Having read some museum exhibit reviews and scholarly museum evaluations, I finally discovered my own approach to evaluating an exhibit. In today discussion, I will prove that it is possible to apply the techniques for evaluating academic writings to critically evaluating most exhibits. I will use my evaluation of the Dissection exhibit as an illustration of my new method. When adopting a new method, It literally took me 30-45 minutes to finish the entire exhibit.
First, as a reader, you would ask yourself why do you want to read a book? Why is it important to you. Likewise, as an exhibit visitor, you would ask yourself why you want to visit an exhibit.
Second, It is important that one should identify the type of writing of what you read before reading it. Basically, there are two basic types of writing: informative and argumentative writings. Similarly, the same principle applies to exhibits. Nowadays, it appears that most exhibits are about controversial issues. The dissection exhibit is argumentative. When first entering the exhibit, I quickly identified the exhibit’s main argument. Based on the introductory text, I could see that the museum argues whether dissections were ( and still is) an unethical medical practice or not. Nonetheless, at this point, I didn’t know whether the exhibit argued for or against it. Placing the theme within a social context by relating it to my outside knowledge of the issue helped me anticipate that the exhibit would argue against dissections of human bodies. The language in the introductory text is good indicator of curators’ tones such as “horrible crime” and so on. The ability to anticipate what direction to which curators and writers would proceed their arguments would help readers/ visitors understand exhibit’s/ writing’s main points much better. Thus, I made a prediction that the exhibit would provide information and objects that are pertinent to only three aspects : proponents and opponents of the medical practice and common ground viewpoint that would assist either of the sides. In this case, I predicted that the third section would support other argument in some ways. Regular visitors and regular readers stop at understanding writings’/exhibits’ content. There main objective is to gain more knowledge of the topics. However, critical readers/ exhibit reviewers also going beyond absorbing information to examine the logic behind writings’ or exhibits’ arguments(themes).
In the first section, the most single important assumption that the exhibit makes to support its argument : Dissections of human bodies in England were unethical because the practice gave rise to body-snatching from cemeteries and attempted murders. The curators use the murder of an 11-year-old Italian kid, a landmark case in England at that time, to support this assumption. To steer visitors’ attention to the case, the exhibit contains a short video describing this event.It wasn’t the medical practice that were totally at fault for series of burking and bodysnatching, yet the demand for human bodies to practice dissecting was the culprit. Economically, supply automatically rises to meet the increasing demand, creating a new market for selling dead bodies. The exhibit’s presentation of different perspectives from the surgeons and the anatomists at that time is noteworthy and important. Is it interesting to know what private art collectors that purchase arts from art thieves have to say about art thieves? Is to know about buyers of elephant tusks as important as to know about the poachers? After all, without private art collectors, the buyers, there would be no thieves and no poachers. The surgeons’ opinions toward bodysnatching were polarized. Some surgeons placed the importance of dissections toward medical science over the practice’s immorality Some surgeons got an ambivalent feeling about the bodysnatching yet ended up accepting it because they were preoccupied with the idea that saving thousands of lives is inevitably at the expense of sacrificing some individuals and violating the dead. The Americans when making decisions on nuking Japan later used the same logic. As we see, to improve its credibility, the exhibit shows that it remains unbiased by offering multiple perspectives toward the issue.
The second section next to the first is, no surprise, provides proponent viewpoints—the scientific viewpoints—of human dissections. Thanks to these dissections, the English surgeons became more adept at performing sophisticated surgeries such as amputations and brain surgeries and the English anatomists were able to improve their understandings of human bodies that played a vital role in shaping modern medical studies.
In the third section, the exhibit introduces another landmark case, in British legal history, that concerns the constitutionality of the Anatomy act, which states that any unclaimed dead bodies are subject to medical experiments including dissections. There is a short video highlighting the parliamentary debate among members of the House of Commons prior to the law’s enactment. Again, the exhibit tries to remain open-minded (although it seemed to against it), by showing both sides of the debate. However, the exhibit may weaken it argument by not showing debate concerning the introduction of the human tissue act as the result of the repeal of the Anatomy act. Had the exhibit done that, a video about human tissue act would have explained what went wrong with the previous legislation, supporting its argument. This may be one of the exhibit’s major weaknesses. The last section would be the exhibit’s strongest evidence against human dissections in today society. The section contains a long video showing the public views toward the medical practice. The video extends exhibit’s argument to include donations of body organs. The exhibit argues that there are two problems existing with the new law. The Muslim immigrants have been tricked by medical services to make organs’ donations though doing so sometimes is against their wills. Medical services sometimes intentionally let their patients die so they can get the organs. In this section, the exhibit’s argument appears to be one-sided. It doesn’t show opposite side of the coin. What if people are get paid to donate their organ? Does it matter if owners’ bodies should donate their organs if their bodies are cremated?
To sum up, if you look at the way I looked at the exhibit, visiting the exhibit is like reading a book about the history of dissections of human bodies and the ongoing debate regarding to its morality and legality.