Science & Education

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 727–745 | Cite as

Documenting Collections: Cornerstones for More History of Science in Museums

  • Marta C. Lourenço
  • Samuel Gessner


Historians of science have recently become increasingly involved with collections and scientific instruments. This creates opportunities for a more significant role of history in museums of science, as well as more meaningful and contextualized exhibitions and educational programmes. However, complementing the mainstream focus on universal scientific principles with history requires structural and cultural changes in museums’ approaches and practices. In this paper we draw from recent collaborative work with historians of science at the University of Lisbon to reflect on the challenges museums face as they prepare for a more meaningful historical approach to science. We argue that documentation is crucial both before objects enter the museum and as regular collections practice. We propose a conceptual and methodological framework comprising two operational levels: documenting individual objects and documenting collections.


Scientific Instrument Material Culture National Museum Object Level Collection Level 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



In Lisbon, we were inspired by Jim Bennett’s texts about history and museums of science, particularly a paper he gave at the Gulbenkian Foundation, January 2006. Research described in this article is being conducted thanks to a grant from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (PTDC/HIS-HCT/098970/2008). We are also grateful to the following institutions for access to collections and archives: in Portugal, the Palaces of Ajuda (Lisbon), Sintra, Mafra, Queluz, Pena and Vila Viçosa, as well as the University of Coimbra (Astronomical Observatory and the Science Museum), the Geographical Society and the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the National Historic Museum, the National Museum, the Museum of Astronomy, the Museum of the Polytechnic School and the College Pedro II.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Museum of Natural History and Science/CIUHCTUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Faculdade de Ciências, CIUHCTUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal

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