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Preparing the Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist Exhibition Catalog

Janine Yorimoto Boldt is the 2018-2020 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow. She is lead curator for the 2020...

The American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum exhibition Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist was not originally going to have a published catalog. However, this summer, I was told that thanks to an NEH CARES grant, the APS was going to publish a catalog that would include a complete illustrated checklist of the exhibition and an essay written by yours truly that expanded interpretation of the exhibition. 

I was unsure how many visitors would get to see the exhibition in-person because of the pandemic, so I was especially glad that the illustrated checklist would include images of every single object (all 92!) in the exhibition and all of the label text that I co-wrote with my co-curator, Emily Margolis. All of the books that are in the exhibition were specially photographed in their display mounts. In the end we made only a few changes to the label text for publication.  

In the actual exhibition, we had produced “Modern Perspectives” labels that connect objects on display to current issues. However, when we thought about the audience for the catalog and the fact that people would be able to access the catalog long past 2020, it did not make sense to us to include all of the text verbatim from the “Modern Perspectives” labels. We revised a few of the existing label texts to include excerpts from the Modern labels where it made sense. 

small pox
Here is the “Modern Perspectives” label we wrote to accompany Benjamin Franklin’s Some Account of the Success of Inoculation for the Small-Pox in England and America (1759). This label was not included in the catalog but can be seen when the exhibition opens.

Emily and I wrote one entirely new label. In the physical exhibition, we installed Franklin’s “hoax” newspaper alongside interactive educational materials that interpreted the object. We did not write an interpretive object label for the newspaper because visitors would learn about the object through engaging with contemporary sources on media literacy. However, we wanted to include the object in our illustrated checklist, but it needed an interpretative label to provide context.

Hoax newspaper
Here is the installation for the “hoax” newspaper alongside the tablet featuring information about developing critical media literacy skills. See the new text on page 64 of the catalog.

I also wrote an essay to accompany the illustrated checklist. The essay was an opportunity to expand on the exhibition’s themes and present them in a more formal format. In particular, I was able to discuss slavery and race more thoroughly than we were able to cover in the exhibition gallery where we are limited to short labels and object-specific interpretations. I was also happy to be able to write more about the scientific activities of three of the fabulous Franklin ladies—Deborah Franklin, Sally Franklin Bache, and Abiah Folger Franklin. Other APS staff and external advisors reviewed drafts of the essay and provided feedback before the final version went to print. You will also find a selected bibliography at the end of the catalog. These are many of the sources that we consulted while preparing the exhibition and can serve as a recommended reading list for those who are interested in the various topics covered by Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist

The catalog was beautifully designed by Barb Barnett. I worked closely with Associate Director of Collections and Exhibitions Mary Grace Wahl and Curatorial Assistant Magdalena Hoot to review the layout and page proofs and provide feedback on design elements.

The best part is, the entire catalog is available for free online as a PDF. It’s available for download in two versions—desktop and mobile. A limited number of physical copies will be printed and sold at the APS’s Museum when the exhibition opens in 2021. Until then, you can review the materials online and check out the virtual tour of the exhibition, which provides even more material!


Header Image: Dr. Margolis and Dr. Boldt researching for Dr. Franklin, Citizen Scientist together in the APS Library (pre-COVID). Photograph by Johanna Austin, www.AustinArt.org.


NEH logoThis project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. 

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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