Pickering chosen to head Museum


Jane Pickering of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, formerly of the Oxford University Museum, has been appointed director of the MIT Museum. Ms. Pickering, 33, assumed her post August 3 after relocating from Oxford.

"Jane brings a new and inventive energy to the MIT Museum," said Alan Brody, associate provost for the arts. "She is coming to us with a fresh vision, a passion for the very idea of a museum in an academic setting, an excitement about the particular setting of MIT and a genuine dedication to the educational mission of both the Museum and MIT."

"The search committee was very impressed by the range of Jane's experience," said Harriet Ritvo, the Arthur J. Conner Professor of History and head of the search advisory committee. "She has been responsible for all aspects of the curation and development of several important collections in England. She has established relationships between the collections and a variety of audiences, from academic specialists to elementary school children. She views museums both as a scientist and as an enthusiastic member of the public. And she is wonderfully articulate in explaining the relationship between all these things."

At MIT, Ms. Pickering will lead a re-examination of the Museum's mission and programs, evaluating the role of the Museum at MIT as well as its relation to the greater Boston area and its existing museums. Her aim is to work with all members of the MIT community and, in particular, faculty members who have not in the past been closely associated with the Museum.

Specific goals include articulating the focus of the collections and actively seeking material having direct associations with MIT, widening the scope of exhibitions to address all fields of MIT endeavor, and enhancing the Museum's public outreach and educational activities.

"My work at the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Surgeons has made me very aware of the pivotal role that university museums can play in bringing together researchers with a story to tell and the wider public who are eager to hear it," said Ms. Pickering. "At their best, such museums act not just as a 'shop window' for the institution, but as a genuine interface between the two worlds, with an active flow of ideas and information in both directions.

"MIT is a diverse, vibrant and exciting institution which is at the cutting edge of research in many fields," she continued. "Developing the Museum as a vehicle for communicating this sense of excitement to the public is a great challenge and one which I relish."

Ms. Pickering arrived at the Museum shortly before the September 25 opening of Flashes of Inspiration: The Work of Harold Edgerton, a new, long-term interactive exhibition at the Museum exploring the life and work of MIT legend Harold "Doc" Edgerton. "The new Edgerton exhibition will examine a subject that is directly linked to MIT, celebrate one of the fascinating people that makes MIT such an exciting place, and take it to a wider audience," she said. "It's a perfect example of something I'd like to see even more of at the Museum."

Ms. Pickering holds the MA degree in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge and the MS in museum studies from the University of Leicester. She was assistant curator at the Oxford University Museum from 1989-97, where she was responsible for all aspects of the curation of an internationally important research collection and developed a full public education program based on the collections.

As senior curator at the Royal College of Surgeons of England since 1997, Ms. Pickering managed the college's four museums and led initiatives to improve access to the college's collections for both the general public and the medical community.

Ms. Pickering now resides in Somerville, MA, with her husband, Dr. Christopher Norris, a museum zoologist who works in the fields of mammal evolution and systematics.

The MIT Museum was founded in 1971 to collect, preserve and exhibit materials and artifacts related to the intellectual, educational and social history of MIT and MIT's role in the history of modern science and technology. It houses four permanent collections: the MIT Historical Collections, the MIT Museum Architectural Collections, the Hart Nautical Collections and the Holography Collections. The Museum encompasses approximately 15,000 square feet of exhibition space and attracts about 20,000 visitors annually. The operation also includes the Museum Shop with both catalog and retail sales.

In recent years, the MIT Museum has offered fresh insights into both art and science by showing the interaction between the two. Driven by the slogan, "Discover Where Art and Science Meet," the Museum presents numerous exhibitions of architecture, advanced photographic techniques, plasma sculptures and holography. Warren Seamans retired in 1996 after 25 years as Museum director.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 16, 1998.


Topics: History of MIT, Volunteering, outreach, public service

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