I was looking forward to hearing Elee speak, having worked alongside her for much of the year, but working in completely opposing fields. You probably know I'm not much of a kids person in terms of what I study, so Elee's presentation brought the field to light for me in a really entertaining way!
Natural history, she notes, is in something of a strange position in museums. On the one hand, people really like it, and almost half of the collections in the UK contain some form of natural history exhibit (one sixth of these, by the way, are in the Natural History Museum in London). And yet certain parts of it, such as taxidermy, can really polarise people in terms of their responses. Alberti recently pointed out that, as yet, there is little, if any research into the way people respond to natural history collections and the reasons why they do so. But such research could really help museums, who are, at times (in my opinion) overly apologetic for displays of taxidermy and bones. This probably isn't helped, Elee notes, by certain scholars such as Harroway, who have seen taxidermy specimens as fallacious recreations. But in what sense, really, are they fallacious? If she means that they are different from the thing in life, the thing in original use, then surely all museum peices are so - would Harroway be rid of museums?
Museums need to know what to do with these collections. For Elee, this is an ethical issue, for we need to use the museum positively to instill in ourselves and future generations a love of nature and a desire to preserve it. We are, according the Edward Wilson, naturally inclined to react strongly to aspects of nature due to our growth within and from it. This is known as biophillia, and our engagement with nature has huge impact upon our health, wellbeing and social awareness. A way to get people to love nature is through early exposure, but Kellert has shown that children are often afraid of direct contact with nature. Elee feels Kellert's argumets lack fluidity, and do not create enough room for the analysis of the reactions of very small children, the group upon whom she is focussing, so she augments his model of learning about nature with Falk and Deirking's model of development which is more whollistic and progressive. What Kellert's arguments do show, however, is the important role that museums and taxidermy can have in the development of biophillia in children.
But it is not children who are the only learners, for as Elee notes, in some situations, the child's wonder at a natural specimin (dead and stuffed or otherwise) can create, in an adult, a joyous response which may well have been absent, if not reversed, without the translation power of a child's awe.
Thank you Elee! I especially enjoyed the sheep scapula. Bones bones bones...
The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.