Geology Participatory Museum Exhibits

4 December, 2017 - MA Coursework


Geologic “Antiquities” Participatory Exhibit

I have to assume there are many lazy persons who, like myself, often pass under a tree and wonder what kind of tree it is; who often say to our walking partners “I wish I was the kind of person who knew the names of the trees and birds and rocks” (that is a kind of person: that aunt, cousin, or friend who seems to have effortlessly absorbed the taxonomy of the world around them, much to my silent jealousy); and who often recall that there are guides, in print and apps, to learn to identify these things and never do anything about it. I would like to see a participatory online exhibit/forum where people can post images, videos, and descriptions of geologic oddities (formations, residues, or Martin Rudwick’s “antiquities” (methodological underpinning of this exhibit), or narrate stories of their personal experiences with geologic phenomena or fossils (read: “things dug up”), from around their communities. In so doing, members of various “publics,” would co-create a permanent online exhibit. Each post containing a geologic oddity or narrative could be geo-tagged with a lat/long, and aggregated onto a dynamic map of all the items in the exhibit. Other users, (auto)didactically educated on these matters, could comment on the items in the exhibit identifying the mineral, stratum, or fossilized species, or explaining the process of a phenomenon represented. An online community could participate in the creation of new, aggregation, and dissemination of localized geologic knowledge; connect that digital knowledge in the “clouds” to localized physical space through the map, where it can be palpably experienced; and, most importantly, spare us lazy people from ourselves and allow us the opportunity to acquire that field-knowledge we’ve complained about for so long.

Drilling Deep into Personal History Vernacular Science Participatory Exhibit

Oklahomans are coming to have an increasingly personal relationship with earthquakes (We also happen to be  in range of the New Madrid fault). I thought an interesting participatory exhibit idea would be to create a live oral history machine where community members can record their stories about earthquake experiences, or their thoughts on Oklahoma’s nation-leading seismicity of late. At tablets or televisions posted around the exhibit space, community members can watch videos of earthquake effects in Oklahoma and record their stories and opinions. Their recordings will automatically become part of the exhibit for other participants to listen to at those same tablets, simultaneously creating content for the exhibit and a digital archive of oral histories of earthquakes in Oklahoma, in the spirit of Conevery Valencius’s vernacular science methodological approach.

Stories of the Source from the Source of the Stories

Oklahoma is blessed, despicable though the initial circumstances were, with thriving communities of indigenous Americans. We too often (at best) ignore the American Indian population in Oklahoma (state tagline: Native America, emphasis on “America”). I want this fictional participatory exhibit to broaden the concept of participation to its most inclusive potential. Every year, the Native American Studies department hosts the “Native Crossroads” Native American film festival. This exhibit will partner with the NAS department and participating local tribal governments to create digital storytelling projects centered around the creation stories of respective Native American tribal groups in Oklahoma (in the spirit of Adrienne Mayor’s methodology for Fossil Legends of the First Americans). The videos created by tribal members will be combined and edited-in with supplemental expertise from respective tribal leaders/historians, and scholars at OU to create a feature length documentary for each nation. These documentaries will be submitted to the “Native Crossroads” film festival and will be on display looping in our exhibit. It might be interesting to go above and beyond with the Kiowa Nation’s origin story. As one of the few tribes who inhabited Oklahoma not as the result of a forced death march, the Kiowa origin story includes their trek from the Black Hills of the Dakotas to the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma. This part of the exhibit could be coordinated with Kiowa rituals that take place in the Wichita Mountains, with the permission of the Kiowa, and under their auspices. The Wichita mountains are of supreme spiritual significance to the Kiowa and are under constant threat of gravel mining.

Exhibit Layout

These three exhibits will intermingle in a single large exhibit hall. The floor will be filled with an outline map of the United States, showing only the lines of rivers and geologic faults, and not the boundaries of states or the names of cities. Within what would be Oklahoma there will be points marking the epicenters of every earthquake, color-coded by date and sized according to magnitude. Sites of significance to the indigenous American origin stories will be marked with excerpts from those stories, and the paths of their migrations through the ages will be marked and labeled. The geological “antiquities” will be displayed on daises positioned according to where they were uncovered the antiquities were unearthed, with the height of the dais correlated to the rock stratum from which each originates (these will be open air when curatorially acceptable).


Science is a Story


Conevery Bolton Valencius – The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes – Introduction




Martin J. S. Rudwick – Earth’s Deep History: How it Was Discovered and Why it Matters




Adrienne Mayor – Fossil Legends of the First Americans

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