Youth Forum Pilot
In 2016 the Museum of the History of Science piloted a 'Youth Forum' with the aim of engaging a group of young people (aged 18-24) with the behind the scenes work of the museum.
In developing the pilot the museum felt that the group would benefit from a clear focus for their activity, and so selected scientific instruments from the Islamic world as a topic for the group to explore. The museum also wanted to experiment with a co-curation model of working with the group, which would engage with a variety of staff members to create 'interventions' in the displays.
Other aims set out for the programme were:
Recruitment began in January 2016 with flyers distributed in the museum and to select local community groups via the museums' outreach service, as well as targeted recruitment through the Department of Oriental Studies and representatives from the Muslim community in Oxford. By the end of March they had recruited a cohort of 8 young people interested in the programme, and began monthly early evening meetings from April.
In 2016 the group has focussed on the museum's permanent displays of Islamic scientific instruments. This has proven fruitful as the group quickly reflected that the museum's current displays lack sufficient social and historical context, and that the stories told need a more personal, 'human' voice. The group has been working on developing these stories, for example group member Hazim has been able to incorporate a narrative story about two brothers who were astrolabe makers.
The group has also been thinking about ways that they can engage the public with these collections, and near the end of the year delivered a family friendly event designed to bring the collection to life for young visitors. They have also shared their insights and work at the national museums sector conference From Malacca to Manchester in February 2017.
While the forum has been a success to date, and has already had an impact, there is still work to be done for the museum to fully meet its aspirations. Recruitment has been challenging, and the museum has had more success recruiting interested members from the academic community (undergraduates and postgraduates) than from the local community; the museum is considering expanding the age range of the group in response to this. Also, as the group is forming and finding its feet, it is still working towards taking ownership of its work and role within the museum, but there is certainly evidence of steady progress.
The museum has aspirations to continue to invest in and expand this forum in 2017, but are considering some changes based on lessons learned to date.
The Museum of the History of Science Youth Forum is led and organised by Chris Parkin, Lead Education Officer.