Imaginary Places: Museum Visitor Perceptions and Habitat Dioramas
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
Dr. Phaedra Livingstone
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dept. of Curriculum Studies, University of British Columbia