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Museums As A Mirror of Society:

A Darwinian look on the development of museums and collections of science

Steven de Clercq
Utrecht University, Senior Consultant Academic Heritage
Straatweg 17
3603 CV Maarssen


Following the Darwinian approach, which describes a form in nature as the functional adaptation to its environment at a given time, I will explore the development of museums and collections of science as an expression of their function in historic and social context. This approach allows us to establish a classification of scientific museums, where factors like owner, user, the role and the use of the object and its social, cultural and intellectual environment act as discriminating factors. Finally, this approach may stimulate discussion about which way a museum of science could develop in order to remain well tuned to the characteristics and demands of its specific environment and hence prove to be viable.


Sir Winston Churchill's statement: 'We shape our environment, and then our environment shapes us' elegantly illustrates the intricate relationship between a society, the way that society shapes its environment and vice-versa, the impact of that environment on those who live and work in it and give it its shape. To this, I want to add two closely related elements: the time factor and the impact of the environment on the viability of its 'inhabitants' or 'components'. As a geologist, I was trained to study - for example - the evolution of a fossil species through time and to interpret changes of specific parts of such fossils as the functional adaptation of that organism to alterations in its environment. Darwin taught us that those organisms that are best adapted to their new environment have the best chance to survive. In other words, studying these functional adaptations helps us understand the impact of the environment. My assumption is that the Darwinist principle is also applicable to the evolution of museums. The role and shape of these museums have changed dramatically over the centuries: what started, as a Cabinet of Curiosities for the elite has become a theme park for the millions. Subsequent appearances can thus be interpreted as response to a specific combination of requirements and conditions, which change through time, and differ from place to place, according to the social, cultural and intellectual environments.

I do not have the intention to rewrite the history of museums and collections of science. This has been extensively dealt with by a great number of authors1. Neither is it 'new' to claim that such museums (as indeed all museums) have gone through 'generations', or 'phases'. The aim of this paper is to present a way of looking at these museums as a product of their time and their environment. My purpose is not only to understand the development of museums and collections, but also to look at their evolution as a tool to plan a viable future for the institutions for which we are responsible.

When we look at the characteristics of early museums of science, we must realize that we cannot apply the criteria and definitions of today, but that we must look at them as products of their time. They functioned in the scholarly environment of that age and played in that context a specific role similar to that of the museums of science of today. For terminological clarification, 'science' is used throughout this paper in the broad, continental definition of wetenschap, covering the full spectrum of human knowledge from mathematics to humanities. Museums of science are therefore being considered here as those which deal with the broad spectrum of human knowledge and its related artifacts. Thus a 'museum' is any institution, building or room, which holds artistic, historical or scientific objects for reasons of preservation, study, contemplation and exhibition. Assembling objects, studying them and maintaining them within a specific intellectual environment is an essential role of such museum or, in short, "Museums are institutions that keep collections for research and presentation."

A new classification

Already before 1996, when the Utrecht University Museum moved to its new premises, I felt the need for an instrument that could help in the design of the new museum for which I was then responsible. As I saw it, this museum had a dual task: the care for the historic scientific heritage of our university (and related collections) and the promotion of public understanding of science, illustrated by the achievements of our scholars. To begin with, I wanted to better understand our position in relation to other museums of science, and more in particular, how a university museum with a rich historic collection should respond to the boom in science centers (Clercq 1989).

In the literature, we can find several different classifications2. Typically, these classifications lack clear and objective discriminating criteria and are frequently based on biased assumptions, leading to contradictions and confusion. More particularly, these descriptions usually start with the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM) in Paris (1794) and the Science Museum in London (1857), ignoring the Cabinets of Curiosities from the Renaissance and the Learned Cabinets from the Enlightenment. The fact that most university museums and collections have their roots precisely in these early museums of science was my main motivation to develop a new classification.

Looking at developments of museums in the western world over the last four or five centuries, we can distinguish five major typologies: Cabinets of Curiosities, Learned Cabinets, Museums of Science and Industry, Museums of the History of Science, and Science Centers, which can be regarded to constitute subsequent phases in the development of scientific museums and collections. These 'generations' should be seen here as 'archetypes', as the way such museums were conceived in their early mature phase. Their appearance mirrors the intellectual, social and cultural setting of the time. Only few of these museums still show their original conceptual organization, layout and architecture. Most have changed through time; they have gone through the natural developments of all museums of science, reflecting the developments in the scientific world and the changing requirements of the environment, contemporary fashion and local want. As a result of the need to 'keep up-to-date', today most museums of science show a mixture of such characteristics and functions.

Looking at the way museums of science have evolved, we can see for example how the role and status of the object has changed from an almost sacred relic to a disposable interactive prop. The same is true for the user: in the beginning we see a noble gentleman, then an inquisitive scholar and today the public at large. Whereas in the early days, user and owner were one and the same, today the owner may be for example a public-private combination with the primary aim to boost the economy of the area. The classification I will be presenting here takes such factors and parameters as discriminating criteria, and sets them against the background of the social, cultural and intellectual context (see table 1).

Earliest museums of science

Eve's act of picking an apple from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden for Adam to taste, heralds the crucial role objects have ever since played in the gathering and dissemination of information. However, the development of an elite of rulers and bureaucrats was necessary before any formal education was possible. In all great cultures of the world, the education of the elite was in the hands of spiritual leaders. The earliest proof of an institutionalized form of education using objects is a result of excavations done by Leonard Woolley and P.R.S. Moorey at the beginning of the 20th century. Woolley and Moorey excavated a temple complex in the ancient city of Ur (Mesopotamia), where the E-Dublal-Mah temple contained a school, (dated ca. 580 BCE) with 'antiquities' of the 3rd millennium (2.900 - 2.000 BCE) of a.o. Sumerian origins (Geerts 2003, L. Geerts in litt. 03.31.2003). Collecting objects for the purposes of curiosity or the enhancement of knowledge has eventually led to what we today call "museums", a word derived from Ptolomy's Museion in Alexandria. The Museion was a state-run institution dedicated to the muses (including history, music and astronomy), with research and teaching as primary goals. Since the Museion did include collections, which were used in a scholarly context, we can point to it as one of the roots of early museums of science.

Little is known about the history of collections in the western world between the Museion and the Renaissance. Of course, precious objects and relics were kept at the courts and by churches and cloisters. For centuries, churches were the only places where the public at large was confronted with works of art; apart from the aesthetical experience, these works of art had a didactic function illustrating Biblical scenes. In this respect, churches performed the role of museums (Shelton 1994, J. Gorman in litt. 20.10.2003). Probably most cloisters had gardens with vegetables and fruits, flowers for the altar and medicinal herbs. These gardens can be regarded as the ancestors of the academic medicinal or botanical gardens, the first of which were founded in 1540 at the universities of Padua and Pisa.

Noble Cabinets of Curiosities

From the early Renaissance onward, we find collections of precious artifacts at the courts of the aristocracy. These Kunst- or Wunderkammer contained portraits of ancestors and celebrities, paintings, prints, classical artifacts like sculpture, vases and coins, porcelain, elaborately worked suits of armor, but also sundials and other scientific instruments, precious stones and curious objects from distant lands, like a splinter of the Holy Cross brought back from the Crusades. Other 'rarities' would come from distant parts of the world, including silk from India, spices from the Moluccas, porcelain from China, ivory from Africa or gold from Mexico. These cabinets often contained a library and occasionally had a laboratory for alchemical experiments. Surviving inventories give a good idea of the design and organization of these cabinets. They displayed an almost encyclopedic representation of the known world, encompassing mankind and the rest of the living as well as mineral world. Objects, deliberately chosen for their intrinsic beauty, meaning or value, were often expensive masterpieces, as is illustrated by the magnificent scientific and mathematical instruments from the Medici collection, now in the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence, often bearing the Medici coat of arms. The splendor, rarity and value of the objects mirrored the status and worldly power of the owner. One of the objectives of the Schatzkammer of Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612) was to demonstrate the absolute power of the Habsburg house over its subjects. On the other hand, quite a few of these collections - like those of the Hessian Landgraves in Kassel and the Medici dynasty - were meant to be an illustration of the patronage and encouragement of scientific research, as well as a demonstration of the learned inclination of the court.

'Cabinets of the World'

Gradually, from the sixteenth century onwards, other members of society started to assemble collections. Among these citizens we find merchants, doctors, apothecaries, clergymen and artisans, like silversmiths and painters (Rubens, Rembrandt). The possession of a collection contributed to the social status of the owner, and this fact certainly explains why wealthy gentlemen became collectors. These collections, however, also reflect the curiosity triggered by the stories and objects that came home from the voyages of discovery, which in turn contributed to the Scientific Revolution. Although such cabinets still held both artificialia and naturalia, we do see a clear tendency towards specialization. The well-known image of the cabinet of the Neapolitan pharmacist Ferrante Imperato (1550-1631) illustrates the close relationship between his profession (apothecary), the composition of his collection, and the way in which the cabinet is used for the education of apprentices. These 'cabinets of the world', brought together by inquisitive professionals, prelude the establishment of the Learned Cabinets.

Learned Cabinets

Probably the most important aspect of the Learned Cabinets was the new and innovative role of the object. It was no longer the outward appearance of the object that mattered, but the objective information intrinsic to the object became of prime importance. The story the object can tell to the inquisitive mind obtained central stage. Objects became a primary source of information, which could be unraveled and studied through dissection, the use of the microscope, analysis and comparison. This novel information added to a better understanding of the living and mineral world and contributed to the admiration of the marvels of God's Creation3. Although many early Learned Cabinets like those of Ole Worm (1588-1654) and the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) at the Collegio Romano in Rome still contained both naturalia and artificialia, specialisation gradually emerges. Ulisse Aldrovandi (1527-1605), for example, amassed an important natural history collection, the remains of which are now magnificently displayed at the Museo Palazzo Poggi of the University of Bologna. Other examples of specialized collections are the anatomical preparations of Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731), part of which was bought by Tsar Peter the Great and shipped to St. Petersburg. Most Learned Cabinets were probably originally set up by private collectors. Some, like Albertus Seba (1665-1736), would gain great fame with their collections of natural specimens. The renown of the collection and the willingness to allow students and scholars studying them was often a decisive factor in the appointment of a chair at a university. In some cases, the university would buy these collections, but it was not uncommon that collections remained private property and became dispersed after the death of the owner. In some cases, however, they would be donated to a university. In this way, the collections of John Tradescant, father and son, were donated to the University of Oxford to become the Ashmolean Museum (1683), the mother of all - university - museums. The museum assembled objects that were studied and it also included a library, a study room and often a laboratory for closer examination of the objects, and a cabinet where the collections were kept in a specific functional order reflecting its intellectual environment.

About one century later the merchant Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) donated his collections and fortune to establish the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (1784). The foundation of Teylers museum occurred at a time when Learned Societies flourished during the second half of the eighteenth century. Many were founded, functioning in close collaboration with the local university and these could be specialized in natural history or physics for example. In Utrecht, the cabinets of physics of the university and of the Natuurkundig Gezelschap (1777) were kept together and mutually used and finally became the core of the Utrecht University Museum (1928).

As illustrated above, over the years these collections gradually moved from the private into the public realm, developed increasingly specialized elements, and became the core of collections for research and teaching at our institutions of higher education. I see the Learned Cabinets as the forerunners of today's university museums and collections. This is especially true for natural history collections, where it generally does not matter if the object was collected centuries ago, as long as it is well-preserved and has sufficient documentation - and in some exceptional cases even that is not required4. Science progressed over the years, new techniques and new insights arose, permitting new and hitherto unthought-of questions to be asked; but the function and role of the object and collection, as well as its users remained basically the same.

Science Museum

The original purpose of museums of science and industry is different from that of their predecessors'. They are a typical product of the Industrial Revolution and often the offspring of one of the great World Exhibitions, like the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace (1851), which gave rise to the South Kensington Science Museum. For the first time, large parts of the public, including the lower-middle and even working classes, were given the opportunity to get in touch with the achievements of modern science and technology. Both the exhibitions and the museums were initiated, founded and run by national governments. Apart from the promotion of trade and tourism, education of the public and the need to train and attract skilled labor were among the driving forces.

Contrary to Learned Cabinets, the role of the object and the purpose of the institution were to demonstrate the progress of the industrialized world and to stimulate trade, competition and craftsmanship. The objects were exposed with great care in beautiful and specially built showcases, and in some cases working models were presented to demonstrate functional aspects.

As time goes by and the museum continues to accumulate instruments and machines that show innovations, the museum gradually becomes a repository. The responsibility for the maintenance of the scientific and technological heritage may easily become a cuckoo in the nest. Furthermore, the rate at which the objects become outdated is progressively in conflict with the primary purpose of the institution: the education of the public with state-of-the-art developments in science and technology. Against this background we must understand the development of two new types of museums of science:

Some of the larger science museums continue to combine these tasks, like the South Kensington Science Museum and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Museum of the History of Science

Traditionally, instruments, telescopes and lenses, kept in academic cabinets of physics and astronomical observatories were looked after very well. They were treated with great care and kept in special cabinets, usually in laboratories. These objects would be used repeatedly for many years, particularly in the education of students. When, during the latter part of the nineteenth century research became the second primary task of universities, the use of these objects changed quite dramatically, as a range of new instruments was introduced and existing ones turned obsolete. After World War I various initiatives in a number of European countries led to the establishment of Museums of the History of Science:

Most of these museums are to be found in academic environments. Their primary motivation and aim is both to assemble the valuable historic scientific instruments scattered in their institutions and to preserve them as evidence of the history of the institution and its famous scholars and alumni. Many of these museums are in one way or another related to research and education in the history of science and aim primarily at scholars and students in that field.

Science Center

Science centers differ fundamentally from museums of science, as they are primarily devoted to science education instead of the care for objects. Science centers use purposely built (and disposable when worn) hands-on or interactive devices, so-called 'props', instead of objects. These props are developed to demonstrate a particular physics experiment, scientific principle or natural phenomenon; they are models instead of authentic objects from the real world and are arranged in a didactic and entertaining way and environment. In this way, science is presented as a one-way success-story, usually with little attention for the interdisciplinary and open-ended scientific process of trial and error, for the human and social context or for science as an ever-present and indispensable component of our daily world. Science centers aim at school-groups and the general public, including tourists.

Urania (Berlin, 1889-1928) is called by some authors the prototype science center. Devoted to "the pleasure of scientific discovery", it exhibited no less than 88 physics experiments that could be controlled via simple electrical devices. Urania closed in 1928 due to the post-war economical crisis, without any recognizable trace except one photograph. Due to this discontinuity most historians refer to the Palais de la Découverte, created in 1937 after the 1936 Paris World Exhibition as the first science center devoted to science education of both young and old with the use of interactive devices. Other classical examples include the Evoluon (Eindhoven, 1964-1989), which was founded by Philips and closed after 25 years, Frank Oppenheimer's Exploratorium in San Francisco (1966) and the Ontario Science Center in Toronto (1969).

The birth and success of science centers can be interpreted as a response to a widespread need for reform in science education prompted by a.o. the impact of World War II, the so-called Sputnik-effect, the 'belief' in progress due to 'value-free' (i.e. 'clean') science, the democratization of knowledge and education, the study The Limits of Growth by the Club of Rome (1972) and the pressure from industry to recruit young scientists. Traditional science museums had become inflexible dinosaurs, repositories for objects from the past, unable to satisfy these new social demands. Notwithstanding efforts to develop special galleries like the Launch Pad at South Kensington's Science Museum, museums of science and technology increasingly triggered nostalgia instead of excitement about new discoveries.

The explosive growth of the population in areas without traditional collection-based museums equally opened opportunities for innovative hands-on science education initiatives. Frank Oppenheimer's Exploratorium in San Francisco is a world-famous example. Since the beginning, the Exploratorium served as a model for hundreds of science centers all over the world. The publication of the Exploratorium's Cookbooks, offering a detailed description of its exhibits, invited imitation and proved a decisive factor of success behind the boom in science centers.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, a clearly visible tower for astronomical observations contributed to the status of a town and its academy, and it became fashionable to have one. In a similar way, the success of science centers and their ability to attract large numbers of visitors was such, that city councils and local governments all over the world started competing in setting up a science center. Architects were hired to build spectacular and glamorous high tech buildings that would act as landmark and attraction. The subsequent shift of the primary goal from science education to the attraction of large numbers of public made many such initiatives 'may-flies' and led to both conceptual and financial disappointment. This triggered an unfortunate climate of reluctance among universities, politicians and industry to invest in museum based science education.

Museum of science of the future

As we have seen, over the years museums have played a considerable role in science education and will certainly continue to do so. The growing demand for young people pursuing scientific careers opens new perspectives and opportunities for museums of science. For those considering to 'modernize' their existing museum or to start a new one, it may be tempting to only look at successful initiatives around the world or even to merely copy one of these. However, it is quite possible that circumstances in the local environment are fundamentally different and chances are high that doing so will lead to failure (as illustrated by the Amsterdam Science Center New Metropolis, today Nemo). Therefore, before embarking on the design of a new or renewed museum of science, one has to carefully consider one's position and environment, including the demands of stakeholders, the expectations of visitors, the cultural and intellectual setting, the educational system and the quality of the collections.

Obviously, it is impossible to provide a recipe for the successful museum of science of the future, and its characteristics will clearly be determined to a large extend by the situation of departure, including the presence of an already existing museum, its collections, the ambition and the scope of the mission. In the case of larger, already existing museums, the mere size of their collections compels them to adopt a large set-up, requiring considerable investments and causing maintenance to be costly. On the other hand, those that start from scratch are free to conceive their own model. In this respect, universities (or university museums) are in a privileged position: their collections are usually of high quality and cover a wide range of disciplines, enabling them an interdisciplinary approach. University museums tend to work on a more modest, human scale and incorporate the wide range of resources of academia. This will allow them an interdisciplinary approach and thus show science as an integral part of our society. At this point, I wish to stress again the need for science to be presented in the broadest possible way, encompassing all fields of human interest and scholarly research.

The challenge for the future is to find a modern answer to the concept of science center, which will most likely seek to integrate science education techniques, developed by these centers and the use of the authentic object. Although impossible to predict the definitive design of the successful museum of science of the future, it is however possible to draw some conclusions from the way current prevailing worldviews and global trends will probably affect discriminating factors and shape our future museum:

a) the purpose & function of the museum

Collections will no doubt continue to be the core business of museums, in fact their primary raison d'être. After all, urbanization and the increased use of ICT, has rapidly transformed the museum into one of the rare places where the public can get into touch with the real object; this is particularly true for objects from nature. The possession of collections of high quality and the way they are used by the museum and made available to the public will become one of the discriminating factors and a key to success. Here lies a unique chance for university museums.

Science education has always been part of the mission of the museum of science. This will increase, partly due to the decline in the use in the object for research, but also due to the need to attract students for a scientific career. Since this is a point of serious concern all over the world, it is likely that the public sector will take its responsibility and create openings for innovative initiatives. Museums can seize the opportunity and play an active role in science education, making it one of their main tasks.

Science participation follows naturally from science education. A growing number of well-educated, active elderly (due to demographic developments and increased health- & life expectations) is eager to participate in intellectually challenging and relevant activities. Moreover, citizens are increasingly asked to have their say in political matters that involve sometimes-difficult scientific issues. Museums can offer such facilities and thus strengthen their position in society and demonstrate that science is indeed part of our culture and society.

Museum without walls. There is no good reason to restrict science education and/or science participation to a place within the walls and traditional opening hours of museums.

b) the object

Objects remain the primary source of information. Models and later interactive devices have been developed in addition to real objects mainly for educational reasons. This trend reached its climax in the science center movement. The reappraisal for the authentic object and the opportunity for museums to profile themselves, guarantee a continued central stage role for the object in the museum. Museums will continue to use interactive devices, as well as science education techniques and methodologies developed by science centers. The demands of a well-educated and emancipated public and the need to compete with readily available ICT-science programs will stimulate museums to display their objects in a wider context, integrating artifacts and knowledge from various disciplines.

Future museums of science will also - to quote Kenneth Hudson - '[...] place science and technology firmly in their social context [...]' (Hudson 1987: pp. 107-108).

c) public, the user

Particularly in this field, the ability to adjust to changes in the environment is an all-decisive factor for survival. Museums of the future will continue to cater for their traditional public; they will welcome students and historians of science to work on their collections, as well as the well-educated public at large. These will remain one of the pillars of their existence and there will be programs to support the continuing need to recruit science students.

However, this will not be enough. It will be necessary to consolidate the museum as an integral part of society and respond to demands and opportunities. I have already pointed to the growing group of the elderly and mentioned 'science participation' as an instrument to integrate the museum in society. Looking back at the history of museums, only those that were able to respond to the demands of their environment have proven to be viable. For the future of museums this implies that we must learn to resist the temptation of setting up a museum (or exhibition) from the 'supply approach' only, based on the enthusiasm of the curator. Instead museums must learn to listen to the demands and questions raised by the public. The future public is well educated, emancipated and demanding and will expect authenticity, scientific integrity and social relevance. University museums, operating in an academic environment, are particularly well equipped to respond properly to this demand.

In conclusion, my aim was to develop an instrument to help me design a museum that had a fair chance to fit in its environment and respond to the demands of its public - in other words, a successful museum. We have seen the influence of prevailing worldviews and intellectual setting on parameters like the role of the object, the way it is used and the kind of user (i.e. the public) and that it is vital for the survival for any museum to engage its community. It follows from our observations that copying a success has a fair chance to lead to disappointment, unless that institution is well tuned to its new environment. Planning a viable museum therefore requires an understanding of the past, as well as an analysis of the environment in which it is supposed to operate, including its public and its stakeholders.

Ambition and good will of the founder are essential factors for a successful museum. However, it is my conviction that the interaction with the environment will eventually determine whether the museum will be successful. From this, it follows that a museum in Oklahoma will be different from one in Tartu. Similarly, a museum conceived by a city council to boast the tourism industry will differ from another set up by a university that cherishes its historical collections and desires to raise its profile through the display of its collections and the scholars that brought them together.

Typology, Generation Cabinet of Curiosities Learned Cabinet Science Museum Museum of History of Science Science Center Museum of Science of the Future Archetypes, Examples Francesco I de' Medici, Rudolph II of Habsburg, August I & Christian I of Saxony, Hessian Landgraves Ulisse Aldrovandi, Frederick Ruysch, Ashmolean Museum, Teylers Museum Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Métiers, Science Museum, Deutsches Museum Istituto e Museo di Storia delle Scienza, Museum of the History of Science (Oxford) Urania, Palais de la Découverte, Evoluon, Exploratorium Role of Object Precious, icon, relic, Represents the world, Reflects status owner Primary source of information, Catalogues the world Demonstrates skills & progress of industrialized world Testimony, Material evidence Demonstration of phenomenon, scientific principle or concept Source of information, Authenticity, Adds time dimension Type of object Authentic Authentic Authentic, Instruction model Authentic Interactive props, disposable Authentic, 'Intangible' Documents humaines, Interactive props Use of Object Admiration, Demonstration, Hands-off Examination & classification of the world, Hands-on Admiration, Demonstration, Hands-off Reference, Instruction Interpretation, Hands-off Interactive experiment, Experience, Hands-on Experience, Interpretation, Hands-on & -off Arrangement & ordering of Objects Importance, value, meaning, allegoric, Aesthetic Systematic, Specialization, Functional Thematic, Instructive Thematic, Historic setting Disciplinary, Didactic, Entertaining Interdisciplinary, In context, Stimulate debate Purpose & function Institution Contemplation, Reflection on temporal power & intellectual status Investigate, catalogue, classify & collect the world, Encyclopedic Demonstrate skills & progress of industrialized world Archive & repository Document & illustrate the history of science Promote public understanding of science Science education, Science participation, Science is part of culture & society Owner Aristocracy, Intellectual & social elite Elite, University, Learned Society Government University Public-Private Public-Private partnerships User/Public Aristocracy, Intellectual & social elite Scholars & students, Elite & Upper-middle classes Lower-middle & working classes, Schools Scholars & students, General public, Schools General public, Schools, Tourism Industry Public at large, Specified target groups Location Schatzkammer, Court, Studio Private cabinet, Academic laboratory (= museum) 'Museum castle' University Museum 'Theme Park' Museum without walls, Virtual museum Legal status Private Private, University Government University Private sector Public-private World view Renaissance, Humanism Enlightenment, Encyclopedism Positivism Modernism Democratization, Progress Emancipation, Heritage awareness Social, cultural & intellectual setting & context Knowledge from early writings, Veneration of rare & miraculous, Early universities Scientific Revolution, Voyages of discovery, Learned societies, Proliferation of science Industrial Revolution, Great Exhibitions, Science goes public, Education reform Awareness to heritage, Teaching & research in the History of Science Information Revolution, WW-II & Sputnik-effect, Limits of Growth Urbanization, Globalization, Science illiteracy, Long-life expectancy Table 1 - The classification of museums of science presented in the article, based on their form as an expression of functional adaptation to their environment; a schematized representation.

Literature Cited:

Boylan, P. J. 1999. Universities and Museums: Past, Present and Future. Museum Management and Curatorship 18 (1): 43-56.

Clercq, S.W.G. de, 1989. "Ecology, form, function, time, a 4-dimensional education kit". In S. Ghose (ed). Science Museums without walls, Exhibits to go. (Proceedings of the International Workshop, December 5-13, 1988) pp. 23-31. Calcutta: National Council of Science Museums.

Danilov, V.J. 1976. America's contemporary science museums. Museums Journal 74 (4): 145-148.

Geerts, L.C. 2003. "The book of the Cave of Treasures - Abraham and the City of Ur". In Earth's Ancient History, A website dedicated to Ancient Times, p. 278. Accessed 29 October 2003.

Hudson, K. 1987. Museums of Influence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, G. D. 1984. "Collections, collectors and museums: a brief world survey". In J.H.A. Thompson (ed). Manual of Curatorship, pp. 7-22. London: Butterwarths/MA.

Lourenço, M. C. 2003. Contributions to the History of University Museums and Collections in Europe. Museologia 3: 17-26.

Shelton, A. 1994. "Cabinets of Transgression: Renaissance Collections and the Incorporation of the New World". In J. Elsner & Roger Cardinal (eds). The Cultures of Collecting, pp. 177-203. London: Reaktion Books.


The inspiration to see form as the functional adaptation to its environment at a given time, came from the many discussions I had over the years with my late friend, the vertebrate paleontologist Paul Y. Sondaar. Writing with Marta C. Lourenço on the role of the object in university museums was very stimulating as were her critical remarks on the draft of this paper. I am also thankful to L. C. Geerts and Josh Gorman. Finally, I am grateful for the opportunity given by Peter B. Tirrell and Inge Kukk to present this paper in Oklahoma (USA) and Tartu (Estonia) respectively, and for the discussions that followed.

1 See for example Lewis (1984), Boylan (1999) and Lourenço (2003).

2 Most authors refer to Danilov (1976) classical paper, written in 1976 while he was director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

3 Which, according to James Ussher (1581-1656), took place on the 26th of October 4004 BC at 09.00 am.

4 As is illustrated by the bone-fragments from the Oxford Dodo, saved from a fire and poorly documented. Nevertheless, these fragments enabled to establish the phylogenetic relationship of the Dodo as an oversized, flightless pigeon.