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Technical artefacts have many meanings over the course of their use-life and museum after life. By engaging with audiences thoughtfully and openly, science museums can use their objects' dynamic biographies to address global challenges we face today. Not least of these is human-induced rapid climate change. Take the trusty tractor that features in the new display of the Deutsches Museum, the Lanz vehicle known as 'Bulldog' thanks to the unusual proportions of its cylinder head. As an example of the first crude oil powered tractor in the world, at was of a breed that mechanised farming in the early twentieth century. This 12-horsepower version then took pride of place as a 'legend' in the Deutsches Museum's barn-like Agriculture and Food Technology gallery. There it told the story of the impact of agriculture on everyday lives as part of an array of farming vehicles (albeit most of them with rather more conventional appearances). In 2014, however, curators drew on a different cultural value embedded in the Bulldog and displayed it at the heart of the Willkommen im Anthropozdn - Unsere Verantwortungfur die Zukunft der Erde exhibition to converse with visitors about climate change. This tractor illustrates the radical transformations that artefacts can experience: mighty agricultural machine; technical fetish; social history text; harbinger of doom. The Bulldog's journey and those of other objects illustrate how museums can exploit their changing meanings to engage audiences with relevant global issues. An Atomic Energy Authority dosimeter from a hybrid civilian-military Cold War nuclear complex might be used to reflect on the context of current conflicts. A quarter-plate Cameo camera that took photographs of fairies was used in an exhibition, Fake News, to provoke dialogue around misinformation. A prototype Edinburgh Modular Arm System prosthetic limb was revolutionary in its time but is now part of a dialogue about lack of use to develop understanding of social and medical models of disability.
These artefacts have all had their own diverse technical and cultural stories; what unites them, I argue, is that they are also boundary objects used by curators to advocate for social good. Not to demand action, but rather to stimulate dialogue with audiences and other stakeholders and thereby contribute to a greater understanding of timely global issues and inform better decision-making. Visitors respect the expertise of curators, and artefacts are imbued with credibility and authority. By striking a balance between a false neutrality and the extremes of activism, museums can use their objects' changing meanings to address relevant global causes. Artefacts enable powerful advocacy.