Displaying Displacement: Exhibiting Extinction in Natural History Museums

In Winged Worlds: Common Spaces of Avian-Human Lives, ed. Olga Petri and Michael Guida, 21-33. Routledge, 2023.

In this chapter I examine two displacements: species extinction and museum exhibition. Building on the idea of liveliness, I argue that both types of displacements displace animals from lively relationships, from history, and from place. I then turn to the intersection of the two displacements in displays of extinct birds such as the great auk, passenger pigeon, and Labrador duck. I discuss the displacement of these extinct birds from their ecosystems through their emplacement in the natural history museum. In this investigation of the geography of birds which can never again fly free, I probe the disconnect that is created in exhibition practice that favours isolating the extinct specimen as an aesthetic object rather than a once-living being that inhabited the world.

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