Update on Botany Hall


Update on Botany Hall


This post was written by Colleen O'Reilly, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Art and Architecture

This past year has been filled with many productive developments and collaborations in relation to Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context. Aisling and I were very honored to receive support from the School of Computing and Information, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and the Cultural Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, and from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which allowed us to apply for an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. These funds enabled us to present our project at two conferences in the fall of 2017. The first was the International Council of Museums Natural History conference, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in October, and was focused on the theme of the Anthropocene. We presented some of our research on Botany Hall to an audience made up of museum professionals and natural history curators, many of whom are working with dioramas and displays, both new and old, at their institutions. We were able to share our viewpoints as researchers, working from outside the museum to produce work that helps to put natural history dioramas in historical context, and contribute to a broader discussion about the responsibility of the natural history museum in relation to our contemporary environment. 

In November 2017, we presented at the Museum Computing Network annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh. This was a completely different setting in which we had the chance to talk about diorama history to an audience of museum professionals who are specifically focused on how to use technology in their institutions. It was enriching to share our work on the potential of a digital exhibition for contextualizing natural history museum content, and to bring questions about the role of visual technologies in museums to bear on the dioramas themselves, thinking through their status as objects that mediate knowledge. You can hear our talk here

With the support of the grant, we are now completing the first iteration of our online exhibition, and will be launching it with special panel discussion event at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in front of the dioramas themselves. This will take place on Thursday, March 29th from 4:30-6:00pm (write to me at cwo8@pitt.edu for more info and to register). We will be talking about the role that the dioramas play in the museum and the community, incorporating the perspectives of Pittsburgh experts in botany, botanical art, and environmental justice. We are looking forward to hearing reactions to our digital exhibition, and we anticipate that we will continue to develop it as Aisling and I move towards the ends of our PhDs and our next projects. 

  • Dioramas in Context
  • Graduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh