People often ask me how I first became interested in the topics that would lead me to launch the Morbid Anatomy blog and related projects, such as The Secret Museum and Anatomical Theatre exhibitions. When I am asked this question, I usually rattle off a few of my major serendipitous inspirations: my first trip to Europe and the death-symbolism-packed churches and osteo-architecture I was surprised to find there; The gift of a Mütter Museum Calendar for my birthday one year from a well-meaning friend; And, last but never least, the discovery of Stephen Asma's wonderful, incredible, perfect book Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and History of Natural History Museums.
Asma's book has had such a profound impact on my work that it is difficult to exaggerate its importance. The book is a conversationally toned yet extremely scholarly "natural history of natural history museums," covering, with wit and intelligence, the history of specimens preparation and the artists and pioneers of the medium, the evolution of the museum from Cabinet to comparative anatomy collection to today's science museum, the history and follies of taxonomy, and what the drive to order the world reveals about human nature. Over the course of the book, Asma introduces us to a number of incredible museums I have now--inspired largely by this book!--visited and photographed many times, such as London's Hunterian Museum and Paris' Hall of Comparative Anatomy, and all this in an accessible, enthralling, humorous, and fascinating way.
This is why I am so extremely delighted that Stephen Asma will be visiting Observatory this Thursday, April 22, to deliver his much-anticipated lecture "Museums, Monsters and the Moral Imagination." This heavily-illustrated lecture will draw on the scholarship of both Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads and new book, On Monsters, to examine how science museums and monsters both illustrate the essential yet problematic human "urge to classify, set boundaries, and draw lines between the natural and the unnatural the human" and to "try to excavate some of the moral uses and abuses of this impulse."
Both of Dr. Asma's books will be available for sale and signing at the event. Full details follow; hope very much to see you there!
Museums, Monsters and the Moral ImaginationYou can find out more about this presentation here. You can get directions to Observatory--which is next door to the Morbid Anatomy Library--by clicking here. You can find out more about Observatory here, join our mailing list by clicking here, and join us on Facebook by clicking here. To find out more about Asma's fantastic books, click here and here.
An Illustrated lecture with Professor Stephen Asma, author of Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and History of Natural History Museums and On Monsters.
Date: Thursday, April 22
Time: 8:00 PM
Presented by Morbid Anatomy
In this illustrated lecture, professor Stephen Asma–author of the the definitive study of the natural history museum Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and History of Natural History Museums–will draw upon his studies of science museums and monsters to reflect on their often hidden moral aspects. Museums are saying more about values than many people notice, and the same can be said about our cultural fascinations with monsters. The urge to classify, set boundaries, and draw lines between the natural and the unnatural are age-old impulses. In this lecture, Dr. Asma will try to excavate some of the moral uses and abuses of this impulse.
Stephen T. Asma is the author of Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: the Culture and History of Natural History Museums (Oxford) and more recently On Monsters: an Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (Oxford). He is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and Fellow of the LAS Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia. You can find out more about him at his website, www.stephenasma.com.
Image: From The Secret Museum; Pathological Cabinet, the Museum of the Faculty of Medicine at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow. © Joanna Ebenstein