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2014/15 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC5750M Science in the Museum: Interpretations & Practices

30 creditsClass Size: 20

Module manager: Dr Mike Finn

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2014/15

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

How is science displayed in museums and how it has been displayed in the past? What forces have transformed the museum of STM from a cabinet of curiosity to a major medium of science communication? This module addresses these questions by surveying key developments in collecting and museums since 1700 and by looking at the theoretical and practical concepts that lie behind these developments. Throughout students will be helped to see the links between scientific development, conceptions of science and the growth of the museum as a medium.


To understand the long-run history of museums of science, technology and medicine from the eighteenth century to the present
To introduce students to some of the central questions of curatorship and museology, with particular reference to museums of HSTM
To critically engage with and evaluate the collections and current displays of HSTM of the University of Leeds
To develop initiative and creativity in presenting ideas and research via reports and an exhibition and thus, to respond to novel assessment methods
To promote a critical reflexivity among students regarding the practice of museum display and its implications for the making and transmission of knowledge

Learning outcomes
Students will:

- Be able to summarize major trends in the history of museums of HSTM in the UK, US and Europe

- Be able to identify the relationship between the University's HSTM collections, the history of the University and major trends in the academic field of museology

- Possess enhanced awareness of the academic study of museums and practical techniques relating to the key museum functions of collections care, exhibition development and communication with the public

- Be able to employ material culture as a historical research technique

- Be able to design and complete an exhibition project by collaborating with fellow students and academic staff

- Be able to identify general transferable skills that enhance employability (group working, research, communication, managerial skills)

- Demonstrate an advanced ability to critically evaluate museum displays and to analyse their implications for the creation of public knowledge

Skills outcomes
- Analytical skills
- Communication skills
- Confidence
- Creative problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Flexibility
- Initiative
- Planning and organisation
- Leadership
- Time management
- Team working
- Use of knowledge


The module consists of four separate parts, with distinctive learning methods, as follows.

Theoretical Perspectives Seminars (Weeks 1-4)
The course begins with four two hour seminars designed to introduce students to the methodological approaches, of collecting and museum displays, both past and present, through a discussion of recent scholarly literature.

Topics may include:
1. From the Cabinet to the Science Centre: Introduction to the Cultures of Collecting and Displaying Science (c18th to c21st, Bennett, MacDonald)
2. Introduction to Museological Thought I: Artefact Study and the Social Life of Things (Appadaurai, Foucault, Miller, Stocking, Geertz)
3. Introduction to Museological Thought II: Current Museum Meanings (Hooper-Greenhill, Pierce)
4. Objects and Museums for research in HSTM (Alberti, Arnold, Soderqvist, Forgan)

Critiques of Museum Display (Weeks 2-4)
This part of the course will build on the first by allowing the students to critically evaluate museums displays and analyse their implications for the creation of public knowledge by addressing several prominent themes in the museological literature.

Themes addressed may include:
1. Ethics
2. Nationalism
3. Authenticity

Evaluation of Museum Communication (Weeks 5-7)
During this part of the course, students will evaluate three museum displays by taking into account the issues discussed in the previous two parts. This may, for example, be in the form of:
- A natural history exhibit (at Leeds Museums)
- A medical instrument exhibit (at Thackray Museum)
- A science centre (at Eureka)

For each example, the students will engage in background reading, will spend approximately two hours experiencing the presentation and taking notes, and will engage in a two-hour seminar with the course leader, before writing up two 1,000 word report of two museums of their choice.

Exhibition Development (Weeks 8-11)
The final part of the course requires students to prepare their own exhibition, or another form of museum-based practice by agreement with the module leader. Students will be able to work in groups, exactly how many will depend on the size of the cohort (max. 10 per group, max. 2 groups). Work on this part of the course proceeds as follows:

- A two-hour seminar to discuss the practicalities of exhibition design and development (week 8.) to include:
- Collections care - balancing access and preservation, conservation/restoration vs authenticity (‘historic dust’)
- Exhibition themes, object research and methods of display
- Communicating to your audience

- A two-hour meeting for each group with the module leader to discuss exhibition ideas, view suitable objects and divide tasks (week 9).
- An hour seminar in which groups briefly present their project idea and receive evaluative comments from peers (if one group, self-directed text/exhibition development) (week 10).
- A further hour meeting for each group with the module leader to discuss exhibition text (week 10).
- A two-hour seminar installation session (week 11).

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Group learning42.008.00
Private study hours264.00
Total Contact hours36.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

Reading on core texts on history of museums and science (weeks 1-4) = 20
Reading on core texts and preparation for museums, ethics, nationalism and authenticity (weeks 2-4) = 24
Three 2 hour trips to museums (plus travel time, weeks 5-7) = 9
Researching and writing two 1,000 word reports on museums visited = 48
Researching different kinds of historical artefacts in University collections = 16
Investigating other museums' interpretations of artefacts = 10
Developing and implementing plans for exhibit, in lieu of private study = 57
Researching and writing one 1,500 word report on experience of exhibition development = 32
Researching and writing one 2,000 essay evaluating objects or museum display = 48
Total = 264

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students will receive feedback on:
1. The two 1,000 word museum reports (c. Week 5) - written feedback
2. Exhibition development progress (c. Weeks 8 and 9) - verbal feedback
3. The one 2,000 word essay (c. Week 9) - written feedback
4. The exhibition and the 1,500 word report (after week 11) - written feedback

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1 x 2000 words30.00
ReportProject Report 2 x 1000 words30.00
Group ProjectExhibition or museum project20.00
Reflective log1 x 1500 words20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 08/09/2015


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