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Doctoral studies > PhD dissertations UAB

Jaume Sastre Juan
Un laboratori de divulgació tecnològica: el New York Museum of Science and Industry i la política de la museïtzació de la tecnologia als Estats Units (1912-1951)
Supervisor/s: Agustí Nieto-Galan
Date of defense: 25-09-2013

This PhD Dissertation analyzes the changing politics of technological display in the United States during the interwar years through the case study of the New York Museum of Science and Industry (1912-1951), one of the first industrial museums in the United States. The museum was physically born in 1927 as the Museum of the Peaceful Arts, and it was meant to be a classical building in a park, it changed its name in 1931 into the New York Museum of Science and Industry while in the Daily News Building, and it was close to being renamed as Science Center when it moved in 1936 to the Rockefeller Center.
This dissertation follows the museum through all these changes in name, place and things, which reflect a gradual departure from the ideological contexts, visual regimes and architectural forms of what Tony Bennett calls the “exhibitionary complex”. It challenges and makes more complex the standard narrative on technical museums in the twentieth century by arguing that a transformation in the politics of technological display took place during the interwar years in the United States, which saw the transition from the cultural model of the big national technical museums of the nineteenth century towards the “interactive” science centers of the second half of the twentieth century.
American technical museums were promoted by conservative engineers with a rhetorics dealing with discipline and moral uplift for the working classes through industrial education, but the Depression made them change their course and focus on the production and reproduction of discourses concerning the role of technology in history. Increasingly linked with big corporations, they embraced new display techniques aimed at promoting technological literacy among middle-class consumers defined by the context of a mass communications cultural industry.
Drawing both on textual and visual sources, this dissertation combines the history of technology with results from the museum studies field, which stress the importance of the materiality of place, the structure of the displays, and the visiting practices in order to fully understand the production and reproduction of cultural images of science and technology. It sees museums as semiotic devices, as places where images and discourses on science and industry were produced, consumed and legitimized in the context of an ideological battle for cultural hegemony. It argues that the New York Museum of Science and Industry was an experimental laboratory in this regard, and explores the changing mechanisms by which these images were produced and consumed in a context in which they were key elements in the manufacturing of consent around a wounded capitalism.