The AmericanScience team is back from winter break! To start out the New Year, we’re putting down our ice skates and hot ciders (okay, our piles of grading and overdue chapters) and introducing a new feature to the blog. Besides our regular posts and reviews—and science links, which we’re Tweeting daily—we’ve decided to re-read The Classics in the discipline. Returning to some classic HOS texts and discussing them as a team, we hope, will be a way to both rethink old ideas and, on a more practical note, to read some texts that we haven’t looked at since generals.
To start out the series, we’re beginning with one of the most famous, and most famously impenetrable, essays in the field: Donna Haraway’s “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1938.” First published in Social Text in the winter of 1984-85, the piece became a key chapter in Haraway’s later 1989 masterpiece, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. “Teddy Bear Patriarchy,” and Haraway’s work in general, has become some of the most influential writing in the history of science, in postmodern readings of biology, and in critical gender and race theory. Over the course of a few weeks this fall, the AmericanScience team took some time with the essay, and came together to discuss our experiences with it, where it fits into current scholarship, and whether it really is impenetrable. We invite you to join the conversation in the comments section or on Twitter. On a purely aesthetic note, we’d like to point you to our current header—a timely, we think, image of none other than Carl Akeley working on his taxidermy at the AMNH in the 1930s.
As a new transplant to Philadelphia, I’ve been reveling in the city’s myriad science museums and historical institutions—from the Franklin Institute to the Please Touch Museum (which I’ve written about for the blog), from the Chemical Heritage Foundation (newly merged with the Life Sciences Foundation!) to the Mütter Museum. Philadelphia, in short, is a historian of science’s dream city. A few weeks ago, though, I took an artistic turn to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s stunning new special exhibition “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life.” More than one hundred works of still life cover the exhibition’s dark grey walls, ranging from natural history illustrations of the eighteenth century to pop art installations of the 1960s. Lured into the exhibit by promises of Audubon’s enormous birds and taxidermied specimens, I was absolutely entranced by the range and variety of the works, which came together to paint a persuasive picture of the inextricable links between art and science in America.
John James Audubon, “Carolina Parakeet,” c. 1828
Today we’re featuring a guest post from Sarah Pickman, a PhD student in the History Dept. at Yale. Sarah works on the history of exploration, field collecting, and natural history museums, and anthropology in nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her past work has focused on the material culture of expeditions, from field provisions to Polar gear. Sarah comes to Yale from New York, where she earned an M.A. in Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture at Bard College.
Any casual observer can see that there’s a certain vogue for retro technology in the air. So dust off your home canning system, pull out your vinyl records, and break out your…sextant?
Double-bridge sextant, c. 1798. Collection of National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, NAV1107
On October 1st, NPR featured a story on the construction of the “nation’s T. rex,” a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton set to be the crown jewel of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum’s new Fossil Hall, opening in 2019. The dinosaur, somewhat disappointingly nicknamed the “Wankel T.” (after the Montana rancher who discovered in in 1988), will, indeed, stand out among other dinosaur skeletons for some visible—and not-so-visible—reasons. Maybe most obviously, the Wankel T. is being displayed in a “natural” state of carnivory: rather than standing straight up, small arms waving prostrate in the air, the Wankel will be shown bent down, tearing into the flesh of a dead triceratops. Preparators hope that this life-like scene of consumption, though perhaps a bit disturbing to triceratops lovers, will capture the imagination of young visitors while encouraging a sort of “nature in action” form of display. Even more significant to paleontologists, though, is the fact that the Wankel is constructed with mostly real bones.
A couple of weeks ago in a very public admittance of failure, Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Although anonymous donors rallied together $1.25 million in an effort to save the museum within just a few days, museum professionals—as well as Philadelphia families—are left questioning what it means to run a successful children’s science museum…and what it takes to keep doors open.