(Many thanks to Richard De Ritter (University of Leeds) for sending through an overview of his paper from the ‘Institutions as Curators’ workshop, along with his PowerPoint. We’re currently building up an archive of the workshop’s discussions and will be posting a series of further updates over the coming weeks.)
My paper at this event discussed fictional responses to the Leverian museum: a late eighteenth-century institution known for its wide-ranging natural history collection. The fictional responses I focussed on are notable in that they were written expressly for children. Within the paper, I suggested that the museum provided a perfect subject for the children’s literature of this period: authors could draw upon its extensive collection to impart lessons about the divinely ordered natural world. However, I also examined the ways in which the museum provided a more challenging institutional environment. Its lack of taxonomic ordering, and its emphasis on visual impact, meant that it could overwhelm its young visitors, inhibiting – rather than enabling – rational enquiry. Similarly, the texts I discussed each drew attention to the taxidermic specimens on display at the museum. While these objects possess undoubted educational value, they also prompt anxious enquiries into the violence that underpins the practices of natural history.