How Collections End: Objects, Meaning and Loss in Laboratories and Museums, Cambridge Oct 24-26

Emma Kowal's picture


How Collections End: Objects, Meaning and Loss in Laboratories and Museums

24–26 October 2017

Boris Jardine (Cambridge), Emma Kowal (Deakin, Australia), Jenny Bangham (Cambridge)

Whipple Museum of the History of Science, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Lane, CB2 3RH

How Collections End brings together scholars of museums and laboratories to look at the threat and reality of ending in a range of different kinds of scientific collections. In laboratories collections are in perpetual flux, and managed destruction is part of the job of the research scientist or lab technician. In museums endings can sometimes be intentional, but they can also be disastrous, or simply mundane, as the relevance of the collection dwindles or a museum closes its doors. Endings can be productive too: a matter of spring-cleaning, re-purposing, or the absorption of one collection into another. In How Collections End we will be discussing pre-circulated papers on specific case studies, asking questions about ‘endings’ and what they tell us about the power and value of scientific objects.

The workshop will begin at 2pm on the 24th, and finish at lunchtime on the 26th.

Papers will be pre-circulated to registered participants in early October.  Registration £30 (£15 students), which includes lunches on the 25th and 26th.

To register, please do so here:



Tuesday 24 October 2017

2pm: Introduction: Jenny Bangham, Boris Jardine, Emma Kowal

Session 1: 2.30–4pm

Commentator: Karin Tybjerg

  • Andrea Witcomb (co-author Alistair Patterson): ‘Collections without end: Ghostly photographic presences in McVicker-Smyth’s Western Australian Mineral collection’
  • Ruth Horry: ‘The (un)Wellcome Collection? Changing meanings of ancient objects in the museum’

Session 2: 4.30–6pm

Commentator: Emma Kowal

  • Helen Anne Curry (University of Cambridge): ‘From bean collecting to seed banking’
  • Jenny Bangham (University of Cambridge): ‘When stock centres end: Fruit flies, collections and curators’

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Session 3: 9–10.30am

Commentator: Jenny Bangham

  • Ricardo Roque (University of Lisbon): ‘Blood that remains: card collections from the Colonial Anthropological Missions’
  • Ann Kakaliouras (Whittier College, US): ‘The end of skull science: Have genetics and repatriation killed craniometry?’

Session 4: 11–12.30pm

Commentator: Jenny Reardon

  • Anne Faithfull (Deakin University): ‘“Split ends”: The post collection life histories of hair.’
  • Ana Carolina Vimieiro Gomes (co-author Ricardo Santos): ‘End or reconfiguration of collections? Demographic database and the representation of indigenous populations in Brazil’

Session 5: 1.30–3pm

Commentator: Alison Boyle

  • Boris Jardine (University of Cambridge): ‘The museum in the lab: Historical practice in the experimental sciences at Cambridge’
  • Dahlia Porter (University of Glasgow), ‘The afterlives of order’

Session 6: 3.30–5pm

Commentator: Ricardo Roque

  • Nick Hopwood (University of Cambridge): ‘Farewell to the collections; or, The tragedy of the emeritus’
  • Short film screening: On Taphonomy by Ana Maria Gomez Lopez (Bard University, Berlin)

Thursday 26 October 2017

Session 7: 9–10.30am

Commentator: Ann Kakaliouras

  • Libby Robin (Australian National University): ‘The end of museums as collections’
  • Emma Kowal (Deakin University): ‘Spencer’s double: The ghostly afterlife of a museum prop’

Session 8: 11–12.30pm

Commentator: Sarah Franklin 

  • David Skinner (Anglia Ruskin University): ‘Is this an ending? The deletion of records and destruction of samples from the UK Police National DNA Database’
  • Jenny Reardon (University of California, Santa Cruz): ‘What’s in the bucket? Blood, biobanks and the postgenomic problem of value’