Once upon a time, a cabinet of curiosities was a part-witch cave, part-apothecary chamber and part science lab. These ‘wonder rooms’ attempted to tell stories about the world’s phenomena. These were the earliest manifestations of museums. Museums have been used as educational tools for as long as we can remember. They traditionally display facts and information and do not allow questioning. They are respected authorities of truth. However, what if we transformed the museum? As the first university museum in Qatar, The Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar engages audiences in active debate. In an era of impatience, digital screens are used as the modern-day ‘cabinet of curiosities’ to empower learners to think differently, triggering alternative sets of ideas, making corrections to assumptions, and allowing for points of view to be held in suspension that will spark ideas and new thinking. Through idea-led and question-focused exhibitions, narratives can be explored that are non-linear and non-chronological, allowing students to learn differently and, by doing so, advocating for faculty to change their teaching experience (and environment). Through the invitation of dialogue and by overlapping threads of identity, learning environments can visualize matters of concern rather than matters of fact. This approach allows for animation and speculation, the telling of things differently, brings together multiple voices and allows audiences to delve into the subject more meaningfully. How people learn needs to be more thoughtful and thought-about. Content should be gateways for interrogation, reflection and interaction, not passive, static and didactic. The classroom is changing. Museums are changing.
Jack Thomas Taylor is the associate curator and manager of exhibition planning at The Media Majlis at Northwestern University and a doctoral student at King’s College London, researching culture, media, and the creative industries. He holds two master’s degrees, one in Culture, Criticism and Curation from Central Saint Martins at the University of Arts London and his second, an MBA in Culture and Enterprise, jointly awarded by Birkbeck’s Business School and Central Saint Martins. He has lived in the Gulf since 2009 and is active in higher education and the creative industries.