An exploration of the sensory history of the experience of collections in ethnographic and other museums along with the multiple ways in which the senses are being engaged by contemporary exhibition practices.
The classic model of the museum is one of a silent and still site in which artefacts are to be appreciated only through the eyes. The ethnographic museum, similarly, has been seen as a site of sensory containment.in which visitors are limited to ocular inspection and objects are transformed into purely visual symbols. However, recent research has revealed that a more multisensorial approach characterized visitor interactions with collections in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Furthermore, current developments in museum practice evidence something of a return to this early model of interactivity in the museum. These developments are contributing to a shift in focus from displaying objects to offering experiences in an attempt to ensure that visitors are memorably and informatively engaged by exhibits. To this end a number of sensory techniques have been devised to enliven the museum encounter, including multimedia presentations, hands-on interaction with artefacts, the use of scent, the presentation of "living" displays, and interactive exhibits.
The present panel will explore the history of the senses in ethnographic and other museums along with the multiple ways in which the senses are being engaged by and within contemporary display practices. To what extent does bringing the non-visual senses back into the museum enhance cross-cultural and historical understanding of the objects on exhibit?