There are many ways that you can define the differences between a natural history museum and other museum types. When I consider the differences I see, I consider how this particular kind of museum is received, the history of some of its practices and the lens from which the collections can be/are viewed.
As noted in one of our readings, a natural history museum can be in a sense a “dead zoo”, as objects in these collections are removed from their environments and do not get to continue in their liner paths outside of it, but enter a path of forced preservation and precise consumption. Because of their collection botany, mineral and wildlife specimens exit their paths of natural existence that depend on the environment for their future states outcome to be placed in a human made state of delayed decay. Freezing these animals, plants and minerals in the state that they were collected to an extent is the goal for collection on exhibition and often seems to seek an achievable lifelike state, goals for collections for research that are not viewed by the public differ, as noted in our weekly meeting discussion research goals and methods can very. These actions bring minerals, wildlife and plants into view in a way that can not be seen otherwise and it is because of that that I feel strongly that natural history museums have a universal appeal. No language is needed to admire these beautiful things and while sharing direct information and education is very integral to natural history museums, I feel that the greatest accomplishments of these museums are the wonder and appreciation that is gained from seeing things so closely in a way that is very intimate. I have often felt that when I am viewing art or animals in a zoo that I am very much a part of an audience and for whatever reason, that mostly leaves when I am in a natural history museum. The act of discovery feels very much authentic and impactful without the awkwardness that comes with viewing animals in zoos. I do not feel that anything is being taken from my viewing of them in their collected state, because whatever was taken from them was already taken. Just as a gallery serves an art piece as a white inorganic box that provides the contrast needed to examine something more closely, so does a natural history museum provide that for their collections and exhibitions.
The practices that natural history museums arose from come in many forms and in many ways are still practiced by both people and animals alike, collecting from the natural world and the everyday things one sees outside is very much still alive in all of us, I have no doubt that we all have rocks, sticks, leaves or flowers that we saw and picked up to take home with us. A universal human trait, I have seen many rock collections or pressed flowers that adorned peoples homes. As I stated in my history discussion post both the practice of coveting and exploring are very much universal human needs/tendencies that developed and where practiced all over the globe. Taxidermy, that is used in many natural history museums for exhibition of wildlife, was practiced in many diverse cultures and places and developed in many different cultures all over the globe without direction. This practice was done by my ancestors, the Koyukon Athabascan peoples when they collected and stuffed some of their favorite bird skins with grass to give them a lifelike appearance and hung them in their homes (Make prayers to the Raven, R.Nelson P. 85).
So many of the ways we see collections in natural history museums are shared in many ways as listed above and the reasons for this is that we all share the lens as human beings from which we view the world. Plants, animals and rocks are truly the “others” on this planet which we all share. We are allowed to see them as others due to the fact that they truly are the others that are out there in this world we inhabit. Perspectives on viewing art, technology, history and ideas are distinctively not shared, simply because we all experience life, thoughts and ideas differently which is the point, but with the “others” we view them in a shared way, as human beings see things that are not from us in any way. These things exist without us and are often better off without us and that level of separation is something that we all share. These things in turn cannot be “made” by us but only collected from their independent existence. These are some of the fundamental differences that make my experiences with natural history museums different from other museums, as they deal directly with how we view the world around us and not the world within us. Quyana (Thank you.)
Q: In what ways can could natural history museums engage artists and people in the arts field?