David Pantalony (of the Canada Science and Technology Museum) and I organized this workshop as part of Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology. The idea was to have an interactive exhibit that focused on breakage as an entry point into issues of materiality. There is a long tradition of seeing breakage and broken objects as a place to ask deep historical and philosophical questions about technology in particular. But like so much writing about technology, those thoughts have often stood apart from actual things. David and I wanted to take up those issues with things in hand, questioning the pathologies of breakage, and exploring the opportunities it could provide for thinking about materiality in historical studies of science and technology. We worked with a wide range of artifacts on loan from the fantastic collections of the Canada Science and Technology Museum and the University of Toronto Scientific Instrument Collection, examining broken objects from multiple perspectives – materials, sensory presence, inscriptions, construction, aesthetics, history, function and provenance.
The session was incredibly popular, thanks in large part to David. He regularly runs a Reading Artifacts Summer Institute where you can explore some of these questions. You can find a review of the 2011 Summer Institute here.