Essential. Female workers at the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona 1917-1987
This exhibition aims to reveal a fundamental part of the history of the Museum, which was previously little known: that of the women who worked there from more than a century ago until the end of the Spanish Transition.
As in other areas of science, women’s contribution to work carried out in museums has not been sufficiently known or appreciated. It is a discreet, almost invisible history, mostly centred on tasks that are considered to be subsidiary, but which are essential to the life of the museum both in its relations with the public and in the research and conservation of the scientific heritage.
Starting off as private collectors, donors or visitors, at the start of the 20th century women began to enter science museums officially as “auxiliary” workers. It was not until the second half of the 20th century that they began to occupy positions of greater scientific relevance, as curators of collections, before finally taking on the first managerial responsibilities in the 1970s.
Focusing on the history of women’s work at the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona, an institution that is so representative of the science that is carried out in the city, should serve to reflect on the reasons for this invisibility, the extent of the contribution, the limitations experienced and the struggles and efforts it has taken to reach the current situation, in which over 65% of the museum staff is made up of women, and at least three of them have become directors.
The challenge is to overcome the paradox of its starting point: to make visible for the first time a history that, by definition, has been invisible and, therefore, has generated little visual material. The museum’s rich collections, what has been preserved of its antique furniture, the archive’s documentary collection, and a series of archive documents will be the basic tools for relating this history that goes back over more than a century.
Essential aims to convey two fundamental ideas that come from the fragment of the museum’s history that we want to share:
- To make known the existence of a group of about fifty women who worked at the Museum of Natural Sciences in our city during a period that began in 1917 and ended in the 1980s, when two women became directors for the first time of both the Geology Museum and the Zoology Museum, which were still separate then.
- To explain the multiple roles played by women –and their work– in the history of natural science museums and their evolution throughout history. A process that is common in Europe and America, but which illustrates the case of Barcelona very well.
Pepe Pardo, commissioner of the exhibition