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Natural history and the antiquarian

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Edwin Rose.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw the rise of the ‘New Museum Idea’, a widespread increase in mass-audience museums containing both large research departments and extensive public galleries. The idea was given brick-and-mortar form in Cambridge on the ‘New Museums Site’ – the present home of HPS and former home of a suite of museums ranging across the sciences. In seeking to understand the development of these museums, and the revolution in university education to which they were tied, it is necessary to look at (at least) three things: the nature of their collections, the professional identity of their curators, and the intellectual agenda that united them. In this talk I explore the role of antiquarianism and local history in the shaping of collections of natural specimens. Antiquarianism, I argue, acted at once as a filter through which ever-growing collections could be passed and interpreted, and a robust social identity that could justify and even mask the radical nature of the new museums.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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