Two letters below to The Irish Times (and Indo) over the past few days. Truly, you wonder with some people...
New life in the 'Dead Zoo'?
Monday, May 17, 2010
Madam, – Following the much heralded re-opening of the Natural History Museum, my wife and I took our two small children along for an outing. The great Irish deer (not elk, we are told) remains as impressive as ever; but I’m sorry to report, the rest of the museum was something of a let-down.
The years of apparent refurbishment are little in evidence. Old Victorian cases, crammed (or stuffed) with endless specimens and dioramas of animal life predominate. Yellowing cards, apparently as old as the specimens themselves, are what seem to pass for explanations of what is on exhibit – with Latin names often to the fore. Is this really the best way to showcase the natural history of this island?
I saw few if any attempts at contextualising the specimens, or using thematic or environmental approaches, or timelines, or indeed anything that might educate us in a more holistic way about Ireland’s rich fauna.
As for the usage of modern interactive technologies that are so apparent in leading museums around the world – there was not a sign. However, I must confess my observations were limited only to the ground floor exhibits, perhaps the exhibits of worldwide animals on the upper floors might have made at least a nod to 21st-century educational and museum standards? Perhaps. But there is no lift to the upper floors (despite the years of renovation) so, as a wheelchair-user, I will never know. – Yours, etc,
JAMES MacCARTHY- MORROGH,
Shankill, Co Dublin.
New life in the 'Dead Zoo'?
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Madam, – James MacCarthy-Morrogh (May 17th), having visited the reopened Natural History Museum, bemoans the absence of “modern interactive technologies” and other characteristics of leading museums worldwide. He has, perhaps, missed the point.
As a visitor since my childhood, and a visitor with my children, to me it is the very fact that it is not a modern museum that makes it attractive. It is an institution dedicated to a bygone age where museums were stocked by the mass slaughter of wild animals and where the wielder of the gun got almost as much recognition as the beast slain. It is full of decaying exhibits displayed with a style set in the 19th century and influenced by the 18th. It is a monument to taxidermy and pickling, butterfly pinning and crab splaying. It is so old-fashioned it is the most modern of institutions, an ironically self-referential museum dedicated to how museums used to be, made interesting if seen as a fully interactive, three-dimensional model of a Victorian museum in which visitors can imagine what it was like to explore natural history 100, and more, years ago. It is, therefore, a museum dedicated to the history of natural history museums. What more could we hope for? – Yours, etc,
Bangor Road, Dublin 12
On another note, here
is the report of December 2007 on the collapse of the cantilevered staircase in the Natural History Museum by Price & Myers consulting engineers. As widely expected, it was the legacy of splicing in new pieces of stone to make good surface wear on the steps of the subject flight that caused it to collapse. Small wonder then that a very necessary flurry of inspections took place on all so-called 'cantilevered' staircases in State ownership in the immediate aftermath of the incident, given this was the repair treatment applied to many of these staircases since the 1960s, when little was known about the mechanics of their loadings.