• museum,  news

    Giving names to give stories

    Today is a special anniversary. On September 1, 1914, the last of a species died in captivity in the Cincinnati Zoo. As we mark the 100th year anniversary of the passing of Martha the passenger pigeon, there has been an outpouring of press coverage of the bird’s extinction. The Smithsonian has a special exhibit featuring Martha’s taxidermied remains and there are a slew of other museums having passenger pigeon exhibits. There is a film From Billions to None, a web-based project, and a brand new book A Message from Martha all dedicated to sharing the extinction story as a way promoting a sustainable future. Martha even has her own twitter account @MarthathePigeon (which is…

  • beaver,  museum

    When the past obscures the past

    If I asked someone to tell me why they think beavers were hunted in the past, I think the most likely answer would be ‘for their fur’. As I’ve done research on the partial extinction then reintroduction of the European beaver, I’ve come to realise more and more that this answer has to do with the North American beaver (Castor canadensis) in early modern Canadian colonial environmental history than the European beaver (Castor fiber). I think that the importance of the Canadian beaver for the fur trade in the 17th century to make fashionable wide-brimmed felt hats has made us think that this was always why beaver had been killed. This is apparent if we look…

  • beaver,  museum

    Speaking in silence

    In this project on reintroduction histories, I am particularly interested in how ideas of ‘belonging’ play into reintroduction or introduction of animals and then how animals are attributed ‘belonging’ after they have returned or come to a place. Museums are one place where that belonging happens. That’s why I’ve written a fair amount about museum displays on this blog. I’ve shown the great variety of ways muskox displays and beaver exhibits work–what they say and what they don’t. I’ve criticised some museums for not taking advantage of history-telling opportunities. I’ve talked about the opportunities and limitations of asking museum-visitors to consider reintroduction issues through questions. I’ve pondered about the telling of individual versus species stories. I’ve discussed the…

  • beaver,  museum

    Missed history-telling opportunities

    In my explorations of reintroduction in Norway and Sweden, I’ve been interested in how those human interventions are told (or not) to the public. When I visited the Naturhistoriska riksmuseet (NRM) in Stockholm earlier this year, I couldn’t help but be struck by the many missed opportunities to tell entangled stories. In the Natur i Sverige (Nature in Sweden) permanent exhibit, the visitors get to meet Swedish fauna, including wolves, red foxes, moose, beaver, wild boar, and the “new animals” I mentioned in a previous post. So I was particularly interested in how the reintroduced animals like beaver and wild boar would be handled. The beaver exhibit features a beaver…

  • images,  museum

    King Cod

    Early in July, I had the privilege of being an instructor in the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) Summer School in Porto, Portugal. Part of the School included a wonderful day at the Ílhavo Maritime Museum, which exhibits the history of codfish industry in northern Portugal. The museum included historical boat displays and a cod aquarium, with a touch of modern art inspired by cod mixed in. Codfish is consumed regularly by Portuguese who call both the fish and all culinary dishes containing the fish bacalhau. Bacalhau has medieval roots. Norwegian fishermen ramped up their cod catches and began exporting to elsewhere in Europe in earnest in the 13th century, according to…

  • museum,  news

    A new hope

    The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History opened a new exhibit this week ‘Once there were billions‘. The exhibit is timed to coincidence with the death of the last passenger pigeon, Martha, 100 years ago. The extinction of North American birds, notably the great auk, Carolina parakeet, and heath hen in addition to the passenger pigeon, is featured in both historical illustrations and modern artistic works. Martha herself in taxidermied form will be on display, but you can also see her in 3D from the comfort of your home. The exhibit is intended to ‘reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment’ as well as recognizing ‘the tragedy of modern extinction…

  • beaver,  images,  museum

    School posters

    This week during the Framing Nature conference in Tartu, Estonia, I went on a field trip that visited a 19th century school house. Oskar Luts, an Estonian writer, had attended the parish school in Palamuse, Estonia, from 1895 to 1899 and his most famous (and first) book Kevade (Spring) is set at the school. If you want to read about the school, a one-page summary in English is here. The school house was large building with living quarters for the school master (who was the parish clerk), the school room, kitchen, and sleeping room for the boys (girls were added in a separate part after Luts’ time). The school room had a…

  • beaver,  museum

    Beaver for Lent

    Today’s the last day of Lent, which got me thinking about beaver. That might not sound like an obvious connection but they are in fact related. During the Middle Ages, fasting throughout Lent was common, which meant that meat from hoofed animals (cows, sheep, etc) and birds was forbidden. So fish stepped up as the standard Lenten fare. For the most part, this fish probably came in salted or pickled forms and was not particularly tasty. Even though most people these days think the restriction is about eating meat, the dietary restriction wasn’t about mammals & birds versus fish, but about land versus water. Thus, other animals that spent their time in…

  • beaver,  museum,  zoo

    Bebrus in Latvia

    This week I was on holiday in Riga, Latvia. One of our outings was to the Riga Zoo (Rīgas Zooloģiskais dārzs). Ever the researcher, I was on the look out for the animals that I’ve been working with on this project, beaver and muskox. Unfortunately, I didn’t see either one. The zoo supposedly does have a beaver, but he is most of the time out doing school show-and-tell according to the zoo information. In any case, I didn’t see him.   In spite of that disappointment, the Riga Zoo has a connection to my beaver reintroduction research. In November 1934, Bever-Jenssen applied for a licence to send a pair of wild-caught Norwegian…

  • beaver,  museum

    Missing meta-data

    Today I visited the Naturhistoriska riksmuseet in Stockholm. Although my visit included the usual thing of looking around the exhibits, this time I also got to go behind the scenes in the entomology department. I got to see the museum’s collection of Platypsyllus castoris, the beaver beetle that I have written about before.   The collection at NHRM includes only four specimens. Three of them are labeled “Skansen Dec. 1923”. The fourth is labeled “Delta du Rhône”. This isn’t a lot of metadata to go on. So what can we know about these specimens? Since beaver beetles only come from beavers, that’s the obvious place to look. Thus the question is: In December 1923,…