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By Tim Boon on

Museums of the New Age: A Manchester Science Festival preview

Researchers at the Science Museum in London have unearthed an amazing film that they believe has not been shown in public since 1928.

Please note: This blog post is about Manchester Science Festival 2016. To find out what exhibitions and activities are open today, visit our What’s On section.

It shows Europe’s four great science museums in London, Paris, Munich and Vienna as they were in 1927, and has the somewhat understated title of The Building and Operation of Industrial Museums.

On 28 October, Manchester Science Festival will host the first festival performance of a new musical score by Jean-Philippe Calvin to this remarkable film, under the title Museums of the New Age.

In the course of the film, we see visitors of our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation enjoying the exhibits at the Science Museum in London, the Technical Museum Vienna, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris, and the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Maybe you even will spot a relative!

The concert is the culmination of a project hosted in the Science Museum’s new Dana Research Centre and Library, and has been funded under the Leverhulme Trust’s Artist in Residence Scheme. The existence of the film has been something of a myth amongst curators for many years. Drawing on research by the museum’s staff and research associates, we now have a clear picture of how the film came to be made. Better than that, we now appreciate that the project that created our film in 1928 also produced another two the year before: Museums of the New Age (not to be confused with Jean-Phillipe’s score, to which it gives its name) and Big Industries: In Little.


Black and white image of Science Museum interior c. 1920s


In the 1920s, several American cities were planning to build new science museums, and they took inspiration from the institutions that already existed in European capital cities. It was fashionable for the promoters of these museums to come to Europe to learn from the great museums of the old world. On one such trip, Charles T. Gwynne, a trustee of the Museum of Peaceful Arts in New York City, took along the film director Arthur Edwin Krows and cameraman Walter P. Pritchard. The idea was to make films to show to potential supporters in New York. Copies were also donated to the four museums shown.


Black and white image of Science Museum exterior c. 1920s


Of the three films, Building and Operation shows the four museums at their best. It contains fascinating sequences that reveal the architecture, displays and individual facilities of the museums, from famous objects to interactive exhibits, and from workshop technicians to directors and visitors.

We commissioned the score from Jean-Philippe because we wanted to bring alive the film for today’s audiences. It will be performed on the night by a group of talented new generation performers: Hannah Black (Flute, Piccolo), Oliver Butterworth (Percussion), Simon Callaghan (Piano), Alasdair Hill (Oboe, Cor Anglais), Izabel Musial (Bassoon), Julia Payne (French Horn), Adrian Somogyi (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet), and conducted by the composer.


Picture of a small group of classical musicians playing Jean-Phillipe Calvin's Museums of the New Age


The showing will include a bonus musical performance and an introductory presentation by film and museum historian Tim Boon, who will provide the background to the film.

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