Trust in Museums: Potential, Challenges, and Societal Importance

Jan 29, 2024

Symposium at the GHI Washington | Conveners: Prof. Dr. René Haak (Head of the Science Section of the German Embassy in Washington), and Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig (GHI Washington)

Event Report

The timely symposium “Trust in Museums: Potential, Challenges, and Societal Importance” brought together high-ranking experts from various Leibniz Research Museums from Germany and the Smithsonian Institution at the German Historical Institute in Washington (GHI) to address a critical issue in today’s polarized world. Co-hosted by Prof. Dr. René Haak, Head of the Science Section of the German Embassy in Washington, and GHI Director Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig, the symposium and its subsequent networking event attracted additional influential stakeholders in the fields of science policy and the promotion of research such as Patricia L. Gruber, PhD, Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State.

Participants discussed the issues of trust in museums in general as well as public trust in research museums and how both relate to broader issues of trust in science and the humanities. “Research museums play an imminent role for the freedom of science and security as well as trust in science and science communication. Research on the topic of trust in museums, but also the difference between individual trust in science museums and trust in science in general are key to ensure these important pillars of our free and democratic societies in the long run,” said René Haak. “I am very delighted to welcome a group of such distinguished experts to not only discuss these issues but also to explore the potential that museums hold in general as trustworthy institutions for society.”

Simone Lässig drew attention to the relevance of the topic to the GHI, which she has transformed into an internationally recognized center for the history of knowledge: “As a site of knowledge development and exchange between scholars, experts, and the public – a mission we share with the research museums of the Leibniz Gemeinschaft and Smithsonian Institution – I am particularly delighted to discuss the topics of building and retaining trust, conveying both new and old knowledge to the public, as well as the challenges of the suppression or ignoring of knowledge by museums and similar institutions with this combined force of transatlantic specialists.”

The symposium was held on January 29, 2024 as a part of the German Science Year 2024 – Freedom which is organized by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The aim of the Science Year 2024 – Freedom is to bring people into a dialogue with the scientific and research community in a variety of formats and to spur greater public interest in research, and to develop new research fields and future projects.

Participants of the symposium included Prof. Dr. Alexandra W. Busch, General Director of the Leibniz-Zentrum für Archäologie (LEIZA), Dr. Lorenz Kampschulte, Head of Education Department at Deutsches Museum (DM), Prof. Dr. Sunhild Kleingärtner, Director of the Deutsches Bergbaumuseum (DBM), Prof. Johannes Vogel, PhD, Director General of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN), Anita Hermannstädter, co-head of Humanities of Nature Department at MfN, Prof. Klement Tockner, General Director of Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (SNG), as well as remotely Dr. Heike Zech, Deputy Dirctor of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (GNM) and Prof. Dr. Ruth Schilling, Director of the Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum (DSM), all representing Leibniz Research Museums. The Smithsonian Institution was represented by Dr. Scott Miller, National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Richard Potts, National Museum of Natural History and Peter Buck Chair of Human Origins Director, Dr. Dorothy Lippert, National Museum of Natural History Program Manager, Repatriation, Junko Chinen, Chief of Exhibit Development and Project Management at the National Museum of Natural History and Celia Emmelhainz, Manager, National Anthropological Archive. Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig and Dr. Anna-Carolin Augustin participated on behalf of the German Historical Institute Washington. The German Embassy Washington was represented by Prof. Dr. René Haak as well as Jörg Janßen who moderated the event.