‘Science in action’: The politics of hands-on display at the New York Museum of Science and Industry
This article analyzes the changing politics of hands-on display at the New York Museum of Science and Industry by following its urban deambulation within Midtown Manhattan, which went hand in hand with sharp shifts in promoters, narrative, and exhibition techniques. The museum was inaugurated in 1927 as the Museum of the Peaceful Arts on the 7th and 8th floors of the Scientific American Building. It changed its name in 1930 to the New York Museum of Science and Industry while on the 4th floor of the Daily News Building, and it was close to being renamed the Science Center when it finally moved in 1936 to the ground floor of the Rockefeller Center. The analysis of how the political agenda of the different promoters of the New York Museum of Science and Industry was spatially and performatively inscribed in each of its sites suggests that the 1930s boom of visitor-operated exhibits had nothing to do with an Exploratorium-like rhetoric of democratic empowerment. The social paternalistic ideology of the vocational education movement, the ideas on innovation of the early sociology of invention, and the corporate behavioral approach to mass communications are more suitable contexts in which to understand the changing politics of hands-on display in interwar American museums of science and industry.