Oramics to electronica: investigating lay understandings of the history of technology through a participatory project
Oramics to Electronica was a 2011 Science Museum project designed to put the tools of museum participation in the service of research into public history, taking the history of electronic music as our example. The primary output was a temporary exhibition. Whereas the term ‘public history’ is often used to denote popularisation of academic history, in this inflection we are primarily concerned with how lay people like our visitors think about the past in general, and about the past of science and technology in particular. Taking the opportunities that arose, we worked with two ‘expert’ groups – of original 1960s participants in electronic music and of 12 recruited present-day music enthusiasts. We also enrolled a group of theatre students and another of writers to respond to the themes of the project and, in particular, to the ‘Oramics Machine’ a unique sound synthesizer created by Daphne Oram. In this essay, an account of our practice is bookended with consideration of related practice and reflections on the implications of the project. It is suggested that the project demonstrated the virtues of proceeding by way of engagement with micro-audiences to understand the ‘cognitive exclusion’ of potential visitors who do not see their interests represented in museum displays.
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