Tag Archives: American Museum of Natural History

Kathleen Hulser: History in 100 Objects


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1853 Singer Sewing Machine

Material culture stormed the British airwaves several seasons back when the BBC broadcast “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” Accompanied by a popular website which actually allows listeners to see images of the objects selected from the world class collections of the British Museum, the series fed an untapped appetite for history in small bites. Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum observed “Telling history through things is what museums are for.” Continue reading

Boscobel Names New Executive Director


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David A. Krol has been named Executive Director of Boscobel House and Gardens, Garrison, New York, effective immediately. Most recently Krol served as Deputy Director of the Lobkowicz Collections in the Czech Republic – a family collection of four castles, paintings by Brueghel, Canaletto and Velazquez, musical instruments and autograph scores by Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven, rare firearms and decorative arts, a 65,000-volume library and a large family archive. Continue reading

Theodore Roosevelt: The Wilderness Warrior


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A new book on Teddy Roosevelt by New York Times bestselling historian Douglas Brinkley is described by the publisher as “a sweeping historical narrative and eye-opening look at the pioneering environmental policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, avid bird-watcher, naturalist, and the founding father of America’s conservation movement.” For those interested in the Adirondack region, this new biography helps put TR’s Adirondack experiences into the lager context of wilderness protection and wildlife conservation history.

Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials for his look at the life of what he calls our “naturalist president.” Launching from conservation work as New York State Governor, TR set aside more than 230 million acres of American wild lands between 1901 and 1909, and helped popularize the conservation of wild places.

Brinkley’s new book singles out the influential contributions of James Audubon, Charles Darwin, and John Muir in shaping Roosevelt’s view of the natural world. Some of the most interesting parts of the book relate to TR’s relationship with Dr. C. Hart Merriam, who reviewed the future president’s The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in 1877; Merriam’s own The Mammals of the Adirondacks Region of Northeastern New York, published in 1884, was duly praised by TR.

Merriam and Roosevelt later worked successfully to reverse the declining Adirondack deer population (they brought whitetail from Maine), and to outlaw jack-lighting and hunting deer with dogs and so helped establish the principles of wildlife management by New York State.

During his political stepping-stone term as 33rd Governor of New York (1899-1900) TR made the forests of the state a focus of his policies. He pushed against “the depredations of man,” the recurrent forest fires, and worked to strengthen fish and game laws. Roosevelt provided stewardship of the state’s forests and the Adirondack Park in particular, that led to the most progressive conservation and wilderness protection laws in the country.

TR also worked to replace political hacks on the New York Fisheries, Game, and Forest Commission (forerunner of the DEC), according to Brinkley, and replaced them with highly trained “independent-minded biologists, zoologists, entomologists, foresters, sportsman hunters, algae specialists, trail guides, botanists, and activists for clean rivers.” To help pay the bill he pushed for higher taxes on corporations while also pursuing a progressive politics – what Brinkley calls “an activist reformist agenda.”

The book ranges with Roosevelt to Yellowstone, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Dakota Territory, and the Big Horn Mountains. It does capture Roosevelt’s time in the Adirondacks, but its’ strength is in putting that time into the larger context of Roosevelt’s life as a wilderness conservationist. For example, TR’s opposition to the Utica Electric Light Company’s Adirondack incursions is only mentioned in passing, though Brinkley’s treatment of the relationship between Gifford Pinchot and TR is more developed. An index entry – “Adirondack National Park” – is lightly misused bringing into concern how much Brinkley really appreciates the impact of Roosevelt’s Adirondack experiences (both in-country and in Albany) on his wilderness ethic.

All in all, however, Wilderness Warrior is a well written collection of the strands of Roosevelt’s conservationist ideas, woven into a readable narrative. Considering TR’s role in so many disciplines related to our forests, that’s no mean feat.

Looking for things to do in NY? Check out Citypath


Research Fellowship in Museum Anthropology


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The Bard Graduate Center and the American Museum of Natural History announce a Research Fellowship in Museum Anthropology. The fellowship provides support to a postdoctoral investigator to carry out a specific project over a two-year period. The program is designed to advance the training of the participant by having her/him pursue a project in association with a curator in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The Fellow will also be expected to teach one graduate-level course per year at the Bard Graduate Center (BGC). The Fellow will thus be in joint residence at BGC and AMNH. The fellowship includes free housing.

A major purpose of the BGC-AMNH Research Fellowship in Museum Anthropology is to promote mutual scholarly interest and interaction among fellows, BGC faculty and students, and AMNH staff members. Candidates for Research Fellow are judged primarily on their research abilities and experience, and on the merits and scope of the proposed research.

Candidates with a research interest in the History of Collecting for Anthropology Museums are especially encouraged to apply for the 2010-12 fellowship. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to develop a research program drawing from the Asian Ethnographic Collections at the AMNH. We wish to encourage scholarly investigation of how objects move from the sacred and particular to the market, and of the collecting process and the role of collectors, whether scholars, missionaries or dealers.

Application Procedures: Interested researchers should send a statement of research accomplishments and intentions, curriculum vitae including list of publications, and three letters of recommendation to Research Fellowship Competition, Bard Graduate Center, 18 W.86th Street, New York NY 10024, USA. Research Fellowship applications must be postmarked by December 15. At this time, applications are not accepted by fax or e-mail.

NYC: Douglas Brinkley on Roosevelt, ‘Wilderness Warrior’


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In his new book, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Douglas Brinkley (Professor of History and Baker Institute Fellow, Rice University) looks at the pioneering environmental policies of President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid bird-watcher and naturalist with Adirondack ties at the American Museum of Natural History’s Linder Theater in New York City tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28, 6:30 pm. Admission will be $15 ($13.50 Members, students, senior citizens).

Roosevelt was a pioneer of the conservation movement and was involved with the American Museum of Natural History from childhood. As a matter of fact, the original charter creating the Museum was signed in his family home in 1869, and the Museum has a permanent hall in tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and the contributions he made to city, state, and nation throughout his life. A book signing will follow this program.

Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History and Baker Institute Fellow, Rice University, is the author of several books, including The Unfinished Presidency, The Boys of Pointe du Hoc, and The Great Deluge (which won him the 2007 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award); he is also a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and an in-house historian for CBS News. He has earned several honorary doctorates for his contributions to American letters and was once called the “the best of the new generation of American historians” by the late historian Stephen E. Ambrose.

For questions regarding this event, please contact Antonia Santangelo at 212-769-5310 or asantangelo@amnh.org.

Taxidermy History in New York State – Carl Akeley


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Here is a recent news item regarding the re-installation of what is believed to be “probably the world’s largest mounted fish, maybe the largest piece of taxidermy in the world” – a 73-year-old, 32-foot, mounted whale shark caught off Fire Island in 1935 and believed to have weighed about 8 tons (16,000 pounds). It has been freshly restored was unveiled at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, where it was damaged by water leakage that closed part of the museum in 1996.

The unveiling got us thinking about the history of taxidermy in New York. According to the great wiki.

As the demand for quality leather and hides grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. By the 1700s, almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business. In the 1800s, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term “stuffing” or a “stuffed animal” evolved from this crude form of taxidermy.

It should be added that taxidermy got a boost during the 18th century fascination with natural science presented to the public through exhibitions of strange and exotic animals brought from distant lands and installed in cabinets of wonder, early museums, and the like.

In France Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the Muséum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.

In the early 20th century, taxidermy began to evolve into its modern form under the leadership of artists such as Carl Akeley, James L. Clark [that's him in the photo at the American Museum of Natural History], William T. Hornaday, Coleman Jonas, Fredrick and William Kaempfer, and Leon Pray. These and other taxidermists developed anatomically accurate figures which incorporated every detail in artistically interesting poses, with mounts in realistic settings and poses that were considered more appropriate for the species. This was quite a change from the caricatures that were popularly offered as hunting trophies.

Carl Akeley has a special place in New York taxidermy. His lifelike creations were installed in dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and can be seen in the museum’s Akeley African Hall (he also is considered the founder of a New York City staple – shotcrete).

Akeley was born in Clarendon, NY, and learned taxidermy in nearby Brockport and Rochester. In 1886 he moved to the Milwaukee Public Museum where he created one of the world’s first complete museum habitat dioramas in 1890. Akeley specialized in African mammals; rather then “stuffing” the animals he fit their skins over a form of the animal’s body.

In 1909 Akeley accompanied Theodore Roosevelt to Africa and began work at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1921 he traveled to Mt. Mikeno in the Virungas at the edge of what was then Belgian Congo to try and figure out if killing gorillas was justified. According to a Milwaukee exhibit, he eventually opposed hunting them for trophies but continued to support killing them for science and education purposes. He worked for the establishment of Africa’s first national park – Virunga (home of Dian Fossey and her famous gorilla in the mist and now under serious threat).

He was also interested in filmmaking and photography. Eileen Jones’s PhD dissertation in 2004 concluded that “representations of the African landscape and African fauna in the Akeley Memorial African Hall… were antithetical to assumptions about the impenetrable wilderness of ‘Darkest Africa’ that previously had dominated American popular culture.”

The American Museum of Natural History holds the collection of his second wife and includes photos Akeley took in Africa and films of the mountings he did at the museum. He published an autobiography, In Brightest Africa, in 1923 but died on his fifth trip to Africa in 1926 and was buried there.