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Hannah OverstreetFollow

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Submission Type

Poster

Degree Type

Masters

Discipline

Humanities

Department

History

Access Type

Open Access

Abstract or Description

Dioramas commemorate. They are constructed to capture a snapshot of nature at a particular place and moment in time and preserve it for generations to come. What they document, however, is not objective reality, but nature as the taxidermist perceived it, a perspective often colored by American westward expansion and Romantic wilderness tropes as well as by science. This lends habitat dioramas great potential as affective experiences, but it can also undermine natural history museums’ missions to communicate the urgency of wildlife preservation to their visitors. Surveys in the Field Museum’s “Nature Walk” exhibit suggest that visitors perceive dioramas as memorials to the distant, irretrievable past—nature as it once was. Furthermore, documents from the dioramas’ creations in the early twentieth century show that taxidermists were consciously recording a natural world they believed was vanishing. By being aware of visitor perceptions and acknowledging the commemorative power of habitat dioramas, natural history museums can utilize their historic displays to further their missions in an era of climate change.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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Jun 6th, 1:00 PM Jun 6th, 2:00 PM

Nature As it Was: Habitat Dioramas and Public Memory in the Anthropocene

Dioramas commemorate. They are constructed to capture a snapshot of nature at a particular place and moment in time and preserve it for generations to come. What they document, however, is not objective reality, but nature as the taxidermist perceived it, a perspective often colored by American westward expansion and Romantic wilderness tropes as well as by science. This lends habitat dioramas great potential as affective experiences, but it can also undermine natural history museums’ missions to communicate the urgency of wildlife preservation to their visitors. Surveys in the Field Museum’s “Nature Walk” exhibit suggest that visitors perceive dioramas as memorials to the distant, irretrievable past—nature as it once was. Furthermore, documents from the dioramas’ creations in the early twentieth century show that taxidermists were consciously recording a natural world they believed was vanishing. By being aware of visitor perceptions and acknowledging the commemorative power of habitat dioramas, natural history museums can utilize their historic displays to further their missions in an era of climate change.