Friday, 19 September 2014

BIG (British Interactive Group) Event

Here is the Volunteers and Outreach Officer, Caroline Cheeseman, to tell us what she got up to at the BIG event  this summer which was hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the History of Science:

"Between 23rd and 25th July 2014, 183 science communicators from around the country gathered at the museums for the BIG Event 2014. BIG (British Interactive Group) is a skills-sharing network full of lots of creative, energetic, enthusiastic people working to raise the profile of science, technology, engineering, and maths.

"There was plenty of the hard science you might expect, but I wanted to present an alternative way of thinking about scientific understanding as part of the session, ‘Is there a Doctor in the House?’, so while other presenters talked about nasal speculums and penicillin, I talked about teaching the history of medicine using ‘non-medical’ objects.

A fertility doll, a food cover, and a fox… © Pitt Rivers Museum

"Passing around an assortment of museum handling objects, including a kohl pot, a fertility doll, a food cover, various fossils and amulets, and a fox, I talked about everything from objects as alternative medical records to objects as protection against the Evil Eye. I was especially pleased with one of my slides, which showed two southern Italian amulets associated with the goddess Diana: one from the Pitt Rivers Museum and the other from the Museum of the History of Science, making the point very neatly that they can be understood in many different contexts! You can hear more about some of the charms against the Evil Eye on display in the Pitt Rivers in this extract from the visitors' audio guide:

Ammonite carved with snake's head. PRM 1985.55.1015
"Using a slug on a thorn – one of my favourite Pitt Rivers objects – as inspiration, I finished by talking about sympathetic magic: challenging the audience to a guessing game. Once they got the hang of looking for ‘correspondence’ (the idea that the appearance of an object in some way resembles the cure or protection it is believed to offer), they were able to see how people might think that both a fossil ammonite, which looks a bit like a curled-up snake, and a Martynia seed amulet, which looks a bit like snake fangs, could be used against snake bites. As for the fox, well, you’ll have to look up ‘Pulmones Vulpium’ to find out..!

"The presentation was based on by a six-week Joint Museums Outreach project I did with a local Mind group in 2012."

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