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Museography : "Learning is not what it used to be"*

Published 06 September 2018

Museography has undergone some major changes in recent years.  The most innovative museums have embraced the vast possibilities which digital technology offers and have adapted to the evolution of our society in which the image has become the dominant medium of information and knowledge.  Furthermore, recent research in neuroscience and cognitive processes has demonstrated that soliciting emotions (laughter, surprise, wonder, etc.) strongly fosters better and longer-lasting memorisation of knowledge. 

Contrary to reading a text, a linear exercise which museums have long drawn on, the contemporary museum experience encourages a form of informal instruction.  The museum is also a place for questioning, intellectual openness and comparison, and cannot be confined to a purely didactic place of learning.  Some may regret this, but experience has shown that specialist museums presently attract only a narrow fringe of the population which is already learned in or familiar with the subject matter.

Helping to understand, rather than teaching; creating a desire for culture and arousing curiosity to encourage visitors to ‘go further’ is the approach taken by La Cité du Vin in order to reveal the wealth of wine cultures and civilisations to the widest possible audience.  It was decided not to build permanent collections ex nihilo, something which the budget allocated to the project did not allow for, but to create a vast ‘interpretation centre’ using digital and audio-visual techniques.   Based on the scientific project initiated at the outset, enlisting a committee composed of some thirty specialists in ten fields and around a hundred experts, these techniques enabled us to build a dynamic and very comprehensive dialogue around this universal intangible heritage.   In particular, this dialogue draws on iconography from major international museums, in addition to human experience from around the world.  This ‘new generation’ exhibition, which each visitor can tap into according to their interest, curiosity and availability, is geared first and foremost towards a non-specialist audience (although numerous experts and professionals regularly admit to having made some delightful discoveries).  Some visitors ‘browse’ freely where their curiosity takes them, but many others spend hours exploring the ten hours’ worth of content on offer. 

La Cité du Vin is not limited to this permanent tour, however.  It is also a major cultural centre devoted to wine, with temporary exhibitions, debates, conferences, shows, films and workshops throughout the year, in addition to numerous documentary resources now available online.  Backed by La Fondation pour la culture et les civilisations de vin, these offerings provide a more in-depth exploration of the multitude of subjects touched on in the permanent tour. 

One million visitors in just over two years and, more importantly, the result of satisfaction surveys carried out every quarter, strengthen our belief that the choices we have made, undoubtedly disconcerting for more learned audiences versed in classical culture, correspond to an up-to-date, impressionistic approach to understanding culture.  Nothing makes us happier than when visitors thank us for having learnt so much...while having fun.


*to use the title of a conference on cognitive sciences and new digital tools, presented at the Cité des Sciences, nov 2016


Laurence Chesneau-Dupin, Chief Curator of Heritage, Director of Culture at fondation pour la culture et les civilisations du vin