Natural History Museums

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Come see the pickled head of Peter the Great’s wife’s lover.

Come see the monstrous two-headed chicken, the human skulls that “prove” European brain capacity is superior to the “primitives.” All of these attractions, disgusting to contemporary sensibilities, belong to the curious history of the natural history museum. Once a private domain of the most privileged, those who could afford to collect “cabinets of curiosities,” natural history museums today are filled with boisterous kids on field trips, plunging through interactive exhibits designed to combine serious science with Jurassic Park-style “edu-tainment.”

But maybe today’s exhibits say as much about our culture as phrenology said about our forebears’. Our fascination with abomination, the evolution of natural history museums.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Stephen T. Asma, author of “Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums”

and Peter Tirrell, associate director, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, at the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, Oklahoma.