BURNS: The Peabody needs to shape up

Yale has always been one of the most respected school in the humanities, but as recent administration initiatives indicate, Yale is poised and determined to make an equally strong name for itself in the sciences. Yale now gives likely letters to science and engineering students and is building a new library and student center for engineering. However, one of the most distinguishing aspects of Yale’s science program continues to be ignored: the Peabody Museum of Natural History.

As a history of art student, the Peabody is not a resource as vital to my education as the art galleries, but it is still an issue that I feel needs to be addressed. I visit every museum I can, and have even worked at one of the most popular natural history museums in the nation. But I have never left a museum more disappointed than after my first and subsequent visits to the Peabody.

The Peabody was originally established as a resource for students, scholars and casual visitors to be enthralled by ground-breaking discoveries in science. Historical photos of the early museum show crowded display cases filled with hundreds of specimens. Yale and Sheffield students were able to access its collections in the same way that we still access those of our art museums and libraries today. Over the centuries, Yale scientists have tirelessly collected specimens that rival and surpass the collections at Harvard’s Peabody and Natural History Museum or Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum. The Peabody used to be a physical encyclopedia of the natural world.

Today it serves more as a place parents take their kids on a rainy day. Students and faculty rarely use the museum as a second classroom; nor does the museum provide intellectual stimuli to the student body. While some courses do take advantage of the Peabody’s amazing collection, neither the general public nor the student body has easy access. Instead, the items are available only to a select group of researchers, scientists or students. The most common interaction students have with the museum is as a place to volunteer or work. It has long lost its connection with educating Yale students.

Currently, the museum’s exhibition space represents the conjunction of different interests that ruin the usefulness of both the collection and the museum itself. Unlike the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, Yale Libraries, and even the all but forgotten Yale Instrument Collection, in recent history, the temporary exhibitions do not have any scholarly notoriety or provide intellectual stimulation within the University. They are expressively targeted to appeal commercially to the very young. The exhibitions “Invasion of Bloodsuckers” and “Black Holes” are shows that are fit for a local shopping mall, not one of the nation’s most highly regarded museums. They do not display any notable pieces from the Peabody’s or any other collection. “Bloodsucker” comprises six large plastic sculptures of the “bloodsuckers” coupled with reproduced photographs and text that provides. “Black Holes” had only digital displays save for a sculpture. They often include no more information than what one would expect from a 1984 edition of the Illustrated Encyclopedia Britannica. It is obvious that the main goal of the temporary exhibits is to provide the development team yet another poster to bring in paying visitors, with little regard for quality.

This profit-hungry attitude also extends to the museum’s birthday party programs. Listed under the heading of “Education” on its website are prices and descriptions of the party package one can buy for $250-280. The room called an “auditorium” is almost exclusively used for parties and, despite being one of the largest rooms in the museum, remains empty of content besides an Olmec head and a religious drawing by indigenous Australians. This insensitive juxtaposition is just one example of cultural artifacts displayed as kitsch in the museum. The Egyptian collection is displayed in a Disneyesque environment with the showpiece of the exhibit, the mummified human remains, located in a fire exit hallway. It focuses more on the allure of lost treasure than cultural understanding. I realize that the Peabody desires to connect with people of all ages and reach out to the local community, but I do not see its current exhibits as a proper solution.

There are plenty of ways to revitalize this institution. First, I have no doubt that there are many people willing to make a substantial contribution for this purpose. Most of the galleries need to be refurbished, refocusing on the treasures and strengths within the collection. As Harvard’s and Oxford’s museums show, the exhibits that have the longest lasting value are those that include more objects from the museum’s collection rather than extensive textual material that too quickly becomes outdated. The museum should utilize student volunteers to convey the most recent scholarship on the objects through lectures, talks and tours like those that are very popular in Yale art museums. It costs very little to alter a tour compared to renovating a hall. One thing that all museums in the increasingly digital age should shy away from is the use of gallery space for videos, interactive games or databases. These displays waste floor space when visitors would be more likely to seek them out on the museum’s website. People do not want to travel all the way to a museum to watch a video or play a computer game. They are there to actually see the items, to touch the past.

Finally, the University should use the museum to Yale’s advantage. Showcase the hundreds of discoveries and breakthroughs made by Yalies, as they do at the MIT Museum, and foster the same wonderment and awe that Harvard’s Comparative Zoology museum does. Actively pursue professors who are doing exciting research to share it with the public and the Yale community in a unique way. I know that many more potential science students would be excited to attend Yale after seeing an exhibit that shows the groundbreaking research of any of Yale’s faculty, and, in the spirit of the plaque that rests outside the museum entrance, perhaps it would inspire other Yale students and future Yalies, too.

Thomas Burns is a junior in Morse College.

Correction

An earlier version of this column misstated Thomas Burns’ first name.

Comments

  • willgearty

    Okay, so there are many things I dislike about this article:

    1) Currently, the museum is being renovated in the front to have a wonderful brand new Cretaceous garden and walking path (I know, not such a big addition, but it will be BEAUTIFUL).
    2) In the works is a multi-million dollar overhaul of the hall of dinosaurs. Many skeletons in the hall need to be rearranged/reset and in fact, the roof should actually be raised to house the largest dinosaur fossils in the room.
    3) The writer mentions that breakthroughs are not displayed, and the reason for this is that, they are breakthroughs. They are being studied by Yale faculty and students.
    4) Anyone at Yale or wherever can access the collections with permission and supervision (not that any of you would steal priceless fossils, right?)
    5) Money rules the world, and since all Yale students get in for free, the only revenue the museum makes is through children and families. Therefore, exhibits tend to favor children because they are the ones paying for the exhibits.
    If you want to really see the collections, email the collections managers. They are all very nice and courteous. Along these lines, very little profit is accumulated for big renovations.
    And when big renovations do happen, they often need to cover huge spans of new knowledge and require research, money, and time to facilitate.

    Sorry I’m so crotchety about this, but the Peabody is my home. It may not look like much, but its got great character and heart.

    P.S. There is a really cool x-ray fish exhibit straight from the Smithsonian being shown right now. Everyone should check it out!

    –William Gearty is a Geology and Geo-Physics major and a sophomore in Branford College. He works at the Peabody Museum as an Assistant Curator in the Vertebrate Paleontology Collections.

    • TBurns

      Will,

      I wanted to address specifically the issues you raised.

      1) I am very excited for the new garden and think it is a wonderful way to actually make the fossils come alive, in a very literal way.

      2) The overhaul of the hall of dinosaurs is exactly the kind of improvements that my article is asking for but even on a larger scale.

      3) To illustrate the kinds of ways other museums show breakthroughs please vist the MIT Museum website. The museum is able to both act as a record of accomplishments while still educating at all levels.

      4) I am very well aware that you can access the collections individually but this does not allow for the same experience as in the museum. It is not like I could wonder the storage shelves and just pull out what caught my eye. Also, I am at no point criticizing the collections but rather the museum, the physical space that collection is displayed in.

      5) Yale and the Peabody are nonprofits. They should not be driven to make decisions of money over quality. Also, why is it okay that alumni and donors value the art museums or libraries enough to not charge admission for anyone, but yet the Peabody cannot raise enough funds to do the same. The Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museum at Oxford are able to be open free to the public and offer exhibits of a standard much higher than the Peabody. I am asking what makes the Peabody unable to operate on the same level. Once again please compare the way Oxford and Yale shows their collection.

      • nac66

        I’m in quite a good position to compare the Oxford and Yale museums, Thomas, because I’ve worked for both of them. The Pitt Rivers and OUMNH are much smaller institutions than the Peabody and consequently the costs of overhauling their displays are much less, as are their operating costs. In the case of the Pitt Rivers, these costs were met through government funding and it is government support than enables Oxford University to offer free access to both museums. And if you don’t know the difference between the donor base for an art museum versus a natural history museum then I have to question what you’re doing writing an article on this subject.

        • swr91

          Wait, the science departments at Yale receive a lot more money from government funding than all of the humanities together. It is stupid to use the lack of government funding as an excuse. I mean it is not like there are millions of tax dollars coming to fund any of the other museums but they are still free and have amazing exhibits.

    • TBurns

      As for the cost of renovating the exhibits I made a suggestion that would limit the needs to constantly change the displays (except for re-articulating the dinosaurs according to new research which will always be expensive).

      Lets use the hominid display. Currently, it includes a lot of text on the walls and relatively little space devoted to the actual display of the objects. Instead of using all the wall space for text why not use the same design as the bird displays (one of the oldest displays but one that I think needs the least amount of change) and have less text ON the walls and instead include more artifacts. Then all of the information that would have been placed on the wall can be presented on a printed guide. The museum could then have multiple different levels of information on different guides and all the visitor would have to do is pick up the guide that applies to them and read it in reference to the objects. This would allow for say a version with a basic recognition game for school children that might say “can you find the cast of the oldest human foot prints that were found in Kenya”. At the same time, a Yale student could pick up a sheet that discuses in great detail the osteology of hominoid’s evolution. They could use the exact same room of objects at the same time that would actually contain more objects on display and appeal to any specific group required.

      Plus, since scientific understanding changes so often, instead of having to wait for the funds to tear down the display and pay for all of the new signage, a whole new display, reinstall the objects and pay for the research, you would only need to replace the cards and pay just for the research. This same technique has been used in art museums initially to removing the distraction of written words from the wall, but it was then found to be the cheapest way of adding new information.

      This is just one of the many improvements that the Peabody could do to both increase the objects on display and connect with more visitors.

      Finally, I do not think that you and other readers realize that though I am criticizing the Peabody (in some cases quite harshly), the thing I ask the most for is increase in support of this vital institution. I am only pointing out flaws in hopes that someone will see the same need to fix them and provide the means to do so. I want to make the Peabody even better than it is and I know that you can agree with that.

  • The Anti-Yale

    THIS 2/9/10 letter to the Peabody Director was never answered or acknowledged.

    http://theantiyale.blogspot.com/2010/02/open-letter-to-derek-e-k-briggs.html

    Derek E.G. Briggs Director,
    Peabody Museum of Natural History
    Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Geology and Geophysics
    Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology
    February 9, 2010

    Dear Professor Briggs:

    Yale has a skeleton in its closet. Actually, it may have nine.

    Fifty-five years before Alyssa Schvartz was denied the right to use her own reproductive body fluids as a piece of art in a Yale exhibit, The Peabody Museum used the reproductive body fluids of nine women as part of its own artistic “exhibit”.

    I support Schvartz’s right to grotesque art. I ask for a belated explanation of Peabody’s.

    I saw it with my own eyes several times as a child. Once at the hand of my mother. It consisted of many glass jars–one for each of the nine months of a pregnancy I believe — filled with formaldehyde.

    It was spooky and fascinating.

    In each jar–from tiny tube to football sized
    glass enclosure –was the reproductive result of conception: from zygote to embryo to fetus.

    I remember asking my mother what happened to the babies and she said in words a child could understand–“They died.”

    Simple, stoic words for my mother who had lost two children to miscarriages before I was born two months prematurely.

    Now that I reflect on it 50-plus years later, one of those jars could have contained my unborn genetic sibling. I was born in Yale-New Haven Hospital (then called Grace-New Haven Hospital)and I believe my mother’s miscarriages were treated there.

    I call for an explanation of the “conception, birth and death” of that exhibit.

    What has become of it? Was it trashed , or is it now simply nine skeletons in a Yale closet somewhere?

    If it was disposed of, was there a religious interment for the nine organisms?

    Was such a service conducted according to the religious affiliation of the sponsoring organisms (AKA “mothers-to-be”)?

    Did Grace-New Haven provide the “subjects” for the exhibit?

    Was permission granted by the sponsoring organism (mother-to be)? Or were the “parts” supplied, as many organ donations are supplied today, on a black market, without the donors’ consent.

    TO READ THE COMPLETE LETTER CLICK ON URL ABOVE

    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • GeoJoe

    Totally agree with everything Will said. Also, the Peabody does have incredible specimens on display. Check out the dinosaurs and all of the other paleontology things (clearly, I know a lot about paleontology). There are pieces of Mars and the Moon on the 3rd floor, next to many other spectacular meteorites. The Peabody is one of the most impressive natural history museums in the world and the various curators, collection managers, etc. work tirelessly to make it educational and entertaining.

    Although, Thom, I do agree that the black hole exhibit should have some actual black holes, rather than just amazing multimedia and demonstrations. Oh, wait.

    Everyone should go check out the museum for themselves. You’ll see for yourself, the Peabody museum has no need to shape up. Rather, haters need to step off.

  • wtf

    Yes, the community of scientists at Yale welcomes the opinions of an art history major. Perhaps we can include science under non-Western art?

    • GeoJoe

      Hopefully, this essay doesn’t represent a consensus view. If everyone actually agrees, then the Peabody needs to rethink its approach. I doubt that’s the case, but I could be wrong.

      • wtf

        My reply was intended sarcastically to highlight the fact that the author doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about.

        I agree that those who are familiar with the Peabody, and with science itself, are fully appreciative of its collections and presentation.

        • TBurns

          Dear WTF,

          I in no way intended to claim that I am a scientist in any way. However, I do have experience in the field of natural history museums. I have interned at the Smithsonian and worked at the Houston Museum of Natural Science among other things. I also have studied in great depth the different types of museums and museum approaches. Though this still might not be sufficient in your opinion, I do do indeed have a level of personal background on this subject beyond art history.

        • swr91

          -WTF. So you think that those who are ALREADY scientists or members of the Peabody will like it. GOOD observation. I thought the whole reason that the museum exists is to educate everyone, not just those who already know it.

          Hope you take back your assumption about Mr. Burns too.

      • swr91

        I think it is! Only the people who fell threaten by this article seem to be the ones who have responded. Why are the not other students coming to the rescue of the Peabody? They don’t even care enough about the museum!

    • River_Tam

      That’s racist.

  • basho

    While you were busy whining about the birthday party space, Mr. Burns, did you even see take the time to find out what any of the exhibits?

    Your focus on the trivialities of presentation prevented you from actually learning anything new. You came looking for a show, not the educational experience you claimed to have been seeking. You’re only upset about the specimens because you can’t brag about having seen something rare and amazing, and it’s obvious that you don’t actually care about, or even care to learn about, the science behind what you’ve seen. If you did, surely you would have left impressed. You didn’t even take the time to TRY to access the rest of the collection in spite of your right to do so.

    The reason why the Peabody needs to be friendly to children is because people like you exist. A child doesn’t care what the birthday auditorium looks like. A child likes dinosaurs, and the thrill of seeing them even in a stark white room is enough to encourage a future scientist.

    I suggest you give the museum another try – look up something there and ask to see it. Talk to the curator, interview him, and follow up on it. You paid for it, so why not use it? I suspect you’ll be presently surprised, and I’d love to hear about it after.

  • miayabut

    I agree with everything Will said. From my and my friends’ experiences, if you want to see anything in the collections, just email that division’s collections manager! They love helping undergrads, and they love showing off their collections (which are all incredible). In my two years working and studying in a lab at the Peabody, I have NEVER seen anyone who wanted help be turned away. I have seen so many eager undergrads come through the collections with my advisor no matter how busy he may be. I also consider the Peabody my home, so Thomas, try again.. the Peabody is truly an amazing place.

  • River_Tam

    Plus, they didn’t let him in his workout clothes, amirite?

  • geodude

    I second everything Will, Mia, and Joe had to say. Speak truth to power, comrades. The Peabody is a wonderful resource that is perfectly available to students and community in appropriate terms. Get past your superficial issues and into the true meaning and implications of the collections — both on display and not — and you’ll find the Peabody to be an *incredible* wealth of knowledge, both scientifically *and* historically. I’m sorry if you aren’t able to appreciate that; as a science major, I am extremely grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to expand my understanding and appreciation of natural science at our wonderful Peabody Museum.

  • The Anti-Yale

    No one seems in the last bit offended by the Peabody Museum exhibit I saw with my own eyes of NINE JARS filled with formaldehyde and a zygote, embryo, fetus for each of the nine months of human pregnancy, an exhibit on display for years at the Peabody when I was a child, five blocks from the RCC orchestrated Planned Parenthood protests on Orange Street.

    • GeoJoe

      Well, I clearly wasn’t around when it was on display, but it actually sounds quite educational. Did displaying these miscarried pre-babies (for lack of a better term) somehow violate any laws? I realize that informed consent would probably be required now, but it might not have been at the time. So, no, I’m not offended at all.

    • thegna

      theantiyale: the reason that no one responded to your first post is because it lacked a key piece of information that everyone needed to evaluate it. Your outrage is predicated on the assumption that the fetuses on display were somehow ill-gotten. There is no rational reason to assume this. People donate bodies and body parts to science all of the time–from training medical students to many other applications (in the case of human tissue, these have to pass through ethics boards first). And though the fetuses could not give consent, someone had to sign them over. Nothing can be donated to the Peabody without a signed form giving them ownership (in terms of beaurocracy, I suspect that the fetuses were possessed by the Yale Medical School, and on loan to the Peabody. Today, the Peabody Collections do not hold modern human remains–those are the domain of the med school).
      We are used to seeing babies and children alive–it is a little disturbing to everyone to see what appear to be otherwise healthy fetuses dead. Sadly, healthy-looking fetuses die all the time–but this is hidden from view in the womb, and talked about under the generic term ‘miscarriage’. Trauma to the mother, dehydration, malnutrition and rh factor incompatibility are frequent causes.
      In summary, those fetuses could not have been donated without someone at a hospital to sign them over as owner, and someone at the Peabody to sign receive them. I am sure if you took the time at the New Haven Hospital, you could verify that those fetuses were not your mother’s miscarried fetuses.
      But you were not interested in checking facts–you wanted to gin up controversy, and checking the facts would have prevented that. Your first post came across as inappropriate and begging the question; your second came across as childish. Please check your facts like a responsible adult before making accusations.

    • 81

      Also, your comment had almost nothing to do with the article. People would rather use this article’s comment section to talk about this article; can you blame them?

    • basho

      Nobody cared because the anecdote you supplied wasn’t at all related to the discussion at hand and was just a childish call for attention. The reason why you no one takes you seriously is not because you’re controversial or because you’re “anti-yale man,” but because you try to make every discussion here about yourself.

    • Yale12

      Actually, the reason nobody responded to your comment is because nobody cares about your personal life, especially not when it is, as usual, completely unrelated to the actual article at hand, or your 3,000 blogs. Surprise!

    • TBurns

      Dear theantiyale,

      I would actually be very interested in a provocative exhibit that challenges modern conceptions like the one you described. I did not respond because I know that Yale as a whole including the Peabody abides by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the American Association of Museum regulations in regards to human remains. If we show mummified remains of Egyptians there is little reason why we should not show for scientific and educational reasons the remains of fetuses acquired in good faith. If you would like to read more on the exhibition of human remains may I point you to the Mütter Museum’s website where they discus the moral obligations associated with their historic and still viewable display of human remains on a scale that well surpasses the exhibit you described. Also, there is ample material in current press discussing the Body Worlds and more controversial Bodies the Exhibition that has been accused of using human remains of executed Chinese prisoners without their consent.

      Though I find this argument to be fascinating, I would advise you begin it anew in another column or article so as not to distract from the issues that my column and the other arguments we are discussing. I hope you find some resolution.

      • The Anti-Yale

        I have a full time job ten hours a day. No time to write a new column. My concern is for the little boy standing in front of those nine jars of zygote/embryo/fetus holding his mother’s hand, not understanding why the dead babies were entertaining him.

        There’s something churlish about the vision—and the society that produced it.

        • Yale12

          So your concern is actually, once again, for yourself.

        • swr91

          You have written a lot more than one columns worth on this article alone.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *you were not interested in checking facts–you wanted to gin up controversy, and checking the facts would have prevented that*

    The Yale-New haven Hospital cannot even locate my record of birth. My mother is dead. How would you suggest I verify these facts.

    I’m offended ——even if *GeoJoe* is not——because I was horrified as a child looking at the display.

    *Thegna* is a trifle naive—“informed consent” was not the order of the day in the 1930’s.

    • basho

      I don’t know if you’ve been told, but the records of your birth were destroyed in secrecy. Being born 2 months premature, with a one in a million shot at living, Yale professors replaced most of your organs and muscles with robot parts and and stem cells pilfered from the fetuses conveniently on display at the museum. These fetuses were not from Planned Parenthood, but rather, were found in the walk-in freezer of a Denny’s in Little Rock, Arkansas.

      You are not Paul Keane. Paul Keane’s landing craft hit a mine 200 yards off Omaha Beach on June 7th, 1944, and he was lost with no next-of-kin. The body was never recovered. He had spent most of his adult life as a drifter, and chose the Army instead of jail for stealing a loaf of bread. He was the perfect identity “shell” into which Yale’s most controversial and secretive experiment, then just a small, innocent boy, could be inserted.

      However, the experiment went horribly wrong. As Yale’s experts of indoctrination at the Yale Div school put the finishing touches on “the boy who lived”, their experiment backfired. Originally destined to be the ultimate admissions recruiter, a sort of “Captain America” figure for Mother Yale, Paul Keane’s programming reset after a routine experimental surgery resulted in severe head injury. Rather than Yale’s champion, he became her nemesis. The “Anti-Yale” was born, and after being bitten by a radioactive spider, he flies around New Haven like Spiderman.

      In New Haven he remains, the self-proclaimed defender of the townies. The Anti-Yale doesn’t sleep…

      he waits.

  • The Anti-Yale

    @ 81

    My “calling” is to reflect on the patterns in my 67 years’ experience of Yale’s relations with us townies, not to respond to the fad of the moment.

    • Yale12

      Your calling is to talk about yourself. Admit it. I’m pretty sure if you ask any actual “townie” they would give even less of a **** about what you write than we do.

      • basho

        Yeah, friend! I don’t give a **** what you say!

        -Flower Lady

  • thegna

    Mr. Burns: Your column demonstrated a lack of rigor in your comparisons of the Peabody Museum to the other museums on campus. If you had done a cursory comparison, you would have noticed a major difference between the three largest museums on campus: the size of their collections. The Yale Art Gallery has 185,000 items in its collections. The Center for British Art has 117,200 items. The Peabody museum houses around 12,000,000. That is about 60 times more specimens than the other two museums combined. As a result, only a very small fraction of the museum’s collections can actually be on display. The museum handles this tension between display and collections by having two different faces: the public museum and the collections which are curated behind the scenes. The public museum is designed to be a place to engage the public with science–a place FOR parents to take their kids on rainy days, and information geared specifically at the general public (much to the disdain of Mr. Burns). The 2nd classroom that Mr. Burns pleaded for is already there–in each of the individual collections. Many classes from Yale come to visit these collections as part of their classes, and others (often unknowingly) use specimens from these collections in their classes. I would recommend Mr. Burns takes one of these classes before he graduates. The behind the scenes collections are often made available to those who merely ask–I have bent over backwards to help give tours to interested classes and individuals from the general public. Mr. Burns would have known this if he would have only asked.
    As for the profit-hungry aspect of the museum, the museum struggles to support itself and has had to adopt a lot of the revenue-generating tactics of commercial outfits in order to support its mission. There are no shareholders at the top–the profits are plowed right back into the operation of the museum. Mr. Burns does make a useful comparison to Harvard, MIT, and Oxford: the Peabody Museum does not seem to have the donor-base that those institutions. Unlike those other institutions, there are, at present, few so-and-so memorial exhibits. Money for renovations and redesign had to come in piecemeal.
    Otherwise, I think that Mr. Burn’s final comments stand. I would love to see the Peabody have the financial security to re-invent itself. And, I, too, think that the University should use the museum to its own advantage to help inspire an awe of science–in particular the science conducted at Yale–to its own advantage.

    • TBurns

      Thegna,

      At no point did I mean to question the importance of the research collections of the Peabody. I am well aware of the ability to access the collections individually by appointment. There is one major factor when it comes to viewing the collections while in storage is loss serendipitous discovery. You must know what you want to see in order to view it. The Peabody can not just allow you to walk the storage shelves with the same freedom as a museum hall.

      Second, one major factor that I you and other readers might have miss understood me is my use of the word museum. In this article the word museum stands for the physical space that the collection is shown to the public in. If you read the article again, I only have praise for the collection. My critique lays in how the collection is displayed to public not the quality of the collection itself.

      One very good point you bring up is the vast size of the collection. This only strengthens my point that there should be even more attention to the quality of the displays. With so many items that could be displayed, show the museum actually choose to have the party room empty. In my opinion the museum should use every available space to display as much of its collection as possible instead of leaving it empty except for a commercial event.

      I also find it in pour spirit that the University’s administration does not see the same value in the collection that you and I share. Why do they not devote some of the 3.8 Billion dollars to expand the available museum space or at a minimum rearrange the most out dated exhibits. I am aware that the museum has had plans of re-articulating many of the dinosaurs in the dinosaurs hall but still have yet to set a date to start. Even in this economic down turn, the Yale University Art Gallery was able to individually raise the $76 million for the renovations in less than a year. I am questioning the Yale community as a whole why the same is not true for the Peabody.

  • The Anti-Yale

    . *Please check your facts like a responsible adult before making accusations.*

    PS to *Thegna*:

    Check your own facts before you make insinuations:

    Just such an attempt to check facts as you ‘suggest” is my [18-month ignored 2/9/10 letter][1] to

    Derek E.G. Briggs Director,

    Peabody Museum of Natural History Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Geology and Geophysics

    Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com/2010/02/open-letter-to-derek-e-k-briggs.html

    • basho

      Why are your comments so stiff-sounding? Do you really need to list Dr. Briggs’ qualifications each time you mention your letter?

      • The Anti-Yale

        Because I’m a pompous ass satirizing a pompous university.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Sorry. I have much more attention than i need. It may have been a call for a debate, but not for attention.

    I find it curious that pro-lifers are outraged by the statistics (ie. DATA) of abortions, but when I cite an example of actual lifeless zygotes / embryos / fetuses on display at the Peabody Museum, a display I saw with my own eyes 60 years ago, no one is outraged, no one cares to discover whether those artifacts were obtained with permission of the hosts (would-be-mothers).

    Curious.

    DATA (the new God of your generation) can cause outrage. Anecdotal witnessing of the sources of the DATA provokes no interest and is rejected as a matter of interest because the witnesses’ egotism is personally repugnant to the crusaders.

    Curious kind of idealism.

  • Peabody_Volunteer

    Dear Thomas,

    I am replying to specific sections of your post, as I feel that it might be difficult to address all of your points of discussion at one time.

    First of all I would like to state that I am a master’s student at Yale and I have worked and volunteered through the Peabody through the Department of Vertebrate Zoology every semester that I have attended Yale University. I believe that one of the foremost strengths of the Peabody Museum is its extreme willingness to allow both students and the general public to volunteer and engage with the curators, and the collections in the museum in ways that are academically stimulating. While many famous natural history museums in the country may provide stimulating exhibitions, there is certainly no other museum I have encountered in which the curators and staff help educate and engage the public in such a personal manner.

    Although you believe that the museum exists solely as a place “to volunteer or work.” This interaction has provided a practical mode of educating Yale students. Perhaps it is time to rethink the ways in which you can engage with a museum, less as a consumer, and more as an active participant in a community.

    Additionally, I have met many volunteers who are residents of New Haven who have become bird, fish, and reptile enthusiasts because of their interactions with the Peabody Museum. These are not necessarily individuals with advanced degrees, but curious individuals who have formed an engaging relationship with the museum.

    While working at the museum, I have also seen countless experiences of students using the museum as a second classroom. For example, Richard Prum’s ornithology collection seems almost vital to many of his classes and has provided hands-on intellectual stimuli to his students.

    While I feel that I have not addressed your concerns with the quality of museum exhibitions, I would advise you to reconsider the ways in which you view volunteering and working at the museum.

    Peabody_Volunteer

  • The Anti-Yale

    Basho,

    Your piecve is absolutely charming! How did you know I was born 2 months premature?

    PK

  • 12

    I worked as a student volunteer for the birthday parties for over 2 years, and I wanted to respond to this article. The I’ve seen the Peabody Birthday Party program develop over my time working them, and one of the main goals of the organizers is to incorporate as much of the Museum as possible into the parties. The central activity of every party is going to the relevant area of the Museum and doing an interactive scavenger hunt/activity. The kids directly interact with the exhibits, and each of the volunteers usually leads a group to further explain each of the answers to the questions. We constantly strive to teach the kids about what they are seeing. Granted, the auditorium may not be the most aesthetically pleasing room. However, basing your entire criticism on an uninformed critique of the space used reflects a blatant lack of knowledge. During parties, we bring out a substantial fossil collection onto the main floor of the auditorium and do an interactive question/answer/teaching session using the artifacts. We also run a “fossil dig,” where kids can dig through sand and keep whatever fossils they find. We explain what they have found, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. This practically, however, makes a mess. In fact, 15-20 6-9 year olds inevitably makes a mess. As a result, your criticism that the room does not itself house collections makes no sense. The birthday parties effectively combine exposure to the Museum’s (in my opinion) great exhibits while allowing kids to be rambunctious at times–a necessary event at any birthday party.

    Finally, the assertion that the birthday parties are some kind of cash machine is ridiculous. First off, 250 for a 15 kid birthday party is not that expensive. Second, the Museum grants free admission for the rest of the day to all of the guests. The birthday parties also serve the essential and valuable purpose of increasing the exposure of the Museum to the surrounding community. The people who choose to have parties there are an incredibly diverse group of people from a wide area (I’ve thrown birthday parties from people from Ansonia, Madison, Clinton, Cheshire, Wallingford, and Meriden, to name a few). These parties allow Yale to connect with the entire region, and especially to families in the region, who might not want to take their 6 year olds to one of the art galleries (nothing against the art galleries–i love them, i just didn’t when I was 6).

    I can’t really comment on the rest of the Peabody, since I’m not involved, but with regards to birthday parties, I believe the Museum does a great service to the greater new haven region by allowing kids to experience some aspects of natural history in an accessible, fun, manner, and by hopefully helping to instill a curiosity for the natural world, something I believe is very valuable.

    • TBurns

      I am not at all against the idea of having parties for children. I 100% see your point about connecting with the community. However there are some questions I have for you. Is it intrinsic for “fossil dig” to take place in a space that could be filled with more exhibits and objects that could educate the children at the birthday parties AND those visitors who are not at the Peabody for a birthday? Maybe if there is not another activity that is less messy to substitute, it could be moved outside and incorporated in the new cretaceous garden. Furthermore, if the museum must keep the party room for that specific purpose, than I would very much consider removing the cultural artifacts from the room. I do not think it is appropriate to have them in the same room. These cultural artifacts often hold religious values for their native cultures that is very much not respected in its current space. Also if it is a space where you allow kids to act rambunctious than they certainly should not be left.

      • basho

        All my Olmec friends are pissed

      • River_Tam

        Mr. Burns hates birthday parties for children. More at 11.

    • TBurns

      And what about your friends who are Indigenous Peoples of Australia? Do they just have a soft spot for confetti and streamers?

  • esk29

    On behalf of the Education Department at the Peabody, I want to make sure Mr. Burns and readers of this article and associated comments know that to continue referring to our auditorium as a “party room” is completely inaccurate. Having an auditorium space is critical to both our efforts to educate a broad and diverse audience and our support of the University’s programs, students, faculty and staff. It is used primarily for purposes having nothing to do with birthday parties; in fact they represent a fraction of its use. To name just a few things: many public lectures take place there every year, including the Museum’s upcoming Yale Family Weekend lecture about Machu Picchu given by Professor Richard Burger; a dissertation defense seminar was held there just last week; it is used as a classroom for the hands on portion of many of the Museum’s educational programs; several of the Yale graduate schools hold classes or lectures there, as does the Yale WorkLife Program; it has served as a meeting space for local natural history interest groups including the New Haven Mineral Club and the New Haven Astronomical Society; it is heavily used during all of our large weekend and evening public events, and even more heavily used for our educational summer camps; etc. While we are happy to have started a birthday program three years ago and are pleased with its success, it is first and foremost an auditorium. Without it, our ability to meet our mission and support the University in other valuable ways would be compromised.

  • swr91

    Has anyone else noticed that all of the people that have replied negatively here are connected directly to the museum. Most of them are actual employed by it. Why doesn’t the Peabody see this as sign for at least investigating ways they can better connect with the undergraduate campus. Why not send out a survey to the undergraduate students to see if they have even ever been to the museum or have ideas like Mr. Burns to improve the museum.

    All I see in these comments are museum employees in denial. I **agree** with Mr. Burns. I am an Anthro and History major and am **frustrated** by the museum and I **want changes**!

  • JColosi

    Thomas, I’ve written a reply to your article at my blog. I hope you will read it. Although I think you have quite a few things wrong, thanks for taking the time to think about the Peabody.

    http://www.thelifeyouandineverknew.blogspot.com/2011/09/shape-up-burns-misses-peabodys-pulse.html

    Sincerely,
    Jordan Colosi