SYMPOSIUM 'Curating and Exhibiting Geology: Past Practices and Future Challenges'

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Convened by Charlotte Bigg (Centre Alexandre Koyré, CNRS), John Holmes (University of Birmingham), and Pierre Sans-Jofre (IMPMC, MNHN)
A MNHN/MFO/Origins /Symbiosis Workshop

Download the programme here

Many prominent natural history museums were built, or rebuilt, in the heyday of the nineteenth century. Today, most of these museums are undergoing renovation or are in need of refurbishment, as they are asked to address new scientific questions and face new demands with respect to public engagement.

The Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris is no exception. The geology and mineralogy galleries, the oldest galleries onsite, were built in 1830. Like other comparable museums of the time, they are a Gesamtkunstwerk. The architecture, the spatial organization of their collections and exhibition spaces and their decorative programme were carefully articulated to promote a particular vision of science, museum and nation.

In 2023, the decision was taken to create a National Curating Centre for extra-terrestrial rock samples to be returned from space missions. This Centre will be built by 2028 within these galleries, providing the opportunity of a general overhaul of the historical geology and mineralogy building and collections. This implies architectural, security and public engagement challenges but it also recasts the meaning and significance of the existing collections and infrastructure. The pending, potentially major transformation of the galleries therefore provides a unique, time-sensitive chance to explore the rich history of exhibiting geology and mineralogy at the MNHN and of interpreting them through art and architecture, and to situate this history in an international perspective. The workshop will also provide a timely platform for sharing and comparing experiences of recent and current major renovations in natural history museums and their implications for research, curation and exhibition.