About the Project

The MaskArrayed explores the material, technological, and cultural aspects of the most iconic artifact of the COVID-19 crisis—the face mask. Historians of science, technology, medicine, and the environment unmask in short essays the complexity of a seemingly simple object and unveil its many layers and different usages in both material and non-material terms.

We observe new knowledge, technologies, and materials in the making, follow processes of adaption and invention, and ask how claims of knowledge and technological functionalities are constructed and defended. Striving for geographical breadth though not for universal claims, the project features essays about masks around the globe.

As the crisis requires us to adapt to a new world with the skills and knowledge we already possess, each author brings their specific research expertise and interests to meet the challenge. Our research is enriched by artists’ interventions and interviews with people who have interacted with the object of desire in very special ways.

The project was hosted by Department III (Artefacts, Action, Knowledge) of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) and was inspired by the department’s unique perspective on studying the history of science that considers the changing role of artifacts: texts, objects, and spaces. The idea emerged during the Department’s first virtual meeting necessitated by social distancing. It was finilized with an open-air exhibition, part of the Wissensstadt Berlin 2021 programme.

Contact us at public@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de.

Listen to an episode of the “Science Social” podcast in which Carolin Roeder and Marianna Szczygielska talk about the project and unveil layer by layer the hidden stories of the face mask. The “Science Social: Conversations on History, Science, and Society” podcast series is brought to you by Stephanie Hood and Verena Braun from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.