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The natural history museum is a place where the line between "high" and "low" culture effectively vanishes—where our awe of nature, our taste for the bizarre, and our thirst for knowledge all blend happily together. But as Stephen Asma shows in Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads, there is more going on in these great institutions than just smart fun.
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.
"Rich in detail, lucid explanation, telling anecdotes, and fascinating characters.... Asma has rendered a fascinating and credible account of how natural history museums are conceived and presented. It's the kind of book that will not only engage a wide and diverse readership, but it should, best of all, send them flocking to see how we look at nature and ourselves in those fabulous legacies of the curiosity cabinet."—The Boston Herald.
"Rich in detail, lucid explanation, telling anecdotes, and fascinating characters.... Asma has rendered a fascinating and credible account of how natural history museums are conceived and presented. It's the kind of book that will not only engage a wide and diverse readership, but it should, best of all, send them flocking to see how we look at nature and ourselves in those fabulous legacies of the curiosity cabinet."—Boston Herald
"Asma has already established himself as one of the most creative minds working in cultural history and the history of science. Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads is an incredibly stimulating discussion of the role of natural history museums in culture and society. It should be read by all, both practicing scientists and philosophers, and the broadly curious general reader."—Michael Ruse, author of The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw
"Strap yourself into your seat and prepare for a thrilling ride back into history and natural history through Stephen Asma's time machine—two hundred years back into the history of natural history museums, and two million years back into natural history itself. The weird and the wonderful are on display and visually striking, as Asma traces our journey to understand our origins and evolution, and how we have struggled mightily to convey millions of years of time and change to a species whose chronology is set in decades. A gripping tale with great illustrations that are absolutely necessary—for we are the most visual of all the primates, and there is no greater theatre than evolution."—Michael Shermer, author of The Borderlands of Science
historyh Asma's Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads surveys the presence and evolution of natural history museums around the world interviewing curators, scientists and exhibit designers and providing many observations of the history of these museums and how their contents and approaches have evolved. The result is an excellent and intriguing survey of the evolution of natural history collections."—The Bookwatch
|Ch. 1||Flesh-eating Beetles and the Secret Art of Taxidermy||3|
|Ch. 2||Peter the Great's Mysterious Jars: How to Pickle a Human Head and Other Great Achievements of the Scientific Revolution||47|
|Ch. 3||Taxonomic Intoxication, Part I: Visualizing the Invisible||77|
|Ch. 4||Taxonomic Intoxication, Part II: In Search of the Engine Room||114|
|Ch. 5||Exhibiting Evolution: Diversity, Order, and the Construction of Nature||154|
|Ch. 6||Evolution and the Roulette Wheel: A Chance Cosmos Rattles Some Bones||202|
|Ch. 7||Drama in Diorama: The Confederation of Art and Science||240|
|Notes and Further Reading||277|