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Interpreting nature: shifts in the presentation and display of taxidermy in contemporary museums in Northern England

Andrews, Ebony Laura (2013) Interpreting nature: shifts in the presentation and display of taxidermy in contemporary museums in Northern England. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Taxidermy is an organised craft which synthesises preserved animal skins with man-made materials to recreate a resemblance of living animals. As products of a cultural practice, displayed and interpreted in museums for the public, taxidermied animals are material manifestations of contingent value judgements. Despite the now widely held view in museum studies that the meanings of museum objects are constructed through their interpretation and reception, and therefore can have a multiplicity of meanings, many museums today continue to present and interpret taxidermied animals as objective species representatives. Although scientific themes continue to be privileged by many museums which maintain natural science as a discrete discipline, various social, ethical and political themes relating to the environment and to relationships between people have become more pronounced in recently redeveloped museums. Using Leeds City Museum, the Great North Museum: Hancock, and Museums Sheffield: Weston Park as case studies, this thesis investigates these changes to trace wider cultural shifts in politics, ethics, education and science. By analysing the frameworks within which museums and their staff operate, this investigation is concerned with the relationship between discourse and social practice in the form of museum exhibitions as a means of creating knowledge. It highlights how the public understanding of the natural world is more mutable than some of the enduring traditions of science may suggest, and how the discourses on science, and the objects through which they are articulated, are subject to cultural shifts which put their meanings in flux. This study is both part of, and a response to, an expanding field in museum studies and material culture studies which re-frames taxidermy objects as culturally contingent and therefore reflective of the subject positions of their makers, and the broader contexts of their making. In collating and investigating a diverse collection of archival material, this study recovers some of taxidermy’s histories, and contributes to the historical discourse on the display and interpretation of museum collections.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
ISBN: 978-0-85731-800-8
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.617129
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2014 12:20
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2015 13:45
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/6637

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