Media Technology and Museum Display: A Century of Accommodation and Conflict
by Alison Griffiths

Since the mid-1980s, electronic media have assumed an ever greater presence in museums of science, technology, natural history, and art.[1] For the most part, museum directors and curators have embraced new interactive technologies for their promise to democratize knowledge, to offer contextual information on exhibits, and to boost museum attendance. Corporate sponsors and donors of museum technology are interested in new media for their own reasons; with their logos emblazoned on interactives kiosks and published gallery guides, corporations have been increasingly active in sponsoring shows, specific gallery spaces, or donating equipment.[2] Museum visitors, especially children and young adults,[3] have frequently responded enthusiastically to interactive exhibits, even coming to expect them as an integral part of the museum experience.[4] Curators supporting the new technology argue that interactive CD-ROM stations offers flexibility and new solutions to the problem of representing complex ideas and processes; as Kathleen McLean argues: "They can activate an otherwise static exhibition with sound and moving images; provide a variety of view points; engage visitors in multi-layered activities; and encourage and support interaction among people in an exhibition."[5]

Digital technologies have found a home in the modern museum in the forms of interactive touch-screen kiosks, CD-ROMs, computer games, large-screen installations and videowalls with multiple images, digital orientation centers, "smart badge" information systems, 3-D animation, virtual reality, and increasingly sophisticated museum web sites.[6] Such technologies have changed the physical character of the museum, frequently creating striking juxtapositions between nineteenth-century monumental architecture and the electronic glow of the twenty-first-century computer screen. Via the World Wide Web, the museum now transcends the fixities of time and place, allowing virtual visitors to wander through its perpetually deserted galleries and interact with objects in ways previously unimagined.[7] Even at this early stage of the on-line museum, there are emerging parallels between the experience of virtual and actual museum-going; as exhibit developer Stephen Botysewicz notes, "browsing through a CD-ROM or Web site is strikingly similar to the `grazing' behavior that museum visitors engage in -- moving from attractor to attractor, not always adhering to the programmed march exhibit designers intend for them."[8]

Despite its embrace by museum professionals and visitors alike, the growing prominence of digital media in exhibition design has also provoked a sustained and sharp debate within museum circles. This debate takes up the impact of electronic media on traditional notions of authenticity regarding the museum artifact; the effect of multi-media on museum access; ownership of artifacts; and professional ethics; and the relation of electronic media to traditional sources of knowledge in museums such as labels, docents, and printed guidebooks. Some observers worry that digital technology is blurring the line between the traditional public museum and the commercial theme park and retail complex, such as NikeTown in New York City, into generic spaces of "edutainment."[9] As Michael Welch, Manager of Nike Global Retail and Design recently argued, "More and more we're all using similar systems -- in retail, theme parks, and museums."[10] Three recurring themes have dominated these discussions: the role of electronic media in what is seen as a "third evolution" in methods of museum exhibition (following those at the turn of the last century and in the 1950s and 1960s); the nature and effects of interactivity in contemporary museum exhibit design, and the tension between the museum as a site of uplift and rational learning as opposed to one of amusement and spectacle. While a great deal of research is yet to be done on the implications of electronic media on museums, a striking feature of contemporary debates is the sense of déjà vu found in the historically separated reactions to issues of modernization, interactivity, and the tension between education and entertainment. For example, current cautions about the "Disneyfication"[11] of natural history museums echo concerns voiced by turn-of-the-century critics who argued that the use of popular display methods such as habitat groups, lantern slides, and motion pictures required careful supervision, lest their associations with popular culture contaminate the scientific seriousness of the exhibit and institution.[12] The discursive oppositions between science and spectacle, information and entertainment, and passive and interactive spectators first articulated in relation to these visual technologies one hundred years ago have repeatedly resurfaced in contemporary debates over multi-media exhibits in public museums.

My aim in this paper is to trace the roots of current museological debates over the adoption of electronic media to efforts a century ago to make museums more accessible to the general public through the adoption of then-new visual technologies and display techniques. Yet at the same time as the first generation of professional curators began dismantling (both literally and figuratively) the "storehouse of curiosities" model of traditional nineteenth century museums, many of them acknowledged that the shift towards more popular exhibit techniques risked blurring the boundaries between the museum as an institution of moral and social uplift and other less reputable cultural sites, including the nickelodeon and the sensationalist dime museum.

Clues for understanding contemporary museum attitudes toward new media technologies can therefore be found in a number of experimental exhibits proposed (if not always installed) in American and European museums at the beginning of the twentieth century. At one extreme, French scientist Félix-Louis Regnault's turn-of-the-century plan for an encyclopedic ethnographic archive strikingly anticipates contemporary visions of the multi-media museum and web site. In Regnault's imagined ethnographic museum, anthropologists and members of general public could retrieve written texts, sound recordings, and still and moving images of indigenous peoples at the flick of a switch.[13] In a more prosaic fashion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City experimented with interactive exhibits in 1901, when it designed an installation that allowed visitors to turn the pages of an art book by inserting their hands into the side of the display case.[14] Contributors to such professional museum journals as the British Museums Journal (1901 - ) and the American Museum News (1924 - ) as well as popular journals such as The World's Work, The Outlook, The Independent and Popular Science Monthly debated the suitability of various methods of visual display for museums highly conscious of their social function in a culture experiencing the stresses of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Responding to what they saw as the shrinking attention span of the urban museum-goer, late nineteenth century curators charged with the task of making exhibits more accessible turned to novel methods of exhibit design in search of suitable prototypes for the modern museum. These prototypes will form the basis of my discussion in part one of the paper, where I examine efforts undertaken by turn-of-the-century curators to formulate new paradigms of museum collection and display. In part two, I consider some responses to these modernization efforts, including the concern voiced by some museum professionals that modernized display methods might backfire on the curator by making the viewer think that "he is in a raree show" rather than an institution of higher learning.[15] Interspersed through this discussion will be contemporary examples of how these issues continue to challenge curators and designers.

Mental Derelicts Suffer No More: The Emergence of Modern Display Techniques

At the "Museums as Places of Popular Culture" conference held in Mannheim in 1903, Dr. Lichtwark envisioned a "great revolution in the equipment and methods of museums."[16] One of the aims of the conference was to consider ways in which museums could make themselves more accessible to working people (the upper classes, it was argued, were "above instruction") through the media of photography and magic lantern slides.[17] Curators at the conference also discussed the need for exhibits to be designed around a coherent idea rather than function as "overcrowded storehouses of material, purposelessly heaped together."[18] According to British Museums Association President Francis Arthur Bather, the physical crowding of museum galleries and display cases provoked a "crowding relative to the mind of the visitor," brought about by gazing at endless rows of identical objects.[19] Speaking at the Museums Association's 1903 Aberdeen Conference, Norwegian curator Dr. Thiis argued that "nothing is more wearisome to the eye, less advantageous for the individual objects, than those long stretches of cases, all to one pattern, covered with black velvet, that are so often seen in museums."[20] In 1907, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) President H. C. Bumpus complained that the average museum visitor, overwhelmed by the sheer number of display cases, "became quite lost in the maze of exhibited material, and losing alike both points of the compass and sequence of theme, drifts about a mental derelict."[21] Despite these proclamations about the death of the overcrowded museum, there is still a tendency for curators to cram too many artifacts into the limited space of contemporary exhibit halls; as recently as last year, for example, museum scholar George E. Hein called upon curators to display fewer objects in museums, arguing that collections should be distributed between exhibition and study areas.[22] To compensate for the sensory overload experienced by museum-goers, contemporary designers have deliberately included empty or negative spaces in galleries to allow visitor's eyes to rest and to counter overstimulation.[23]

In addition to the overcrowding of many nineteenth century museums, observers also criticized display cases for shoddy construction and for their frequently unpleasing or ostentatious design which competed with the objects on display for spectator attention.[24] Henry Crowther, curator at the Leeds Museum in the north of England, urged curators to consider the inherent limitations of the display case, arguing that an over-stuffed, over-labeled display case couldn't possibly convey the "mind-thought of the curator or assistant curator who put them up."[25] The most radical suggestion for the re-design of display cases and labels was offered by George Browne Goode, Director of the National Museum at the Smithsonian, and influential spokesman on museum design in the early part of this century, who advocated "a collection of well expressed, terse labels, illustrated by a few well-selected subjects."[26] But the status, design, and function of labels were controversial topics within the turn-of-the-century museological world, with critics taking up positions along a continuum. Dr. E. Hecht, for example, argued that detailed labeling as proposed by Goode was unlikely to have much impact on visitor interest and comprehension: "Certainly we can multiply and amplify the labels...we can have, or ought to have, guide-books with their illustrations" Hecht opined, but labels are not always read,[27] and guide-books, if purchased, seldom read."[28]

As early twentieth-century museum professionals debated trends in exhibit design, they wrote increasingly of the need to contextualize the objects on display, a shift in philosophy that in many ways prefigures the use of interactive technologies in contemporary museums. For example, in 1903, British curator F.A. Bather argued that "even when there is nothing strikingly incongruous or offensive in the manner of exhibition, the mere removal of objects from their natural environment places them at a disadvantage."[29] Implicitly recognizing the discursive implications of exhibiting artifacts, what Ivan Karp and Stephen Levine call the "poetics and politics of museum display,"[30] in 1903 Dr. Hecht recommended the use of "stopping points" in galleries, which he defined as displays relating to the primary exhibit but "chosen in order to arouse, from time to time, the interest of the public, to lead their mind from the view of a single animal to larger ideas, to a general conception."[31] Hecht's "stopping points" prefigure one major use of computer installations in contemporary exhibition design, inviting visitors to pause in order to draw connections between an exhibited object and its uses and contexts.

While the recent proliferation of interactive technologies point to an emerging model of museum spectatorship in which context and interactivity play increasingly important roles in structuring the museum experience, it is striking that such ideas were first articulated a hundred years ago. As one curator noted in 1905, "an hour's worth of teaching would not get so much information into the mind of the child as he would get by finding out the information for himself."[32] One early attempt to make the museum display case more accessible to visitors was the Rotary Cabinet, designed by the Reverend S.J. Ford in 1907, which allowed objects to be viewed at will by the museum spectator, who, by turning a driving handle on the side of the cabinet could rotate for display each drawer in turn (see fig). The advantage of this device was that all of the specimens could be brought to the top of the display case for inspection without the "cabinet being opened or the specimens disturbed." Advocating its use in museums, schools, and homes, Reverend Ford claimed that its simple design and mechanism meant that "even a blind-folded child could work it."[33] If keeping objects out of the hands of museum-goers (and ensuring their security) was one of the implicit goals of the Rotary Cabinet, there were other critics who were equally ardent about letting museum goers, especially children, roll up their sleeves and touch as much as they liked.

Proposals for hands-on exhibits within museums were made by a number of early commentators, many of whom were, interestingly, women. In 1901, Kate M. Hall, curator at the 48-foot by 32-foot Whitechapel Museum in London, stated that when school groups visited the tiny museum, the objects they wanted to study "should, whenever possible, be taken out of their cases."[34] Hall was also a firm believer in making connections between living specimens and the dead ones in the cases in order "not to give a child facts, but to entangle him or her in an interest and love of living things" in order that they "not think the study of natural history a study of dead things only."[35] Present in this discourse on hands-on displays is recognition of the tactile pleasures involved in handling exhibits, an acknowledgment that accounts for the popularity of Discovery Rooms and Hands-On Centers in contemporary museums. Writing at the time, H.C. Bumpus went so far as to criticize the "impounding of specimens in cases," arguing that in some instances, displays should be out in the open, such as the 1906 Elk Group at the AMNH. According to Bumpus, curators should be sensitive to the "touch sense" of their visitors and where possible attempt to overcome the sense of remoteness visitors experienced when they viewed objects behind glass.[36] (It is interesting to note that the haptical pleasures of the exhibition gallery -- the fact that people respond to the textural surfaces of the objects on visual display -- can be heightened for the museum-goer through the use of different materials on the floors, gallery seating, display panels, and so on).[37] If Bumpus's plan for liberating his exhibits from their glass enclosures created logistical and security problems for museum personnel, his vision for the twentieth-century natural history museum is nevertheless remarkably sympathetic to modern pronouncements on the educational aims of museums and the role that new technologies can play in furthering these ends. But there were inherent risks involved in popularizing exhibits, as we shall see in the next section.

Treading a Difficult Path: A Changing Landscape of Popular Techniques

The task of preserving a balance between civic mission and economic market has never been easy for museums, although nowadays, museums are appropriating the protocols of business into their operations at the same time that retail and leisure complexes look to museums for advice on how to integrate media into their displays. As retail stores with interactive kiosks more and more resemble museums, and museums with their flight simulators and corporate logos merge with theme parks, we can but help wondering the fate of not-for-profit organizations, especially when companies such as Discovery Zone, a Chicago-based corporation offering for-profit play centers for children, compete aggressively with public children's museums for patronage.[38] But how did curators respond to the education/entertainment challenge one hundred years ago?

In some ways, little has changed over the course of the twentieth century. Curators were as cognizant of the need to make the learning experience pleasurable at the turn-of-the-century as they are today. The real challenge lay in justifying these techniques within the philosophical remit of the institution. Writing in the Architectural Record in 1900, L.A. Gratacap viewed the relationship between high and low culture in uncomplicated terms: "The Popular [sic] system of the scientific Museum is the system of the Dime Museum greatly elevated, dignified, and replenished with culture."[39] H. C. Bumpus expressed the ambivalence of many museum professionals concerning the balance between scientific accuracy and respectability versus public accessibility: "For purposes of popular exhibition and profitable instruction we no longer seek the exhaustive collections of `every known species'; we look askance at extraordinary and monstrous types; we view with some misgivings the elaborately technical schemes of classification...and we become thoughtful when we witness the visitor's vacuity of expression as he passes before cases devoted to the phylogeny of the arachnids."[40] Bumpus's disapproval of the freak-show display of "extraordinary and monstrous types," was echoed by other professional curators at the beginning of the twentieth century. Frank Woolnaugh wrote in the Museum Journal in 1904: "The old curiosity shop days of the museum are over. The misguided lamb with two heads, and the pig with two tails, are relegated to a back closet, if they have not already found a resting place in the sphere of the dust-bin. There is so much that is beautiful in nature to preserve that we have neither time, space, nor inclination to perpetuate her freaks and errors."[41] However, at the same time as some critics bemoaned the sensationalist leanings of turn-of-the-century museums, others maintained that museums were inaccessible to the general public due to their overly scholarly preoccupations; as Lisa C. Roberts has noted, Goode himself, expressed this ambivalence towards museums by criticizing them for being "both vulgar sideshows and elitist enclaves."[42]

One hundred years ago, technology seemed to promise for many curators the solution to the problem of maintaining balance between science and spectacle. Discussing the importance of free daily lectures for attracting audience to museums in 1904, Dr. Ant Fritsch was one of the first curators to recommend the use of phonograph recordings in exhibition installations. "The time may not be far distant," Fritsch declared, "when we shall be able, by dropping a cent into a phonograph by the side of interesting objects in the museum, secure the pleasure of a short discourse on the exhibit."[43] Fritsch's idea of using the phonograph to provide contextual information on an exhibit -- one of the key objectives of contemporary interactive technologies -- had already been adopted in the display techniques of world's fairs and expositions, where a great many of the modern methods of exhibition were pioneered. It was at such expositions, one commentator pointed out, that "what you could not see for yourself you could read, for lecturetts were posted conveniently on each side of the case." That these methods were considered radical for their time, in the same way that computer installations were once cutting edge, is suggested by the observer's remark that "here was canned science with the can-opener handy!"[44] But we can also detect an undertone of disapproval here, a sense, perhaps, that in making exhibits more accessible to the public, curators risked compromising or over-simplifying scientific ideas. While this tension between scientific rigor and popular appeal is something of a truism in contemporary museum criticism, it is telling that it became part of the discourse on museum exhibitry at such an early stage. However, many critics seem as uncomfortable now about the influences of advertising, cinema, and the Internet on display methods as they were concerned about an earlier set of technologies at the turn of the century. In 1991, a report of the American Association of Museum Task Force on Education stated that "The key to the realization of the higher value of museums lies in the receptivity of those responsible for objects to new interpretations of their roles. It does not lie in new technologies of presentation."[45]

Contextualizing museum objects within realistic settings was another technique curators used to make display cases more aesthetically pleasing and more effective in conveying intended object-lessons; even to this day, habitat groups and period rooms, despite the expense and space they demand, remain popular with the public, since the impact of a re-created space can reinforce the sensory experience of space and time travel.[46] Habitat groups displaying the flora and fauna of a particular region and life groups (illusionistic displays representing indigenous people against diorama backdrops) were among the most popular, and costly, display methods used at the turn-of-the-century.[47] One English commentator remarked that this effort towards realistic exhibits "recognizes the fact that we shall never succeed in infusing into the minds of those who have it not a love of nature, until we get as near as possible to nature herself."[48] But this view was not shared by all curators; one dissenter at the Museums Association 1906 conference argued that museums "had of late gone a step too far in what might be called `bringing the scent of the hay over the footlight,'" a prophetic statement when we consider the use of virtual reality installations in some contemporary museums. According to this critic: "Slabs of nature were transported bodily into museum cases and their lessons rendered so obvious that people found it easier to stroll into a museum to learn the habits of animals than to lie in wait for them in their native fields ...Thus instead of creating naturalists, our museum helped people to lose the naturalist's chief faculty -- observation."[49] More generally, some argued that the habitat and life groups' privileging of sight as the source of scientific knowledge would make spectators lazy and reduce visual acuity. The overt theatricality and voyeurism of realistic displays, along with their tendency towards sensationalism, constituted the museological equivalent of cheating for some early twentieth-century critics. If the habitat group's reconstruction of picturesque (or in some cases violent) vignettes of wildlife vivified nature, for this critic, the installation's hyper-verisimilitude underscored its own artificiality.


The charge from early critics that habitat groups and other illusionistic exhibits may generate a sense of wonder in the spectator without offering much in the way of scientific explication is echoed today by skeptics of the use of interactive technologies. Chandler Screven, for example, has argued that "the three-dimensionality of exhibits and their novelty, gadgetry, and manipulatory aspects can have intrinsic interest and generate attention but distract viewers from the main ideas, distinctions, or story line."[50] Subscribing to a similar view, Lisa C. Roberts feels that evocative display settings and high-tech gadgetry may in fact end up "overshadow[ing] the objects they were designed to set off. Not only do these innovations compete for attention, they compete for space: every new device represents a reduction in display area."[51] There is also little empirical evidence that interactive exhibits have any lasting effect on visitor comprehension of exhibit themes or whether they are effective in altering misconceptions; as Tim Caulton has noted "The educational arguments in favor of interactive exhibitions may be compelling, but the evidence to date is patchy and largely anecdotal. Interactive exhibitions remain a largely untapped laboratory for systematic research to investigate how people learn in an informal environment."[52] What is clear, though, from the few studies that have been conducted, is that visitors enjoy using interactive exhibits and that electronic media and digital technologies have been secured a home in the twenty-first century museum.[53] As curators ponder the ontological status and pedagogical value of the electronic artifact they might do well to consider what lessons can be learnt from the past, given the perennial nature of debates on the introduction of new museum technologies.


[1] See Museum Practice, Issue 9 (vol. 3, no. 3) 1998 for a special issue on museums and multi-media. return

[2] There are inevitable trade-offs, however, in relying upon external funding, since some sponsors are only interested in "blockbuster shows" (those with large budgets and likely to attract huge audiences), expect their logo to be highly visible, and may even want a say in the creative process. See Kathleen McLean, Planning for People in Museums(Washington D.C.: Association for Science-Technology Centers, 1993), p. 152. return

[3] In a survey of existing studies of the impact of gender on the use of computer interactives, Lynn Dierkling and John H. Falk suggest that there is conflicting opinion over whether men or women are more or less likely to use the technology. In an early study conducted at the National Museum of Natural History, 65 percent of interactive kiosk users were male whereas in a summative evaluation of the "Sprit of the Motherland" exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, users were predominantly female. Dierking and Falk, "Audience and Accessibility," in Selma Thomas and Ann Mintz, eds., The Virtual and the Real: Media in the Museum (Washington D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1998), p. 65. E. Sharpe, Touch Screen Computers: An Experimental Orientation Device at the National Museum of American History (Washington D.C.: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution) and L.D. Dierkling, J.H. Falk, and C. Abrams, Summative Evaluation of `Liberation 1945,' US Holocaust Museum (Annapolis, Md: Science Learning Inc., forthcoming). Other studies on the gender and new technology cited by Dierkling and Falk include K. Morrissey, "Visitor Behavior and Interactive Video," Curator, vol. 34, no. 2 (1991): 109-118 and J. Pawlukiewicz, K. Bohling, and Z. Doering, "The Caribou Connection. Will People Stop, Look and Question?" Paper presented at the American Association of Museums, Mat 15, 1989, Washington D.C. return

[4] As Dierkling and Falk point out "while media is only one option for interactivity, visitors to science museums and science centers are increasingly expecting to encounter some type of media experience at a museum (IMAX film, computer interactive, or a videodisk)." "Audience and Accessibility," p. 66. return

[5] McLean, Planning for People, p. 29. return

[6] At the Smithsonian Institution's International Gallery, a show entitled "Microbes: Invisible Invaders, Amazing Allies," allowed combined hands-on activities with high-tech computer software; according to the Washington Post, visitors could "look through microscopes, play video games, participate in quiz shows and much more." Catherine O'Neill Grace, "Have you ever met a microbe?" Washington Post, June 1st, 1999, p. 18. return

[7] Within days of being launched, the recently launched British web site, the 24-Hour Museum, which offers a "cyberspace gateway to hundreds of UK collections," ran into controversy as a result of its endowment by culture secretary Chris Smith as "the UK's 13th official national collection." According to Smith, the 24-Hour Museum created for the first time a "single unified national collection" and because of its status as a "national museum of the web," it was designated a national museum. According to Jule Nightingale, museum directors, volunteers, campaigners, and members of the press criticized the endowment arguing that it "undermined the importance of the status of national museums for the sake of publicity." The site was co-developed by the Campaign for Museum and mda (Museum Documentation Association." Nightingale, "Museums go on-line," Museums Journal, vol. 99, no. 6 (June 1999): 7. For an editorial comment on the 24-Hour Museum, see "Virtual Reality" in the same issue, p. 16. As Ruth Perlin explains, "works of arts, their contexts, and their display arrangements are being electronically transported out of exhibit spaces to be examined and visited in homes and other settings by individuals who may never enter the art museum." Ruth R. Perlin, "Media, Art Museums, and Distant Audiences," in Thomas and Mintz, eds., The Virtual and the Real, p. 84. return

[8] Stephen Botysewicz, "Networked Media: The Experience is Closer than you Think," in Thomas and Mints, eds., The Virtual and the Real, p. 114. return

[9] This term comes from the title of Ann Mintz's article in Museum News, "That's Edutainment," vol. 73, no. 6 (1994): 32-5. I discuss her argument and its relevance for the concerns of this paper later in the essay. return

[10] Michael Welch, quoted in Cynthia Wisehart, "Multimedia Merchandising," Textile World (January 1999), n.p. return

[11] Lisa C. Roberts refers to these critiques in From Knowledge to Narrative: Educators and the Changing Museum (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), p. 69. return

[12] For a discussion of institutional responses to the uses of motion pictures at the AMNH from 1903 through the late teens, see chapter six of my dissertation "Origins of Ethnographic Film," under contract with Columbia University Press. return

[13] For a brief discussion of Regnault's proposal, see Peter Bloom, "Pottery, Chronophotography, and the French Colonial Archive," unpublished paper presented to Screen Studies Conference, Glasgow, Scotland, June 1993. return

[14] F.A. Bather, "The Museums of New York State," MJ, vol. 1, no. 3 (September 1901): 73. return

[15] F. Jeffrey Bell, "On `Good Form' in Natural History Museums," MJ, vol, 3, no. 5 (November 1903): 160. return

[16] Anon, "The Mannheim Conference on Museums as Places of Popular Culture," Museums Journal (hereafter abbreviated to MJ vol. 3, no. 4 (Oct. 1903): 105. return

[17] Ibid., p. 107. return

[18] Prof. Dr. Ant. Fritsch, "The Museum Question in Europe and America," MJ, vol. 3, no. 8 (Feb. 1904): 252. return

[19] Francis Arthur Bather, "Museum's Association Aberdeen Conference, 1903," MJ, vol. 3, no. 3 (September 1903): 80. return

[20]Dr. Thiis, "Museum's Association Aberdeen Conference, 1903," p. 119 return

[21] H.C. Bumpus, "A Contribution to the Discussion on Museum Cases," MJ, vol. 6, no. 9 (March 1907): 299. return

[22] George E. Hein, Learning in the Museum (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 44.return

[23] McLean, Planning for People, p. 128. return

[24] A.B. Meyer, "The Structure, Position, and Illumination of Museum Cases," MJ, vol. 6, no. 7 (January 1907): 237. return

[25] Henry Crowther, "The Museum as Teacher of Nature-Study," MJ, vol. 5, no.1 (July 1905): 8. return

[26] George Browne Goode, cited in Frank Collins Baker, "The Descriptive Arrangement," MJ, vol. 7, no. 4 (October 1902): 108. One should point out that curating as an occupation was undergoing professionalization throughout this period; influential museum spokesman Sir William Flower -- President of the British Zoological Society of London before becoming Director of the Natural History Museum in 1884 -- argued in 1889 that "What a museum really depends on for its success and usefulness is not its buildings, not its cases, not even its specimens, but its curator...He and his staff are the life and soul of the institution, upon whom its whole value depends," in "Discussion," p. 61. In lyrico-poetic terms, F.A. Bather described the successful curator as "a man of enthusiasm, of ideas, of strictest honor, of sincerity, with the grip and devotion of a specialist, yet with the wisdom born of wide experience, with an eye for the most meticulous detail, but with a heart and mind responsive to all things of life, art, and nature." "The Man as Museum-Curator," MJ, vol. 1, no. 7 (January 1902): 188. return

[27] Contemporary studies on the effect of labeling on visitor interest and retention of information suggest that combining labels with photographs, drawings, objects, and other sensory elements can make a difference. McLean, Planning for People, p. 106. The recent supplement to the April 1999 issue of Museums Journal (vol. 99, no. 4) included step-by-step guidelines on the basics of label production (font, size, position, etc) suggesting perhaps that almost a hundred years on from these discussions, there is no consensus on the virtue of labels and museum professionals can still benefit from being reminded of good practice. For a discussion of the challenges of knowing with certainty how visitors respond to labels (and the findings of a fascinating study of visitor interaction with exhibit texts at the British Museum [Natural History]) see Paulette M. McManus, "Oh Yes, They Do: How Museum Visitors Read Labels ad Interact with Exhibit Texts," Curator, vol. 32, no. 3 (1989): 174-89. return

[28] Dr. E. Hecht, "How to Make Small Natural History Museums Interesting," MJ, vol. 3, no. 6 (December 1903): 188. return

[29] Bather, "Museum's Association," p. 81. return

[30] Ivan Karp and Steven D. Levine, eds., Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991). return

[31] Hecht, "How to Make," p. 189. return

[32] "Discussion," MJ, vol. 5, no. 4 (October 1905): 118. return

[33] Rev. S.J. Ford, "A Rotary Cabinet for Museum Specimens," MJ, vol. 6, no. 9 (March 1907): 304-5. return

[34] Kate M. Hall, "The Smallest Museum," MJ, vol. 1, no. 2 (August 1901): 42. return

[35] Ibid. return

[36] H. C. Bumpus, "A Contribution," p. 298. return

[37] McLean, Planning for People, pp. 135-6. return

[38] Mintz, "That's Edutainment," p. 32. return

[39] L.A. Gratacap, "The Making of a Museum," Architectural Record, No. 9 (April 1900): 399. return

[40] Ibid., p. 301. return

[41] Frank Woolnough, "Museums and Nature Study," MJ, vol. 4, no. 8 (Feb. 1905): 265. return

[42] Roberts, From Knowledge to Narrative, p. 22. return

[43] Fritsch, "The Museum Question," p. 255. return

[44] "The Spectator," p. 274. return

[45] "Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums," Journal of Museum Education, 16, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 92. American Association of Museums Task Force on Museum Education. return

[46] McLean, Planning for People, p. 23. return

[47] An editorial in The Museums Journal entitled "The Question of Group" stated that habitat groups could only be "properly executed by institutions having at their command considerable sums of money and a large and efficient corps of workers." MJ, vol. 8, no. 12 (June 1909): 446. return

[48] Anonymous, "National Museums: British Museum," MJ, vol. 5, no. 12 (June 1906): 78 [check; wrong cite] return

[49] "Discussion on the Papers on Museum Cases Read at the Bristol Conference, 1906," MJ, vol. 6, no. 12 (June 1907): 405. For more on the discursive construction of habitat groups and life groups in primary literature from the period (particularly on issues of verisimilitude, authenticity, and scientific accuracy), see chapter two of my doctoral dissertation, "Origins of Ethnographic Film". return

[50] Chandler Screven, cited in Roberts, From Knowledge to Narrative, p. 19. return

[51] Roberts, From Knowledge to Narrative, p. 86. return

[52] Caulton, Hands-on Exhibitions, p.2. A study conducted by John Stevenson in 1991 on the long-term impact of interactives found that 6 months after a visit to Launch Pad, an interactive exhibit at the Science Museum in London, people were able to talk about the exhibits in detail and recalled that their experience had been enjoyable. Stevenson, "The Long-term Impact of Interactive Exhibits," International Journal of Science Education, vol. 13, no. 5 (1991): 521-31. return

[53] According to one study, the presence of a computer interactive in an exhibit enhanced the experience for visitors by encouraging them to spend more time in the gallery and to work cooperatively around the computer. D.D. Hilke, "The Impact of Interactive Computer Software on Visitor's Experiences: A Case Study," ILVS Review, vol. 1, no. 1 (1988): 34-49. return