Virginia is for [science] lovers.

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with some of the staff at the Science Museum of Virginia. They are in the process of master planning their architectural and exhibition spaces and have identified that they’d like the character of the visitor's experience to be one of a “Virginia style of learning.”
By reading their strategic plan and through conversation, I gathered that they’d like to use the State of Virginia’s history to provide context for identifying scientific content for the new museum. After all, one could easily turn to Monticello to contemplate the inventive genius of Jefferson or venture to any of the State’s civil war sites to find highly engaging context for subjects like typhus and trajectory; saltpeter and submarines.
In response to this “road trip” idea, I brought up the notion of employing a heritage science approach and although I’ve found that this term does exist in other arenas outside of the museum interpretation field, I’d like to take the opportunity of this blog to identify what I meant by, what I thought was, this admittedly spontaneous term. I think heritage is the full range of
our inherited traditions, objects and culture. Most importantly, it is the range of contemporary activities, emotions, meanings and behaviors that we draw from them. Objects and culture; activities and meanings – it’s the stuff museums are made of. Since this conversation, I encountered an article in AAM’s Museum magazine written by Lonnie Bunch, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (issue Nov/Dec 2010). In it, I read “The best museum presentations can help people find a meaningful and useable past.”
The idea of a “usable past” made me think of
Virginia and the idea of heritage science again. Perhaps the Science Museum of Virginia should not only be interested in a style of learning but should also be interested in a way of shaping Virginia itself.
I think the idea of a heritage science is a good one, and I now think that its definition is rather multidimensional:
1. It is a context for science through regional and inherited traditions, objects and culture;
2. It is an approach to scientific education through the actions of investigating and uncovering the past, preservation and conservation of heritage resources; and identifying how the past can be useful; and
3. It is a brand for heritage tourism – one that aligns scientific achievement with a powerful sense of place that can certainly found in the State of Virginia, yesterday and today.