenomenology of voice as a medium for sharing in his presentation ‘On the uses of the voice-sharing through resonance and other metaphors’.

Some like Angela Rogers who uses drawing to investigate dialogic interaction, held workshops. Others, like Francis Halsall a lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Art Theory at National College of Art and Design, Dublin, were art historians and theorists but not practitioners at all. His paper ‘Embodiment and Drawing: De Duve on Robert Morris’ caused lively debate amongst those of us who are academics and also practitioners.

My paper, ‘Drawing your way into understanding’ examined how we can come to know something by drawing it. It claims that the relationship that develops between object and viewer that occurs during the process of drawing, is central to the viewer gaining greater understanding of an object. Furthermore, the nature of drawing means this information can be communicated to others offering new insight and knowledge. The use of drawing here is based on a simple but poignant premise: that we do not look at things closely enough. By not looking we don’t see and without seeing we do not gain knowledge. I presented evidence of drawing as a research method based on previous investigations into understanding the experiences of a rare disease, Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva and from data taken from groups of non-artists who have used drawing as a method for investigating medical artefacts.

The NSU Summer Symposium takes place over five days. The first three days will focus on ‘knowledge generation’ and the final two will focus on ‘knowledge sharing’ and issues regarding the often problematic question of the means of dissemination of the knowledge generated through artistic research in the academic context and beyond.

Here is my proposal for the Summer Symposium.

Engaging with the unfamiliar

This is a proposal for a practical participatory workshop. The aim is to bring to the attention of the group, something unfamiliar which they will then have an opportunity to get to know.

Using observational investigative methods, the group will be asked to engage with an object. The journey of how they come to understand the object will be evidenced through the phenomenological activity of drawing. By this I mean the action of moving the tip of a pencil on paper in correspondence to the observational investigation they make. The emphasis is not on the drawing as a noun – a finished artefact, but on the verb – the action of making and experiencing the encounter they have with the object.

The question I will be asking is, where is knowledge embodied? Is it purely in the act of looking, in the act of looking while drawing (looking ‘through’ the tip of the pencil) or is knowledge embodied in the realized outcomes?

I understand knowledge to be embodied within this fugitive collection of experiences that formulate a breadth of understanding through each unique encounter. But I would like to find out where and how participants come to understand an object they encounter. Perhaps they will confirm my theories or maybe they have a whole new perspective on how actively engaging with an object can bring knowledge.

Study circle #7 then aims to publish an anthology in 2013 focusing on communicating methodologies, specific examples of artistic research, and the dissemination of knowledge through various media and multimedia solutions.

Proposals for presentations in various formats were welcomed, ranging from demonstrations and presentations/excerpts of artistic work, to theoretical reflections in the form of short papers and suggestions for panel discussions.

conferences, museum studies

Analysing museums beyond the national framework

In small ethnically homogenous countries like Denmark, Poland and Finland, there is a thick aura of nationalism around museums. For that reason alone, the planned conference on ‘Transnational History of Museums’, 17-18 February 2012 seems like a relief.

Organised by the Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik at TU-Berlin, the aim of the conference is to go beyond the national framework in analysing the museum institution:

Temple of muses, custodian of cultural heritage, site of memory, space for the mediation of taste and knowledge: The functions of the museum are manifold and are given different emphases, depending on the type of museum and the disciplinary outlook. However, the argument that the institution is a major venue for the construction of national identity has recurred again and again since the first royal collections were opened to the public around the middle of the eighteenth century. Indeed, the number of museum foundations was particularly high in Europe during the nineteenth century, when the modern nation-state was being established. Yet the tight linkage between nation-building and the birth of public collections has increasingly been called into question by recent scholarly work on the history of museums. Instead, local traditions have been stressed or international comparisons have been drawn upon in order to explain policies of collecting, the display of exhibits or the architectural design of individual galleries.

The planned conference will reflect from a transnational perspective upon the purposes and concepts of museums, museum practices, and the perception of museum culture:

  • Which models from abroad were imported by museum representatives in order to give their own collections a certain profile?
  • To what extent were “foreign” principles of order and hanging appropriated?
  • Can the international networks on which museum experts relied be reconstructed?
  • How can we describe the activities of commissions that were assigned to explore the organisation of museums beyond their geographic borders?
  • Did an internationally inspired taste have any influence on the planning, the architectural settings or the compositions of collections?
  • Do documents such as letters, travelogues or diaries written by museum visitors give concrete indications of a comparative, transnational perception?

Central to the conference is the discussion of the museum as a space of, even product of, cross-border processes of exchange and transfer. Seen from this angle, an examination of the museum of art, in particular, is to be carried out, also taking into account archaeological and historico-cultural collections, arts and crafts museums and the so-called universal museums inside and outside of Europe.

The conference will be held 17-18 February at TU-Berlin. Short proposals (approx. 150 words) for papers not exceeding 30 minutes should be sent by 15 June to Bénédicte Savoy ( or Andrea Meyer ( Be prepared to listen to contributions in German and French as well :-)

conferences, material studies

Things in culture, culture in things

Thing afficionados still have a week left to consider an abstract for the conference ‘Things in culture, culture in things’, to be held at the University of Tartu, Estonia, 20-22 October, 2011 — three days about things in culture, cultures in things “and lest we forget, all that stuff in between”.

The call for papers claims that “since the groundbreaking publication of Arjun Appudurai, ed. The Social Life of Things (1986) to the launch of the Journal of Material Culture a decade later, “the material world in its cross-cultural, multi-temporal and interdisciplinary study could never quite be the same again”: objects, artefacts and matter, “even sometimes the immaterial”, have been theorised and contextualised in lots of case studies. And in contrast to the usual jargon of ‘thing agency’, this call for papers takes a more sober position — things are “endowed with agency”, which is an entirely different ‘thing’:

A well known adage in this field of enquiry is that things make people as much people make things. The relationships we develop and share with a tangible arena of artworks, buildings, infra-structures, monuments, relics and everyday objects varies from the remote to the intimate, from the fleeting to the durable, from immediate to mediated, from the passive to the passionate, from the philosophised to the commonsensical. Within the practices of creative processes and their use or non-use of the physical world, things gain meaning and status. They become endowed with agency, symbolism and power. Our journeys through the world of things generate a multitude of emotions: pleasure, attachment, belonging, angst, envy, exclusion, loathing and fear. They also feed into the propagation of on-going myths, narratives and discourses which oscillate between the robust and the ever shifting.

And here are the organisers suggestions for topics, i.e. everything about things is apparently of potential interest:

(i) Dynamics – Changing of meaning, practices, functions and modality in time and space
- displaying / collecting (museums, galleries and institutions);
- archaeological practice / how objects are made meaningful through their use;
- naming and renaming; assembling and dismantling;
- modality, mediation, remediation; (sources of) knowledge of things;
- innovation and technologies;
- biographies of things / life stories;
- recycling, reuse, waste, entropy, heritage.

(ii) Identity – Ways we relate to and use things
- identification / objectification;
- memory (memorials);
- cultural autocommunication;
- symbolic usage of things – heritage, monuments, rituals;
- consumption, consumerism / commodification;
- naming, narrating and silencing (or censoring) things;
- embodiment and things.

(iii) Methodologies – How we study things
- objects and subjects of research;
- material aspects of research / materiality of research;
- disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodologies;
- historiographical approaches;
- what things are – genres and types of things in different disciplines;
- historical epistemologies.

350 words abstract should be sent in by next Wednesday (1 June) to Monika Tasa, More info here.

ageing, conferences, event

How to build interdisciplinary understanding among researchers of aging? Lessons from the recent Center for Healthy Aging retreat day

On Friday 13th May, Adrian Bertoli, Morten Hillgaard Bülow and I attended the University of Copenhagen Center for Healthy Aging (CEHA) retreat day at the DGI Congress Center here in Copenhagen and we have decided to bring our experiences of the day together in one blog post.

Lucy says:
Everyone involved in each of CEHA’s five programmes was required to participate and it was definitely a day of two halves. CEHA Managing Director Lene Juel Rasmussen introduced the proceedings and her talk was followed by short overviews given by each of the programme leaders. The morning was dominated by traditional PowerPoint based presentations used to display schematics, charts, diagrams and arrows that sometimes became overcomplicated and confusing. Then PhDs and postdoctoral researchers presented research highlights from each programme. One very interesting presentation was by PhD student Aske Juul Lassen on Programme 5 who described his field studies and collaboration with No Age innovative solutions for elderly people in his research into technologies and communities for the active elderly

After lunch we were split into groups and invited to join in ‘The Hunt for the Elixir of Life’ – a cross-disciplinary dialogue. This was organized by the young researchers and involved the groups going into a series of rooms where different scenarios were enacted. In the ‘TV/Fitness’ room an elderly man watching TV phoned his busy daughter while she was working out at the gym. In the ‘Nursing Home’ room an elderly diabetic resident was shown being left to eat her lunch alone. In ‘General Practice’ room the scenario played was of a stressed, pregnant woman and a clock watching GP. In the ‘Chess Club’ room an elderly man playing chess with his regular partner became frustrated about starting to lose games and in the ‘Work Place’ room cigarette-smoking workmen with backaches had a health assessment.

Each different scenario played out gave rise to discussion on different aspects of ageing research. The overall question was how we might go about asking questions or researching topics raised in the scenarios from across all our disciplines. This part of the day was a great success and in my opinion the ‘Chess Club’ room worked best. Here, not only was a scenario enacted but we were asked to engage in an activity. We were given five cards with pictures on. We had to choose the top two cards we felt represented things to help with the problem shown in the performance and explain our reasons for choosing them. This participatory activity led to good discussion and the chance for all to voice opinions not just a few who had previously dominated conversations.

At times the differences between wet and dry sciences were seen as a hindrance and there were still signs of hierarchy between disciplines. Though it is hard to tell whether the aim of interdisciplinarity across the programmes will be achieved, it was valuable to bring all members of CEHA together in one space.

Adrian says:
A day of two halves is a very apt summary of the Center for Healthy Aging’s retreat. I can appreciate the need to have an overview of the five programmes, and the importance of allowing young researchers to present research highlights. It was nice to hear what goes on within the Center, I personally knew little about the other programmes, but the presentation format means that for the most part the researchers remained faceless names on the screen. The afternoon was a great success, the creativity and ‘unorthodox’ method of engaging researchers has set the bar high for future CEHA events.

What was missing for me was a chance to do more informal networking and socializing, especially among PhD students and Postdoctoral researchers. It is one thing to know the general research interests of the programmes, but another to know more about the people behind these. If we are to bridge the differences between the wet and dry sciences and create a common language, perhaps more informal channels would be effective. It might be a cultural difference in choice of words, but when I picture a retreat, I think of various social activities and games, chances to see the lighter side of your colleagues. This happened to some extent in the afternoon sessions, but was still somewhat plagued by power dynamics between senior and junior staff. There was a social hour afterwards; perhaps people were a bit tired after a full day of activities as not many stuck around. Even fewer of us made it out afterwards where we went out for dinner and drinks.

On the whole the day was interesting and entertaining, the venue was nice and we were well catered to in terms of food and drink. I just came away at the end of the day not knowing much more about the people who are on paper my colleagues at the Center for Healthy Aging. We are physically isolated among various campuses, the challenge becomes how to make the most of the unfortunately too seldom times we are all gathered together.

Morten says:
As one of the organizers of the last part of the CEHA Retreat, I was very curious about how it would turn out. From the start when we were asked to organize the afternoon, our small group of PhDs and postdocs all agreed that we wanted to do something different than another line of talks or poster-sessions. I think it was Bjarke Oxlund who first came up with (and was given responsibility for) the idea of a ‘treasure-hunt’  – which was not actually a hunt for the elixir of life, but rather a hunt for interdisciplinarity, which we had been told was to be the theme of the day.

In this hunt we wanted to avoid thinking in research programmes and instead think of themes or situations that could be viewed from different disciplinary perspectives. And we wanted to facilitate discussions that would illuminate differences and similarities between disciplines – and preferably, in the process, show the value of each research perspective and how they might fertilise each other.

I don’t know if we succeeded, but the process of coming up with these themes and situations in itself was a challenge and a learning experience. Setting it up to involve participants demanded serious considerations – our main worry was that nobody would want to discuss these issues or that they would think the whole set up too light hearted and oppose it. After all, we wanted this event to bring participants ‘outside’ the boundaries of the traditional disciplines; outside their scientific comfort zone, so to speak. For some participants this did indeed seem to imply that what we did was also un-scientific (in the broad sense of the word). It was sometimes difficult to keep the discussions going or to go up against a certain understanding of what can or what cannot count as relevant (research) questions.

But there were also mostly great discussions and interesting topics coming up so that the allotted 20 minutes per group often felt too short a time. People were just warming up to the subject of the workshop when you had to rush them out the door to receive the next group. The groups were very different – group dynamics were central to how the discussions went, and actually seemed much more important than what disciplines were represented.

This for me stressed the importance of having an open attitude towards other people and disciplines and of having enough time to develop this openness in a suitable context. For interdisciplinary discussions to work, this seemed an important take-home message.

acquisition, collections, conferences, oral history

Collecting the voices and materials of genomics

I haven’t been to an interesting scholarly meeting for a long time — so it was pretty frustrating to realise that two meetings on some of my favourite research and curatorial interests are taking place at the same time.

The first meeting (which I’ve already signed up for as a contributor) is a small workshop on “collecting genomics”, 12-14 May. It’s organised by John Durant at the MIT Museum and Liba Taub at HPS Cambridge and there are only going to be 15-20 people around the table; a perfect setting for in-depth discussions about one of the crucial challenges to science, technology and medical museums in the future: how to document, collect and make sense of one of the most important developments in late 20th century ST&M.

The other meeting is no less interesting, at least for me as a combined biographer and science communication/museum person. On 12-13 May, the Royal Society organises a conference titled ‘Science Voices: Scientists speak about science and themselves’ to “explore the creation and use of a number of projects which bring science and scientists to historians and the public through scientists’ own vibrant personal voices and testimony”. The projects to be discussed include the current project on the history of the Royal Society in the 20th century, the oral history of Natural History Museum project (‘Museum Lives’), and the Oral History of British Science project. Oral history looms large in these three projects — and accordingly the organisers expect discussions about topics like oral history techniques, witness seminars, how to construct coherent intellectual frameworks for interview subject selection and project design, making use of oral history in history and epistemology of science, etc.

The Royal Society meeting (more details here) is important for museum purposes too — after all, I strongly believe that the individual scientific voice (autobiographical or biographical) is one of the best ways to communicate science, also in a museum context. In the best of worlds, somebody would had organised a meeting on ‘Collecting the voices and materials of genomics’, or something like that.

But that’s not the case, so I’ll opt for the genomic collection meeting. Not just because I’ve signed up already, but because it’s a smaller, more intimate and discussion-oriented meeting that aims to brake new ground for museum work. Frankly, oral history is a fairly well-chewed methodology. (But oh, my heart beats for scientists speaking about themselves and others).

collections, conferences, museum and knowledge politics

Another packed programme for a Universeum meeting — when will they ever learn?

The programme for this year’s Universeum meeting (in Padua, 26-29 May) is available here.

Universeum has rapidly become a vital organisation for the revival of European university museums. The annual meetings have an important role to play to raise the awareness among university administrations that their museums are not only worth preserving but, even better, worth expanding.

Last year’s programme in Uppsala was terribly packed, however: one damn 15-20 minutes presentation (including comments) after the other, short and inevitably rushed coffee breaks, etc. Unfortunately this year’s programme seems to suffer from the same illness. When will they ever learn?

But Padua is beautiful in late May and some of the presentation titles, like “To be or not to be a museum”, sound alluring. So, register not later than Friday 15 April.

conferences, science studies

Why do STS?

Criticisms of bullshit excesses in some parts of the STS community aside, museums of science, tech nology and medicine can learn lots from the ongoing discussion in the STS community.

So why not follow the live feed from the conference STS 20+20 — Science and Technology Studies: The Next Twenty, to be held at Harvard, 7-9 April?

The aim of the meeting is simple: “to provoke thinking and discussion on both the last twenty years of STS development and how we are preparing ourselves for the next twenty”. The organisers are asking questions like:

After two decades of increased public funding for STS, what can we say about our achievements as a “thought collective”?

What have we learned from speaking the truths of our field to the power of established disciplines?

Which areas of work do we recognize as displaying the greatest theoretical depth and creativity?

What do we impart to STS scholars-in-the-making, and what can we do to ensure that their ideas are heard more widely and that they find appropriate academic homes?

Why do STS? What makes it interesting, distinctive, coherent, relevant, and deserving of stronger institutionalization?

I’m not sure I like that exclusive “we”-speak in the way the organisers phrase the questions (it smacks too much of religious congregation announcements) — but that said, it will be interesting to follow the discussions.

If you cannot be there in person, you can always join via the live feed on the meeting’s website, where you can also find the program, participant bios, etc.

conferences, curation

One-day meeting on ‘Curating science’, London, 6 May

The upcoming one-day conference ‘Curating Science’ at Kingston University in London on 6 May — bringing together curators and communicators from museums, galleries and new sites of engagement to explore the role of science in the exhibition — looks sort of interesting

  • Intersections in Art, Science and Society: Nicola Triscott, Director, The Arts Catalyst
  • Turning the Museum Inside Out: exploring the challenges of interfacing scientific research with public engagement at the Darwin Centre: Louise Fitton, Senior Interpretation Developer, Natural History Museum
  • Good Conversations: exhibits to encourage dialogue and reflection: Kat Nilsson, Contemporary Science Manager, Science Museum
  • Curating ‘Lab Craft’ : digital adventures in contemporary craft: Max Fraser, Design Writer and Curator
  • Art-object/science-object: a narrative of curating: Caterina Albano, Curator at Artakt and Fellow at CSM Innovation Centre
  • Curating Earth: art of a changing world: Edith Devaney, Head of Summer Exhibition and Curator, Royal Academy

See more here:; 10GBP tickets here:

collections, conferences, conservation, curation, displays/exhibits, recent biomed

What intellectual and practical approaches should be developed to document and preserve the history of recent science and technology?

Actual and potential readers of this blog — that is, everyone with an interest in contemporary medical science and technology in museums — might be interested in this year’s meeting in the Artefacts series on the theme ‘Conceptualizing, Collecting and Presenting Recent Science and Technology’, to take place 25-27 September, 2011, in the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden.

The central questions for the meeting are:

  • What intellectual and practical approaches should be developed to document and preserve the history of recent science and technology?:
  • How can museums and academic communities develop an overview of the breadth and diversity of material culture associated with recent science and technology created at a variety of sites (universities, industry, government, and other venues) and scales of activity (local, national, and international)?
  • How do we develop criteria of selection to capture salient themes and transformations?’
  • What connections do we wish draw between artefacts as evidence and research questions of historians and other scholars?
  • What are the practical challenges in collecting and storing the types of artefacts, images, electronic expressions, and other products distinctive of recent history?
  • What forms of collaboration among museum and academic communities might help in addressing these challenges?
  • And, not least, how does such an effort relate to exhibitions and public outreach?

The organisers invite papers discussing the above questions and other themes dealing with the material history of recent science and technology. Paper presentations are limited to 20 minutes. The conference language is English.

Send abstract proposals of <200 words to Museum Boerhaave’s Head of Collections, Hans Hooijmaijers, before 1 July 2011. Also include a short biography highlighting main research interests (no more than 50 words).

The meeting will start in the afternoon of Sunday 25 September with a pre-conference tour around Museum Boerhaave, followed by a plenary lecture and drinks. Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 September will be devoted to paper presentations.

And for those who don’t know it yet, Artefacts is an association of historians of science and technology, mostly based in museums and academic institutions, who share the goal of promoting the use of objects in serious historical studies. This is done at annual meetings, in a book series and through encouraging the efforts of historically-oriented museums of science and technology.

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