Call for papers: Artefacts Meeting, 2-4 October 2016

Understanding Use: Science and Technology Objects and Users
Just as transport has passengers, ovens have cooks, compasses have mariners and hikers, lawnmowers have gardeners, instruments have experimenters, Davy lamps have miners, radio has listeners, books have readers, television and film have audiences  … and museums have visitors.
Objects in science and technology museum collections have all, before their museum ‘lives’, been involved in many histories of consumption and use. The turn towards studies of use in technology studies, notably demonstrated by Oudshoorn and Pinch’s How Users Matter (2003), Edgerton’s Shock of the Old (2006) and Oldenziel and Hård’s Consumers, Tinkerers, Rebels (2013) is therefore congenial to curators and exhibition makers in science museums. This can manifest itself in social history displays, object biographies, and some close readings of wear and experience; in other words both object-centred research and display practice (historical and contemporary) have much to contribute in developing user studies as presently conceived in science and technology.
Drawing out comparisons between these differing kinds of user history is one of the key aims of this conference. What methodologies have been used in museums and in the universities to reveal histories of use? Which approaches have greatest analytical value? Can study of use in one field inform how we think of that in another? At the same time, the conference organisers argue, a focus on users in the past also offers a route to a rapprochement between object-related research in museums and that other kind of museum research, visitor research, as surely visitors are themselves users of museums. As we understand the relationships between objects and people in the past, so we can apply that understanding to the users of our exhibitions in the present. Equally, the myriad of ways in which social research has sought to understand the responses of visitors and other audiences holds out the promise of many registers in which artefacts in use may be understood.
This conference is linked to the 2017 Artefacts meeting at the Musée des Arts et Metiers in Paris. Whereas, in Paris the emphasis will be on histories of production, in London we will emphasis histories of consumption.
For this Artefacts conference we invite submissions of both philosophical and concrete examples of how an explicit turn to ‘users’ as a category of analysis can enrich both our understanding and our practice in museums. Examples might include, but are not limited to:
  • Methodologies for studying use, including object-stimulated oral history, reconstruction, re-enactment and other explorations of tacit and unrecorded skills;
  • Media and methods for recording and conveying use histories, including thick description, video and audio recording, performance, etc;
  • Sources for histories of use, including manuals, photographs, films, oral history etc; strengths and weaknesses of each;
  • Examples of museum displays that emphasise histories of consumption and use over invention and production;
  • Case studies of objects explored with respect to their use;
  • Categories of user, for example: passenger, worker, consumer, reader, listener, viewer;
  • Area of use: work, home, entertainment;
  • Museum visitors as ‘users’ of museums;
  • Visitor study methodologies and use-study methodologies;
  • Comparisons and contrasts.
Enquiries and offers of papers, quoting paper title, outline (c300 words), author, affiliation.