This month’s virtual Joseph Priestly Society talk features Jesse Smith, research curator at the Science History Institute, and Jahnavi Phalkey, founding director of India’s Science Gallery Bengaluru.
Museums and galleries are increasingly concerned with the historical and contemporary challenges of providing access to clean water. A growing number of historical institutions, science centers, and interdisciplinary spaces are exploring the scientific, political, economic, and environmental dimensions of water and—perhaps most critical—longstanding inequitable access to clean water around the world.
In this talk, two museum and gallery curators will share their experiences interpreting water for public audiences. The Science History Institute’s Jesse Smith will provide an overview of the museum’s upcoming exhibition, Downstream, which will explore the history of water quality analysis and the various scales of water protection that have emerged in the United States over the past 200 years. Jahnavi Phalkey, the founding director of the Science Gallery Bengaluru, will share her experiences developing Submerge, a series of gallery events and programs that ask how interdisciplinary teams of scientists, artists, humanities scholars, and others can generate and share knowledge of water to address urgent contemporary challenges and identify new futures.
Trained as historians of science, Phalkey and Smith will also explore the challenges, limitations, and opportunities of more ontological approaches to the interpretation of water for public audiences. Is it possible, they ask, for museums and galleries to interpret water not as a singular material that preexists its understanding by scientific or indigenous knowledge, but rather as a multiplicity made by and bound up in systems of bodies, practice, power, and places? And why should that matter?
This event is coproduced by the American Chemical Society as part of its ACS Webinars series.