Sunday, February 13, 2011

Celebrating 100 Years at the National Museum of Natural History

Where: National Museum of Natural History

When: through March 20, 2011

This exhibit is a lot of fun and very interesting. It's an exhibit about the museum itself, which I've not seen before - a self-referential exhibit, I guess you'd call it. It features great factoids; did you know that the museum used 7,200 rolls of toilet paper on Inauguration Day 2009? You do now.

In addition to a history of the museum, they have several great photos:
  • a stegosaurus from the "Hall of Extinct Monsters," - you really have to love that name
  • Theodore Roosevelt from 1909, collecting specimens for display
  • Agnes Chase, an expert on grasses who had to finance her own expeditions, as it was considered inappropriate for women to do field work
Again, I was reminded of the common work of artists and scientists, as there was a display on illustrators traveling with scientists to record findings.

There are millions of objects that the museum owns that are not on display, and there are several photos of rooms full of the drawers that hold all of these items, and the people who care for them. The museum owns everything from a collection of meteorites to the last known passenger pigeon.

Something I had been curious about for some time is how the museum is able to take such an obviously pro-evolution stand, and not face constant criticism from those who believe the bible to be the literal truth. Turns out in 1979 they had their first exhibit on evolution (the first in any American museum), and faced a legal challenge. The museum won the court case and they've been putting evolution on display ever since.

I was quite interested to discover that at one time, fine art and history collections were also housed in the Natural History museum, until the American Art and American History collections were established in separate buildings.

Verdict: Don't miss this display. If you have any interest in museums as institutions, this is great stuff.

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