Presenting academic research in an exhibition: the case of the Portsmouth Block Mills
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This dissertation is based on a poster exhibition of the Portsmouth Block Mills, a steampowered workshop at Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, designed to produce the wooden pulley blocks used to manage a sailing ship’s rigging. The exhibition is presented as a kind of experiment, intended to discover whether academic history can be communicated to a wide audience in a museum environment. In designing the exhibition I drew upon a range of academic literature. The key aim is to mediate between the often complex scholarly work of academic historians and the potential museums have for attracting, entertaining and educating audiences. The exhibition portrayed the Block Mills in the wide historical context of war, industrialisation and workforce control. The central concept of the exhibition was based on the notion of the Block Mills as a manifestation of the Panopticon principle of surveillance. The exhibition was mounted in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in July 2009. An audience survey was used to assess the effectiveness of the display in conveying the scholarly content. A diary was kept throughout to try to give as accurate an account as possible of the creative process of production. By analysing the creative process the dissertation provides a new perspective on exhibition design, thereby addressing a gap in the museological literature. It will thus be relevant to the wider museum community.
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