[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

The 'New' Natural History Museum



Just encountered a New York Times article dated May 12th entitled 'Mankind Takes a Fall in New Museum Displays.  It begins with a classification scheme we can all appreciate: 

In one of his more fantastical moments, the novelist Jorge Luis Borges imagined an ancient Chinese encyclopedia that presented a method for ordering all the world's animals. Any creature, instead of belonging to groups like "insects" or "amphibians," could be classified in one of these categories: 1) belonging to the emperor, 2) embalmed, 3) tame, 4) suckling pigs, 5) sirens, 6) fabulous, 7) stray dogs, 8) included in the present classification, 9) frenzied, 10) innumerable, 11) drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush, 12) et cetera, 13) having just broken the water pitcher and 14) that from a long way off look like flies.

makes a stop at the AMNH:

Evolutionary thinking, which is now becoming even more sophisticated, has led to another series of revisions. Mr. Asma shows, for example, that at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, which opened in 1996, is strictly organized on a "cladistic" principle of taxonomy: animals are grouped not by shared surface characteristics and functions, but by shared ancestors. The hall is a demonstration of evolution and historical change. The museum's literature makes it clear that this ordering is not immutable but is itself "subject to change and refinement."

and ends distressingly:

Judging from some of the descriptions in recent books, the new natural history museum has tended to become less a temple celebrating human mastery than a spectacle that humans must gaze at as insignificant interlopers. Is it possible that this has encouraged the new emphasis on "edutainment," with the proliferation of gift shops and cafeterias and interactive exhibits? These provide the only habitats where a visitor can feel any power or self-importance in a museum-universe stripped of divinity and anthropocentricity. At best, the outcome is humility; at worst, it is self- loathing... 

Yup, self-loathing will send you shopping, or at least to lunch.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/12/arts/12NATU.html?pagewanted=1