Monday, May 17, 2010

Book recommendation number two

Two of my favorite things are history books and natural history museums.  I like creepy, old dead things with informative placards and bad lighting.  If you can kinda smell the weirdness, that's even better.  I finally got to go to The Field Museum in Chicago a few years back.  Awesome.

(Photos are from The Field Museum Website)

From back cover:  "Asma takes us on a wide-ranging tour of natural history museums in New York and Chicago, London and Paris, interviewing curators, scientists, and exhibit designers, and providing a wealth of fascinating observations. We learn how the first museums were little more than high-toned side shows, with such garish exhibits as the pickled head of Peter the Great's lover. In contrast, today's museums are hot-beds of serious science, funding major research in such fields as anthropology and archaeology."

 The title of the first chapter is "Flesh-eating Beetles and Secret Art of Taxidermy" and in it he describes how pieces are prepared for storage and exhibition by letting beetles eat all the leftover meat, etc. from the bones of animals.  And who doesn't want to read about taxidermy?

(Photo taken in Hunterian Museum in London from Atlas Obscura website.  Click on the link if you love this kind of stuff)

Other chapters describe the evolution of taxonomy.  When "cabinets of curiosity" (similar to above, but creepier) ruled the scene, specimens were organized by completely different categories than they are now.  So, all the livers were together in one cabinet, all the beaks in another. And, yes, there were penis cabinets and eyeball cabinets, too.

A few other museums mentioned in the book:

Unfortunately, I don't think I'll be able to visit the Galerie d'anatomie comparee in Paris anytime soon.

(Infant skeletons.  Photo from above link)

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