Journal Article

  • A Natural Curiosity: Evolution in the display of natural history museums
    Carlins, C. L.
    Journal of Natural Science Collections, Volume 2, pages 13 - 21

    Natural history museums have the unique capacity to provide a forum for contemporary issues such as climate change, genomics, or natural disasters. These modern museums act as institutions from which new and important advances can emerge. Within this role, natural history is involved not only with a scientific narrative, but a social narrative as well. Developing from cabinets of curiosity to what is recognizable today as the modern museum, collections of natural history have undergone significant developments. This article will briefly look at the driving forces behind these historical developments focusing on an aesthetic of curiosity and display. Using three London-based museums as a case study the article examines the evolution of specimen-rich displays within natural history spaces, particularly in regard to their historical context, characteristics, and purpose. Following the historical background and relevant findings from the case studies, the article will consider how natural history institutions may evolve in the future. Current developments within institutions of natural science indicate that despite various historical transformations and modifications within displays,the future of contemporary natural history museums exists in adopting and acknowledging the historical value of an aesthetic of curiosity while embracing innovative and engaging ways of reuniting natural science with a participatory public.

    Keywords: Natural history museums; Displays; Collections; Curiosity; Participatory public; Museuology