Translating Extinction: Translation, Exhibitionary Practice and Visitor Engagement in Museum Presentations of Extinction Events and Ecological Crisis

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project explores questions of translation in the visitor understanding of extinction events and ecological crises as presented in museum exhibitions. Museums are important centres not only for education, but also for the presentation of debates around sometimes challenging topics. Extinction events, ecological crises, loss of biodiversity and species, and the effects of human progress on the environment, represent a cluster of closely related topics that pose important questions for museum curators. These include how existing collections can be reinterpreted to highlight extinction, how contrasting modes of interaction such as the mourning of loss and the call to constructive action can be balanced in the museum environment, as well as how visitors can be engaged more actively in the exploration of extinction and in the co-creation of museum exhibits on the subject. Despite this, researchers have largely approached these issues from a monolingual, monocultural perspective, thus neglecting how differences of language and cultural background shape the experience of extinction-themed exhibitions.

The project approaches these issues through the lens of translation, viewing the museum exhibition space as a “translation zone”, a space in which many forms of translation take place. These include translation at the broad level of cultural representation (exhibitions “translate” cultures into concrete interpretations), and at the interlingual level, where two or more languages are translated to aid different language-speaking visitors in making sense of the exhibition message. At the level of the visitor experience, translation of a different kind happens: museums have the power to change visitors, making them reconsider their existing assumptions and how the issues presented relate to them.

The project begins with a landscape study of museums and exhibitions of extinction and ecological crisis, mapping the scope of museum coverage of this theme across museums in greater China and the Anglo-American museum sector. It aims through this to provide a comparative understanding of the ways in which the exhibition of extinction has been approached, as well as how far these presentations give access to non-local visitors through the provision of multilingual translated resources. It then proceeds to a consideration of visitor experiences of such exhibitions, first at the broad level, through the analysis of online visitor reviews. In the second part of the project, two case studies of visitor experience are undertaken with a view to understanding in more depth how visitors to extinction exhibitions differently engage with multilingual resources in the production of meaning.
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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