Francie Diep on why natural history museums are taking down their indigenous cultures dioramas—and what can take their place.
Visitors and museum staff say that by displaying American Indian cultures alongside dinosaur fossils, gemstones and taxidermied animals, dioramas make their subjects seem less than fully human. And because they depict a culture in a freeze-frame moment in time—often during the seventeenth century, around when many tribes first contacted Europeans—they make children think that all the American Indians are dead.
A genet in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa has been photographed by camera traps for several weeks running, riding around on the backs of cape buffalo and rhinoceros . Researchers agree: this is weird! (via.) [more inside]
With growing fascination for the large land vertebratomorphs that are so startlingly diverse on Tatooine, I secured Imperial funding for an expedition to Tatooine, to survey the exotic megafauna and search for fossils of Tyrannodraconis that might further illuminate their evolution. My ensuing report summarizes my trilogy of investigations and discoveries from this “holiday in the suns." [more inside]
Minnesota Birdsong: An interactive poster Cute interface with birdsong content provided by the always amazing Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
"My subject is a barren one – the world of nature, or in other words life; and that subject in its least elevated department, and employing either rustic terms or foreign, nay barbarian words that actually have to be introduced with an apology. Moreover, the path is not a beaten highway of authorship, nor one in which the mind is eager to range: there is not one of us who has made the same venture, nor yet one Roman who has tackled single-handed all departments of the subject."Naturalis Historia was written by Pliny the Elder between 77 and 79 CE and was meant to serve as a kind of proto-encyclopedia discussing all of the ancient knowledge available to him, covered in enough depth and breadth to make it by a reasonable margin the largest work to survive to the modern day from the Roman era. The work includes discussions on astronomy, meteorology, geography, mineralogy, zoology and botany organized along Aristotelian divisions of nature but also includes essays on human inventions and institutions. It is dedicated to the Emperor Titus in its epistle to the Emperor Vespasian, a close friend of Pliny who relied on his extensive knowledge, and its unusually careful citations of sources as well as its index makes it a precursor to modern scholarly works. It was Pliny's last work, as well as sadly his sole surviving one, and was published not long before his death attempting to save a friend from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, famously recounted by Pliny's eponymous nephew Pliny the Younger.
Here is a reasonable translation that is freely available to download from archive.org for your edification.[more inside]
Recently Emily Graslie, of the fantastic natural history tumblr and youtube series TheBrainScoop, was asked a question about whether she had personally experienced sexism in her field. Her response is fucking amazing.
Inside is her goldmine of awesome female science educators online with channels that focus on Science Technology Engineering and Math. My work day is fucked.[more inside]
Established in 1814 by founding curator, the Danish botanist Nathanial Wallich at the premises of The Asiatic Society, the Indian Museum of Calcutta* is the oldest museum in Asia and the 9th oldest in the world. Referred to as a "museum of museums", considered outdated and obsolete, its Victorian Era majesty dimmed by modernization, the grande dame of Indian history still manages evoke paeans to its otherworldly wonders:
With collections to rival the Smithsonian and the British Museums, it isn't just a storehouse of countless artifacts from the world over. The building seems to be a tiny world, an island in the midst of a busy street. The tall gates with their spikes are the doorways to different recorded ages. All those entering through the high steps are travelers in a time machine. But this is not all that Kolkata's Jadughar or "House of Magic" has to offer. Its jadu lies in the magic with which it houses portions of man's past. The high ceilings seem to stretch to infinity. Amid the silence there is vibrant life. Showcasing essential elements of different cultures, the dark, often dank, interiors show up the objects more sharply. Gradually the eyes grow used to the absence of light; the smell seems natural. It is this ambience that gently draws you in and makes the textbook history we are used to, a tangible living reality.It remains a wonderful time-warp with plenty of mangy-looking stuffed animals, fish and birds, together with fossils so beloved of Victorian collectors, as well as fascinating Indian friezes, bas-reliefs and stone carvings and art.
Science & the City is the public gateway to the New York Academy of Sciences. We publish a comprehensive calendar of public science events in New York City, host events featuring top scientists in their fields, and produce a weekly podcast covering cutting-edge science. Meanwhile, the American Museum of Natural History presents over 200 public programs each year including workshops, seminars, lectures, cultural events, and performances. Museum lectures are presented by scientists, authors, and researchers at the forefront of their fields. These engaging sessions often reveal the findings of the Museum's own cutting-edge research in genomics, paleontology, astrophysics, biodiversity, and evolutionary biology and complement the science behind the Museum's world-famous cultural and scientific halls and special exhibitions. Now many are available in podcast form. [more inside]
Take a Panoramic Virtual Tour of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Available as a full-screen virtual tour starting entry rotunda and navigating from there, or jump to individual rooms.
13-Year-Old Makes Solar Power Breakthrough by Harnessing the Fibonacci Sequence After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels. [more inside]
More than 300 heavily-annotated books from Charles Darwin's personal library have been digitized in a collaboration between Cambridge University, which holds the collection, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a project that has so far digitized nearly 50,000 titles from the natural sciences. And if you're looking for what Darwin wrote, rather than what he read, the University of Oklahoma has digitized the first edition of each of his 22 books.
In 1719, Louis Renard published Poissons, écrevisses et crabes, de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, que l'on trouve autour des isles Moluques, et sur les côtes des terres australes. The book documented the newly discovered marine life of the East Indies in images of astonishing beauty, but dubious accuracy.
"Snowball Cam has no visible moving parts but [is] able to roll across most terrains, even up hill." A new generation of spycams - very mobile spycams - have been prowling the northern arctic islands of Norway for an upcoming BBC TV program on polar bears. Bilzzard Cam has two electric motors that propel it across the snow - on skis - at speeds up to 40 mph. When threatened by the bears, it releases the onboard decoy device - the Snowball Cam - seen in action here.
Ravishing Beasts is a blog about all kinds of taxidermy. From taxidermy as fashion to pet taxidermy to taxidermy dioramas.
Wild Film History is a guide to over 100 years of wildlife filmmaking, highlighting landmark films (1959's Serengeti Darf Nicht Sterben, aka Serengeti Shall Not Die - Clip 1, Clip 2) as well as historical relics (1910's The Birth of a Flower - Clip). Check out the links on the Key Events page for an overview of how the genre developed. The site also features biographies and oral history interviews with pioneers (mostly U.K.-based) in the industry. A project of Wildscreen.
View, rotate, and interact with fascinating 3D scans of some of humanity's oldest artifacts. [more inside]
An Outsider's View "Over the past fifty years, factions of biologists have had a complex relationship. Some scientists have continued to carry out relatively traditional natural history work, with little need to delve into molecular (or computational) biology. Others have given little attention to natural history, focusing their efforts instead on deciphering the complexities of a membrane channel, or building new algorithms for identifying open reading frames. In some cases, biologists have bridged this divide, and the result has been a fruitful collaboration. But in other cases—such as the DNA studies on whales and hippos—one group moves into the other's traditional territory, sparking new conflict."[via]
Circuits are flipping on in the nation's attic. A couple of weeks ago, 31 "digerati" -- like Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, and George Oates -- dropped in to the Smithsonian Institution for the invitation-only conference "Smithsonian 2.0: A Gathering to Re-imagine the Smithsonian in the Digital Age". Dan Cohen of the Center for History and New Media provides a great summary (and continues to pose provocative questions) on his own blog. Those whose invitations were somehow lost in the mail can play fly-on-the-wall by watching the keynotes, paging through the Flickr pool of envymaking glimpses of their behind-the-scenes lab and collections tours, reading the blog (where Bruce Wyman of the Denver Art Museum lays out a succinct road map for museums using social media), and poking around in the SI's website gallery. Want to cheer on the USA's favorite 163-year-old "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge" without taking the trip to DC? Thanks to their recent efforts, you can now follow the SI on Twitter, listen to its podcasts, watch its YouTube channel, visit the Latino Virtual Museum in Second Life, or use the FaceBook gifts page to send your best friends their very own pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers, Hope diamond, Negro Leagues baseball, or coelocanth.
Osage orange, avocado, papaya, honey locust, paw paw, persimmon, and many more: fruits that have outlasted the gomphotheres and other megafauna. These "anachronistic fruits" can be a key to understanding their intended consumers. More. More. More. And even more.
"While we are generally horrified by monstrosities in the case of human beings, we love them in fruit" - Giovanni Battista Ferrari (naturalist, "discoverer" of the blood orange and the cure for scurvy). Illustrations in Ferrari's book Hesperides sive de Malorum Aureorum cultura (1646) are based on close collaboration with Cassiano dal Pozzo and his Paper Museum, called one man's project to "commission drawings of all known antiquities, and to attempt to systematically categorize this vast repertory of visual images." [more inside]
Deyrolle: The Strangest Shop in All of Paris. "Paris has many unusual shops, but one of the most unusual has to be Deyrolle."
Alabama has many beautiful rivers, but the Cahaba is special. Its biodiversity is impressive. Boasting 131 different fish species, no other river in North America has more species of fish per mile. It's also the longest free-flowing river remaining in Alabama. It is home to a considerable number of rare plants*, including the Cahaba lilly. The proximity of Birmingham has taken a toll, but recovery efforts are underway, and the Cahaba remains popular with river and wildlife enthusiasts. *Page contains embedded quicktime
A collection of bird skeletons (with 3d rotating skeleton goodness). The site also has tips on cleaning your own, and identifying those you might, uh, stumble across. Comparative pictures and anatomy of orangutan, chimp, marmoset, and lemur skeletons. Will's Skull Site, with close to 100 skulls and details (Cougar!). The California Academy of Sciences site on skulls, including this cool animal-to-skull match tool. Skeleton specimen tutorials from the Vetrinary Museum. The Human Osteology pages. A x-ray anatomy of the human skeleton. The Human Skull module at CalState Chico. And, you know, dragon physiology. And previously, the skeletal systems of cartoon characters.
Owls are rad. Sometimes they look kind of metallic and scary, sometimes wise, sometimes puzzled, and sometimes like skulls, (Index); sometimes they sound like dogs or pigs, sometimes they sound like a little train, sometimes they sound alarmed, (Index of MP3s); sometimes you come across an extensive gallery of Central and North American owls with pictures, ranges, video, and even a description of the '04-'05 Northern Owl Invasion; sometimes it's a dynamic range map of Owls of the Western Hemisphere; sometimes it's the OwlCam homepage with downloadable owl movies, sometimes it's a series of articles on all things owl; sometimes at BiologyBase it's a printable owl sighting lifelist, sometimes it's Ruru, the morepork, New Zealand's native owl at NZBirds. Or, w0t! w0t!, it's attracting barn owls and building nest boxes at World Owl Trust. Previous MeFi birding FPP.
Romantic Natural History: "A website designed to survey relationships between literary works and natural history in the century before Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859)." Including links to various natural historians from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, illustrations and illustrators, literary figures in Romanticism, and, of course, much more.
The orchid scrapbooks of John Day. Over the course of 40 years, John Day participated in the popular Victorian pursuit of orchid collection. He collected his stunning paintings of the plants into 53 scrapbooks, a selection of which is available online at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. [via the remarkable BibliOdyssey]
Electronic Biologia Centrali-Americana is a collaboration between the Smithsonian, Missouri Botanical and Kew Gardens, the British Natural History Museum and various other institutions which has enabled the digitizing of 58 volumes of natural history about central America produced between 1880 and 1920. It includes descriptions of more than 50,000 species with images of more than 18,000 birds, more birds, snakes, turtles, centipedes, spiders, more spiders, plants, mollusks, more plants, butterflies, orthoptera insects, more butterflies and their family's (moth-like) families, mammals and even some historic maps of the region. There is a parallel project attempting to provide access to much more scientific data and specimens between these institutions. Note: 'next' button at top +/- bottom of these large thumb pages; large high resolution jpegs work (in most cases) but zoom and .pdfiles are not yet enabled. I've only just scratched the surface.
"A natural history of birds. Most of which have not been figur'd or describ'd, and others very little known from obscure or too brief descriptions without figures, or from figures very ill design'd."  and "Birds of North America"  Samples (the last 15 from each link): : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. [MI]
New York's Natural History Museum Pioneers Use of Internet2 "Sebastien Lepine, a post-doctoral fellow at the museum, had figured that it would take him a year, using the commercial Internet, to finish downloading two 360-degree digital sky surveys for his study of fast-moving stars. But that was before the museum connected to Abilene." This indication of how the "commmercial Internet" has become so clogged with crap annoys me intensely. Particularly when the article points out just a few of the research projects that need high bandwidth.