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Topic section: Collecting to make an exhibition
TOPIC SECTION:
Collecting to make an exhibition
Nowadays the temporary exhibition is seen as an essential component of the mix of displays that the Science Museum offers. It pro
Image: Aeronautics, in 1912, was the first Science Museum special exhibition
Aeronautics, in 1912, was the first Science Museum special exhibition
Credit:Science & Society Picture library
vides an opportunity to discuss a new technology or a health issue, or perhaps highlight the science behind a new film. These exhibitions often also allow the Museum to add to its permanent collections.

Today’s Science Museum had its beginnings in 1857 as part of the South Kensington Museum. During the nineteenth century few such special exhibitions were held. It was a time of continued expansion for museums, with new collections - such as the Admiralty collection of models of naval architecture in 1864 - continually being added to those already on public di
how different meanings can be drawn by arranging objects in different combinations
splay. As part of this process other collections considered of lesser importance were either hived off in 1871 to a branch museum in Bethnal Green, east London, or dispersed altogether. Many of the early collections displayed at South Kensington had been built up for other purposes than museum display, and the longer-term aspirations for a technical museum needed to be considered. In response to the recommendation of a Royal Commission, a ‘Special Loan Collection of Scientific Instruments’ was mounted at South Kensington during 1876. Inventors from many parts of the world provided exhibits. After the exhibition closed a large number were acquired for the Museum, forming the basis of its present world-class collection of scientific instruments.

Temporary exhibitions formed a significant part of the Science Museum’s activities between 1919 and 1939. Some of these simply comme
Image:
Inside the Spitfire, 2005, celebrated the life and work of R J Mitchell, its designer
Credit: Science & Society Picture library
morated historic anniversaries, and drew from the existing collections. As, in theory, everything in the collections was already on display, this method illustrates how different meanings can be drawn by arranging objects in different combinations. Other exhibitions were mounted by scientific research organisations, by industry or even by environmental pressure groups: an exhibition in 1935 on noise abatement was followed a year later by another on smoke abatement. Surprisingly little was added to the permanent collections from these short-term displays, however.

Since the 1970s the permanent galleries have taken on more of the flavour of the special exhibition. It is normal now to plan around a particular theme and create the display infrastructure afresh from the ground up. This provides the opportunity to display new technology in ways attractive to visitors.

 
 
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Many of the objects now on display and in store came from the dispersal of other museums’ collections. In turn other collections transferred to the Science Museum have spawned two new museums  > more

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Topic section three: Collecting then and now
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It was not until the 1950s that the concept of collecting for posterity, as distinct from display, began to be part of the Science Museum’s philosophy. The collecting policy is now at the heart of all acquisition. Consider the diversity of the objects acquired starting with those in 2004  > more
 
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