Imaginary Places: Museum Visitor Perceptions and Habitat Dioramas

Dr. Phaedra Livingstone
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The mandate of public education and the preservation of significant information has, until recently, rationalised government-funding for museums. Tourists are now the lifeblood of many museums, resulting in changes to museum communication practice. This paper reports on the findings of a study on visitor perceptions of a natural history display at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada). It is regularly asserted by museums that habitat dioramas are useful in ecological education, and that in fact, dioramas are sometimes the only remaining representation of microclimates which have now disappeared. But can casual museum visitors learn something as complex as ecology by looking at a diorama? How are they actually interpreting these now old-fashioned displays? Responding to Donna Haraway's classic analysis of mammal dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, this study particularly considers the ideological framing and consumption of images of large non-indigenous mammals (in this case, lions). The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for museum practice.

Keywords: Museum Display, Informal Science Learning, Gender, Public Knowledge: the Role of the Museum, Teaching and Learning Sustainability
Stream: Social Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Phaedra Livingstone

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dept. of Curriculum Studies, University of British Columbia

Phaedra Livingstone (M.M.St., Ph.D., University of Toronto) has worked as a freelance museum researcher and educator since 1991 and is currently a SSHRC postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Livingstone's research has been published in The Journal of Museum Education, Museological Review, Museum Management and Curatorship, and presented through many international conferences and guest lectures. Her current studies include an interdisciplinary collaborative project analysing an historical exhibit on mental health care in Canada, and research on visitor responses to natural history dioramas. She has taught workshops and university courses in Exhibit Design, Museum Research, Gallery Studies and Museum Anthropology, and has been a board member for the Museum Education Roundtable of Toronto (1998-2000), the Visitor Studies Association (2001-2003), and presently sits on the Heritage Toronto Board.

Ref: S06P0205