FOLK: an exhibit on science, identity, and politics
The movement of museums towards telling difficult (hi)-stories, revisiting, or even deconstructing their institutional pasts, and exploring their political potency, has resulted in the production of several exhibits related to race and racism. These topics provide an opportunity to develop more nuanced interpretations of historical racial science, explore contemporary research, and empower their audiences to engage critically with science. One such case is the exhibition FOLK at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology.
FOLK explores research on human biological diversity related to Norway by juxtaposing the scientific practices of interwar racial science with contemporary genetics. The emphasis is on practices of measuring, visualizing, classifying, mapping, standardizing and (e)valuating human variation and their multiple entanglements with society, culture, politics, technology and economy. Building on and advancing the insights emerging from a 4-year research project, the exhibit is the result of multi-disciplinary collaboration between professionals from all sectors of the museum, the exhibition's designer and several other external actors. Thus, the narratives on how human biological similarities and differences have been studied and produced take shape at the intersection of academic research and museum work with texts, things, space and people.
By turning our attention to the stories this exhibit facilitates, we reflect on how the methodological choice of bringing together the diverse museum disciplines and external partners around museum objects has allowed us to increase ownership and confidence in handling a highly relevant and sensitive topic.
Ageliki Lefkaditou (PhD) is a historian of science writing on the history of physical anthropology, race and racism. Her interests include the development of museum theory, methods and practices. She is the co-curator of the exhibit FOLK at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology (NTM).
Jon Røyne Kyllingstad (PhD) is senior curator at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology focusing on the history of science, knowledge and academic institutions, and especially on research and ideas on race, ethnicity, culture and the nation. He is currently co-curating the exhibition FOLK.
Henrik Treimo is senior curator at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology. He holds a PhD in social anthropology and he has been researching material culture and cultural studies of science and technology. He is engaged in practices of integrating research and exhibition making in museums.