Thursday, September 13, 2007

History of Natural History Museum

This past weekend we took the kids to the Museum of Natural History of Bordeaux:



This isn't really a museum of the history of Biology: it would be more accurate to say that the museum is itself an artifact.

Here you can get a real taste of what some of the earliest natural history museums were like.



This museum has been displaying animal specimens to the public since receiving a (donated) private collection back in 1791!!!

So some of these specimens have been on display for well over 200 years!!!



They look it too...

Although most of them are probably no more than a hundred years old, some of the stuffed birds have noticeably faded over the years.

The museum is a bit of a living fossil since they actually take out subsets of their various collections from time to time to do a temporary exhibit highlighting a particular continent or species. I have to admit it's a little creepy, though, to be surrounded by all of these dead animals that have been preserved with arsenic and shown in a display case lo these many years. Particularly the collection of snakes in jars (which look like maybe some of their formaldehyde has evaporated over the past century or so...):



Still, the kids liked the museum. And it's fascinating to get a first-hand feel for the types of collections the early naturalists such as Linnaeus and Darwin were studying.



If you come here, it's quite possible you may be looking at some of the exact specimens observed by Darwin if he ever made a trip to Bordeaux and/or if naturalists and collectors in England were exchanging specimens with naturalists in France.

Now that I think of it, maybe I should have taken a closer look at their collection of beetles...

12 comments:

Freckle Face Girl said...

...& I thought it was strange that the life museum at BYU had the same animals I saw as a child. It is interesting that they can be preserved that long.

jamon said...

Yup, my little ones would love that place. We had a similar museum until recently. Apparently it's undergoing a "26 Million" transformation. I can't help feeling we'll have lost as well as gained.

Thanks for posting.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey FFG!!!

Yeah, it's amazing how long taxidermified animal skins can last!!! And the thing is that -- since they're preserved with arsenic -- it's not safe to dispose of them. So the best thing to do with them seems to be to just keep on displaying them until they become historical artifacts, like we see here...

Hey Jamon!!!

Even though these old-style museums are interesting in their own right, it looks like what you'll be getting is pretty interesting too...

aerin said...

Your kids are getting so big! I think we have a handful of those types of museums near where I'm at. Should be interesting. There is a medical oddities museum somewhere (possibly in DC or NY) which preserves the same type of things, except human remains - I haven't been there but I hear it's creepy.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Aerin!!!

Wow, yeah, I think I might draw the line before going to a museum of preserved human remains showing "medical oddities." Ew. It's probably useful for medical students and the like, but I don't think I really need to have a look at that myself...

King Aardvark said...

Preserved people are great. You'll be surprised how quickly you get used to them. I went to a pathology mini-course at a university when I was 15 and we got some hands-on time with preserved human remains. Very educational - much more so than photographs or drawings.

Speaking of that, I went to see Bodyworlds in Montreal not too long ago. Also good.

Getting back to the museums in general, there's a lot to be said for the older style of museums - lots of samples all preserved just sitting there. Sure, it's not as flashy as the modern museums with their big, flashy displays, but you know that it's all real and there's no fluffy "soft-science" stuff getting in the way.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey King Aardvark!!!

That's a very good point! Yet it still make me say "Ew." ;^)

mel said...

Something about this idea af a museum itself being a relic that I find oddly pleasing. Can't quite put my finger on it ... but to see things as Darwin saw them, that is an adventure for a lifetime.

Thanks for the post, CL!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Mel!!!

It's true, it's an amusing concept, and that's exactly how it hit me the first time I visited: Wow, this is exactly how they learned things in the early days of Biology...

Wayne said...

My four year old daughter went to see the body worlds 3 in Portland with her mom. She was endlessly fascinated by it and talked about it for weeks.

I agree that t it is odd to have dead things in formaldehyde but it is a good way to start talking to kids about evolution.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wayne!!!

Wow, sounds like she had a great experience!!! King Aardvark is probably right about the value of seeing the real thing...

King Aardvark said...

The problem with Body Worlds is that you can't pick things up and play with them. It's still exceptionally good though. As long as you can maturely handle (not physically, mentally) all the preserved genitals, that is.

Your daughter probably isn't as obsessed with genitals as an older child (or my wife) so it was probably ok. I'm glad she had fun and learned a lot.