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Strangely ahistoric sensibilities at the American Museum of Natural History

Jon Weier

When you visit New York City in late January you find yourself avoiding some of the activities that would characterize a spring or summer visit.  Strolls in Central Park, though beautiful, lose some of their allure on a windy and cold afternoon.  Walking from Midtown to the Lower East Side for dinner is no longer worth the effort.  And visiting the Saturday morning farmer’s market at Union Square takes commitment.  What a cold Saturday afternoon does lend itself to, especially for historians like myself, is visiting the American Museum of Natural History.  Lucky for me, my wife agreed to go with me.

My favourite museums had always been ones which were willing to use different materials and tools, and draw from a broad variety of disciplines to tell the history of a country, a region, a people, or a theme.  Three museums that come to mind are the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg, the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, all of which tell interesting and complicated histories well, while respecting those whose history they explore.  While I wasn’t expecting that exact experience at the American Museum of Natural History, I was expecting something more than the very simplistic, exploitative and static history that we encountered.