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Exhibiting Human Evolution: How Identity and Ideology Get Factored into Displays at a Natural History Museum

Abstract
This paper focuses on how identity and racial ideology are factored into displays in the exhibit, Fossil Fragments: The Riddle of Human Origins, at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. I used visitor questionnaires, observations, exhibition construction and curatorial interviews to examine that the concept of race is so ingrained in our society racial ideology and identity is automatically embedded in exhibits about human evolution. How may the exhibition inform the visitors’ perception of race and human evolution? A key aspect investigated was if the curatorial staff was conscious or unconscious about the racial ideological information present in the exhibit. By examining the exhibition construction and visitor observations, I was able to see aspects of the exhibit reinforced visitor racial ideological beliefs. In seeing how exhibition construction coupled with the legitimacy and power of the museum effect people’s thoughts on human evolution, helped me understand that not only information in the museum but information left out can be as detrimental. All the information allowed me to form recommendations change the exhibit so that identity and racial ideological information would no longer be present.
Type
open
article
thesis
Date
2010-01-01
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