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What do you mean by “Circuits of Practice”? What are the project’s aim and research question?

This research project takes its inspiration from the electronic circuit, where electrical connections between diverse components enable complex operations to be performed. The project name “Circuits of Practice” is a play on this metaphor as our aim is to establish a system of collaboration between museum-based and university-based researchers to investigate, along with our a company partner (BT group), the following research question and objectives.

Research Question

How can museums narrate modern computing?

Research Objectives

  1. Improve knowledge and ongoing reflections within media studies and museum studies on the role of museums in the construction of a historical heritage about the emergence of computing
  2. Identify and develop a set of practical recommendations relevant to a wide range of cultural heritage institutions, enhancing innovation in how narratives about computing are constructed and disseminated in museum environments
  3. Enhance the capacity of leading UK museums to address key problems related to the revision of existing exhibitions and the planning of new exhibitions about histories of computing.

Why is the project important and timely?

In recent years, computing and digital media have become an increasingly prominent element of museum collections in the UK and globally. In the UK alone, established heritage institutions such as the National Science and Media Museum (2012) and the Science Museum (2014) have opened new permanent exhibitions about the history of ICT, while new museums of computing have been established in locations such as Bletchley Park (2007) and Cambridge (2014). At the same time, digital heritage has become a key subject of interest to museum-based researchers and practitioners, and computing and digital media a key object for media historians: over the past decade, several foundational histories of these new communication technologies were published, and digital history is now a vibrant, fast-growing scholarly field in its own right. These developments suggest that we are living through a key stage in the formation of both scholarly and public narratives about these new technologies – narratives that will, ultimately, also inform key decisions over what counts as historically significant, and thus what should be preserved and exhibited in museum environments. This offers a perfect moment for a reflective investigation of practices that govern the construction, dissemination and impact of narratives about new technologies, and for the generation of new, collaborative forms of knowledge that will be capable of informing both museum practice and scholarly debates addressing computing as part of historical heritage.

How is Circuits of Practice structured? Who are the partners?

Research is organised within three groups (aka the Circuits) each consisting of the university-based Research Team (The PI Simone Natale, co-I Ross Parry and RA Petrina Foti), two Partner Museums and one International Partner Museum. Each Circuit is led by a different member of the Research Team.

  • Circuit 1 TIME
    • Research Question: How can museums narrate the development of computers through time?
    • Lead: Ross Parry
    • Partner Museums: The Centre for Computing History; The National Science and Media Museum
    • International Partner Museum: National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation “MIRAIKAN” (Japan)
  • Circuit 2 OBJECTS
    • Research Question: How can hardware and software artefacts be mobilized by museums to narrate histories of modern computing?
    • Lead: Simone Natale
    • Partner Museums: The National Museum of Computing; Victoria & Albert Museum
    • International Partner Museum: Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (Italy)
  • Circuits 3 DATA
    • Research Question: How can museums narrate the role of information and data in computing histories?
    • Lead: Petrina Foti
    • Partner Museums: Bletchley Park; Science Museum
    • International Partner Museum: Computer History Museum (USA)

The Circuits of Practice project is funded through an AHRC Research Grant.