Innovation has become a universal watchword. Yet, despite its popularity, the process of innovation and its global effects require deeper understanding. Questions about the social and cultural implications of invention and innovation remain underexplored by academic, industrial, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations. The Lemelson Institute is designed to fill this critical gap in scholarly and public thinking. Through small, interdisciplinary seminars centered on issues of invention, innovation, and society, we aim to raise the profile of invention and innovation and to open new channels of communication between the various disciplines and sectors of society concerned with technological innovation.
Sponsored by Dorothy Lemelson, the Lemelson Institute is organized by the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, part of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. The mission of the Lemelson Center, founded in 1995 through a generous gift from the Lemelson Foundation, is to document, interpret, and disseminate information about invention and innovation; to encourage inventive creativity in young people; and to foster an appreciation for the central role that invention and innovation play in the history of the United States.
Honoring the memory and ideas of Jerome Lemelson (1923–1997), the eminent American inventor and philanthropist, the Lemelson Institute brings together scholars and practitioners, including historians, archivists, inventors, scientists, artists, policy makers, leaders of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, and others with an interest in innovation, to discuss issues of invention, innovation, and society. This first Lemelson Institute examined the theme of “Places of Invention” to begin to understand and define the relationship between physical spaces and creativity.
The Institute conveners identified the following goals for the meeting:
- Engage scholars and practitioners in an interdisciplinary examination of the relationship among inventive spaces, inventors, and creative activity
- Offer participants new perspectives on the subject, based on their interaction with those from other disciplines
- Produce a written report of the Institute’s findings and seek to publish the findings in an influential journal or magazine
- Inform the Lemelson Center’s exhibition and documentation efforts on the topic of “Places of Invention”
The findings of the Institute offer insight into the qualities of physical space that are conducive to innovation; the ways that creative people shape the spaces in which they work; and common creative features among places ranging from the garages and basements of independent inventors to academic or government laboratories to regions and cyberspace.
Circular image above: Dorothy Lemelson welcomed participants to the Lemelson Archives at Lake Tahoe for the Lemelson Institute on Places of Invention. © Smithsonian Institution; photo by Art Molella