The Bibliography of Babel

I love bibliographies. They’re wonderful things. As far as I’m concerned, they open up doors to things that you couldn’t even imagine. They come in many different forms, I think – or perhaps it is just that we encounter them in many different ways.

During my undergraduate and MA degrees, I loved having ready-made ones there, easily accessible, using them when working on a module or an essay. They were there to help me, to act as the gateways to knowledge and give me confidence that the sources I was using were the right sources to use.

Then there are the ‘accidental’ bibliographies: that is, the ones that grow out of your own research, and which you cite at the back end of a paper – or even your thesis. My thesis bibliography was insane, running to almost 20 pages and containing a bizarre mixture of philosophy, physics, sociology, museology and literature of all stripes. I adore it.

Then there are the bibliographies that you deliberately set out to write. When I was asked by my colleague Serena Iervolino to do this as part of my contribution to the Research in Translation project, I had only a vague idea as to where to begin. How do you write a bibliography for a project which has such broad parameters, where you have little knowledge of who the participants will be, and where you are unsure as to the depth and breadth of knowledge they will need or might voluntarily want to assimilate – for the purposes of building their display and thus contribute to producing the final exhibition: Research in Translation: Academic Research on Display.

I did the only two things I could. I looked through my own odd thesis bibliography for documents on exhibition design, and spent a good couple of days in the library hunting out these, and other related texts which I had not yet found out about or read myself. As with using a pre-written bibliography, I found that one book quickly led me to another, and that to another, and that other to yet another.

But I had to control this, somehow. I realised that I was in danger of writing the world’s most unnecessarily exhaustive bibliography on exhibition design, particularly when I began to insist to myself on the necessity of including a book by Michelle Lovric, called Cowgirls, Cockroaches and Celebrity Lingerie: The World’s Most Unusual Museums. I had wanted, you see, to provide also some contextual literature, and to make the participants in this project think more widely about the nature of exhibitions and museums, how strange and innovative they can be, and how varied are the topics they focus on. See, I’m justifying again.

I realise, though, that the provision of access to knowledge, however obscure, is never made on the presumption that it will be taken up. The offering of knowledge should not, in my opinion, be considered a necessarily reciprocal transaction. Rather, it is an act of giving, and one of hope: for of course, the giver does hope that their offering will be taken up, but they cannot demand that it is. As a consequence, I decided to offer the broadest – as well as the deepest – bibliography that I could, again in the hope that the participants might read a variety of the things on it, and only overlap on a few key texts. This, perhaps, could be a way to unlock diversity within the activities and the final exhibition of Research in Translation. Oh, and the Lovric – it’s still there in the bibliography.

The participants we hope to have taking part in Research in Translation will have no exhibition experience, and probably little or no knowledge of museological and exhibitionary literature at the beginning of the programme. Therefore, I figured that it would be a good idea to offer a brief précis of each book within the bibliography itself, using these as a quick guide from which the participants could get a good idea of which books to select. To give you a little hint, and perhaps to pique your curiosity enough that you apply to the programme, here is a taster of some of the entries in the ‘Bibliography of Babel’, to which only the Research in Translation participants will have full access.

Greenberg, Reesa, Fergusson, Bruce, and Nairne, Sandy, Thinking About Exhibitions, London, Routledge, 1996

This highly theoretical collection of essays contains both contemporary and classic works on museum exhibitions and their meanings. The classics include work by Bennett, Lyotard and Bal. Through six sections, which the production of history, staging, rhetoric, the curatorial role, spatiality, and the complex conditions in which museums and exhibitions find themselves, this volume forces us to think theoretically – and radically – about the way we design displays…

Noordegraaf, Julia, Strategies of Display, Rotterdam, NAi Publishers, 2009

This offers some insight into the history of museum display, particularly the 19th and 20th centuries, across Europe. The author argues for the notion of the script – all the elements comprising an exhibition that make up the interface between the museum and its audience. The concept is a potentially useful one, as it defines the action within which the presentation, designers and users interact…

Filippoupoliti, Anastasia, Science Exhibitions: Communication and Evaluation, Edinburgh, Museums ETC, 2010

This recent volume contains over 20 essays which indicate the innovations and advances in the communication of science to the public through the exhibition medium. It covers engagement, communities, design, interpretation, communicating emerging science, evaluation and analysis, and some history of exhibition.

This bibliography is still in the process of being created. But don’t worry, there will be a functioning bibliography when the programme starts. In any case, I don’t consider bibliographies to be static things. As new books are published, old ones republished, and as libraries continue to grow, bibliographies will by necessity have to be changed. Perhaps this bibliography will even change during the course of this project: who knows?

Of a fictional library, a wise man once wrote ‘The universe (which others call the Library), is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors.’* For some participants, perhaps some of whom are reading this right now, I hope that perhaps this bibliography, as part of this project, can be the first hexagon of your exhibitionary travels, and your access to many more.

*Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Library of Babel’, Labyrinths, London, Penguin Classics, 2000, p.78

Dr. Jenny Walklate

Independent researcher in museology, literature, philosophy and culture
Twitter: @piratemoon


Thinking of applying?

If you are thinking of applying for Research in Translation you need to complete an Expression of Interest form. We will use these forms to select the participants for the programme.

The Expression of Interest form is now available to download from the How to Apply page in the menu.

If you want to apply to the programme, please complete all the sections on the form, along with a Supporting Statement of 450 words (maximum). Email the form to Serena Iervolino,, by Friday 18 July 2014.

If you have difficulty downloading the form please contact Serena ( or Ceri ( and we will be pleased to send you a copy.