NYC: American Museum of Natural History

New York’s American Museum of Natural History is not your father’s museum—it is your grandfather’s museum.

Night at the Museum was a fun movie. My day at the museum was disappointing.

Many of the dioramas double as exhibits not only of exotic animals but also of how museums displayed their treasures 60 years ago. You feel like you’re walking through a museum of how museums looked several decades ago.

The obsolescence of the Animal Museum of Natural History goes beyond its aesthetics even to its content. In presenting “facts,” one would expect great concern for accuracy, not to mention pride in scholarship. However, AMNH has at least one exhibit whose so-called current description of an animal is instead history both to children and young parents:

“The Cape eland has been domesticated for meat and milk in the southern USSR since 1917.”

Many people under thirty years old do not remember the USSR. Yet the USSR is the contemporary geographical reference for the Cape eland.

It was surprising how few facts were offered at most animal exhibits. Most descriptions lacked such fundamental information as the size and weight of the animal featured.

The American Museum of Natural History has long been a temple of classical Darwinism. Despite questions regarding traditional Darwinism across the scientific community, AMNH portrays an aura of certitude and scholastic uniformity.

I did find one gesture of scholastic humility:

“While it is important to make intelligent speculations about extinct animals, we are overstating the strength of the fossil evidence if we present these ideas as truth.” (Exhibit of hadrosaurs, or “duckbill” dinosaurs.)

Having shown this step forward in objectivity, perhaps the American Museum of Natural History will soon seek accuracy and contemporary design.

Some people thought that the movie Night at the Museum was disrespectful to the American Museum of Natural History as a comedy in this hallowed place. AMNH is not a comedy, but some aspects of it were very disappointing.

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About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
This entry was posted in communication, culture, public square and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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