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Life on DisplayRevolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science and Natural History in the Twentieth Century$
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Karen A. Rader and Victoria E. M. Cain

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226079660

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226079837.001.0001

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“A Vision of the Future”:

“A Vision of the Future”:

The New Museum Idea and Display Reform, 1890–1915

(p.8) One “A Vision of the Future”
Life on Display

Karen A. Rader

Victoria E. M. Cain

University of Chicago Press

Between the 1890s and the 1910s, a young generation of reformers inspired by a transnational movement known as “the New Museum Idea” agreed that natural history museums had a social responsibility to reach and teach all citizens about nature and biology. Convinced that museum displays could and should become powerful pedagogical tools, reformers persuaded their colleagues to build collections and displays that would appeal to both scientists and the lay public. A small but influential group of reformers, known as “museum men,” led effort to realize exhibits’ educational potential and to establish museums as major forces in American science education. Though many argued over the shape and extent of museum reform, by the mid-1910s, reformers had persuaded most staff members to rally behind their tripartite vision of the museum as a place for the preservation of specimens, the production of scientific knowledge, and an institution of popular education.

Keywords:   George Brown Goode, New Museum Idea, museum men, American Association of Museums, display collections, taxonomic display, nature study, life groups, United States National Museum, Colorado Museum of Natural History

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