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By Maxwell Hamilton on

Weaving science capital through the Textiles Gallery

Last summer, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester refreshed its much-loved Textiles Gallery. In the first of two posts, Maxwell Hamilton shares how taking a science capital approach helped to inform the galleries physical aspects.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of objects which could deserve a place in our Textiles Gallery. With space in short supply we had to choose objects thoughtfully. The gallery shares the story of cotton in Manchester with objects highlighting innovations in design, printing and finishing. To increase the relatability and relevance of the exhibition we threaded everyday objects from industrial Manchester throughout the gallery.

One such example is a simple pair of shoes, something which we can all relate to. These shoes were owned by a girl who worked in a Manchester mill. When visitors see the exhibit they are encouraged to apply their own knowledge and experience and think about the story of the person they belonged to. As a result, this humble pair of shoes are the favourite object of many staff and visitors’.

Everyday objects such as old jars, broken pottery, cutlery and marbles are placed in the gallery unlabelled, allowing visitors to make their own interpretations. Presenting objects in this way allows visitors to imagine the lives of people who lived in industrial Manchester, and link the objects to their own lives. There is no wrong answer. Having everyday objects and examples humanises the exhibition, making the themes more tangible and linking the STEM content to our visitors’ rich and diverse experiences.

How can we get visitors talking and connecting their lives with the gallery objects?

To help facilitate visitors’ experience of the objects, the gallery includes a ‘story cube’ hands-on activity. The story cubes have a random picture relating to the gallery content on each side. After spinning the cubes, visitors can come up with their own story to link the pictures together. Due to the nature of the activity, visitors are encouraged to use their own experiences to augment their story and add detail. This not only makes the story relevant, but inspires conversation about the exhibition.

How did we share the stories of our objects?

When it came to interpretation of the more complex objects in the gallery, we wanted to ensure any text was as accessible as possible. One of the ways we did this was by using a technique called the Ekarv method. This method makes reading the text easy and enjoyable as it is informal and rhythmic. The main principles of the Ekarv method are that text is written how it would be spoken, new lines of text indicate natural pauses and sentences are kept short.

The choice to limit interpretation and use everyday objects has meant that the Textiles Gallery is open to the widest possible audience. Removing the focus from text has meant that all our visitors, no matter their level of English, can engage with the exhibit and be part of the STEM experience. Elements that promote discussion have allowed visitors to share their unique experiences with each other, and recognise the relevance of the gallery content to them.

In my second post I will explore how our on-gallery interactions with visitors have changed in order to further enhance their experience and to highlight and develop their STEM skills.

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