Science Museum Group crowdsources menstrual products for collections
The project is designed to fill a “significant gap” in SMG’s holdings – which include the world’s largest medicine collection – addressing a significant public health issue that has historically been underrepresented.
The work is ongoing, says Jack Davies, the associate curator of medicine, who is leading the project.
“The gap in the collection was partly due to changing curatorial practice,” says Davies. “Previous curators were not always as interested in everyday objects like these. There have also been wider changes in attitudes towards menstruation, which has promoted open discussion through politics, activism, art, sport and social media.
“It seemed like a great time to reflect on this, take stock of what we already had and update the collection with new acquisitions.
“For this project we focused on collecting popular items available on the market today. However, many people contacted us with ideas and suggestions of historic objects or items beyond the remit of the project which have helped us identify potential future collecting projects.”
As part of the project, Laura Humphreys, the curatorial and collections engagement project manager, tweeted a call for menstrual products that SMG should consider – receiving hundreds of replies.
Menstrual Aficionados of twitter: @sciencemuseum collecting project around menstruation continues apace. So far, we have:— Dr. Laura Humphreys (@TweetingBogart) February 25, 2019
- Evening Primrose
- Heat Pads & pain relief
- Reusable Pads
- Thinx Pants
What else should we consider? pic.twitter.com/cnxQ97tGdw
“We felt quite strongly that this is as much men's concern,” says Humphreys. “This is a huge matter of public health that is coming to the fore in the museum sector and beyond. It was quite a deliberate choice to have a man [Davies] leading the project, because it's not just a women's issue.
“Like any museum, we are very aware that our collection does have historic gaps, and with archives and collections the gaps often speak as loudly as the things that we do have, because they reflect the curators and collectors of the past and their priorities.
“We have to be realistic that a lot of the collectors and curators of the past have been men, and perhaps it's not been a priority.”
Twitter was a useful tool in widening the team’s knowledge, says Humphreys. “The response was huge, and we really weren't expecting that. It was exciting to have that public input into a collecting project, because curators don't know everything. When it's something that affects so many people it's really good to have that.
“The museum world has changed so much in the last 20 or 30 years, the majority of the workforce is now female, and that's something we're very aware of.”
Davies says that it may lead to collecting in other areas too. “There were lots of great suggestions in response to the tweet. Some of these are beyond the scope of this collecting project – it has certainly provided good ideas for future projects. These include items related to the menopause, polycystic ovaries and endometriosis.
“For this project we focused on collecting popular items available on the market today. However, many people contacted us with ideas and suggestions of historic objects or items beyond the remit of the project which have helped us identify potential future collecting projects.
“A great suggestion was Muruganantham machines, but as these machines and their products do such good work, we would worry about taking them out of service to bring to a museum.
“What surprised us the most was the level of interest in the project, particularly how many people, organisations and activists interacted with us. The medicine curators all learnt something new.”