Here I am, in the upper midwest, and I still haven’t made it to the Field Museum in Chicago—Chicago is just far enough away that I can’t quite make the trip, and it’s close enough that it doesn’t sound at all exotic. I just have to rely on other people’s accounts. (I’ve also noticed that Megatherium is a spectacular specimen.)
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The Field Museum is a great place. I have been there twice. Once as a kid and just this year for a SPring Break day trip (Yeah, I am wild and crazy.) I think the great thing about the museum is that it hasn’t gone the super interactive route. It put the information out there and you have to just take it in. We didn’t go into any of the special exibits since we were all cheap and the evolution exibit was being renovated so it wasn’t open. That is the first museum you should visit when in Chicago. Then it is a toss up between your interests, I would suggest the Shedd Aquarium as your second.
I have been to the FM many times and I do agree that the Burgess Shale video was wonderful-I wish that it was available as a screen saver! The Museum of Science and Industry is fairly worthless since it seems like all that kids learn there is that if you push a button something happens so the purpose of going to a museum is to run up, push the button, look at what is happening for maybe a grand total of 15 seconds, and then run to the next exhibit. It used to be free and actually educational but even with what seems to be like complete corporate sponsorship it’s still extremely expensive. The FM is a bit better about that. Their human evolution exhibit went from really old outdated models located in the basement (there were pipes wrapped in duct tape around the display) during the mid 80’s (sorry, can’t go back any farther than that) to a rather large display in the “Life Through Time” exhibit to it being a bit of an after thought in “Evolving Planet”. Personally I don’t mind that, having a “thing” for Opabinia et al but I do wonder if they succumbed to pressure from some sponsor or director somewhere.
I have mixed emotions about the Field Museum. Along with being a great museum, it’s a very popular place for corporate events or weddings, etc.. Working, as I do, in the entertainment industry, I spent many arduous days at the Field Museum. Like so many older public buildings, it’s in constant need of repair and up keep. 3 AM, after a long day’s work, almost done loading out an event, is a crappy time to find out that the freight elevator needs maintenance.
Sean Foley says
Their human evolution exhibit went from really old outdated models located in the basement (there were pipes wrapped in duct tape around the display) during the mid 80’s (sorry, can’t go back any farther than that) to a rather large display in the “Life Through Time” exhibit to it being a bit of an after thought in “Evolving Planet”. Personally I don’t mind that, having a “thing” for Opabinia et al but I do wonder if they succumbed to pressure from some sponsor or director somewhere.
I’d be surprised if there were any internal or external pressure to play down human evolution in the new exhibition as a sop to creationist sentiment. The FMNH’s president, John McCarter, has been pretty gung-ho about the role museums have to play in educating the public about evolution – somewhere I’ve got a New York Times article quoting him as saying “If we don’t do it, who will?” I haven’t seen the new exhibition, but I think the change in name (from “Life Over Time” to “Evolving Planet”) reflects a good, unapologetic emphasis on evolution.
If there was pressure to downplay human evolution, I suspect it took a different form. The downside of McCarter’s tenure as president has been a tendency in exhibition planning to go for flashy, exciting exhibitions, even in cases where they’re of questionable educational value. When I worked there in 2000/2001, some of the scientific staff were extremely upset about the decision to host an temporary exhibition called “Kinetosaurs”. I remember one vertebrate anatomist was particularly aghast, saying that there was no scientific content to the exhibition and it made the museum look like a bunch of chumps for signing off on it. Human evolution isn’t all that flashy, frankly, so if you’re gearing your exhibitions towards the big and spectacular, it’s something that’s likely to fall by the wayside.
Space concerns probably figure into the equation, too. There are only three halls to work with, and one of them is going to be devoted solely to archosaurs. Something has to give somewhere. The American Museum of Natural History’s fossil halls on the Fourth Floor tuck humans into a little corner of the Hall of Mammals and their Extinct Relatives. Of course, they have a series of galleries devoted to the subject elsewhere in the museum, so maybe that’s more a case of redundnacy.
I like the sculptures of Malvina Hoffman. She studied with Rodin.
I wish the Field Museam did a better job of taking care of her bronzes.
Steve LaBonne says
Oh, he’s GOT to go to the Shedd. Lots of marine inverts- PZ’s kind of place for sure. Skip the Oceanarium and its obnoxious trained-dolphin show, though.
Nobody should spend any amount of time in the Midwest and not see Chicago. To me it’s THE great American city (and I grew up in the NY suburbs!)
Friggin’ awesome! I made Pharyngula!
I guess the Field Museum has a pretty good entomology collection. At least, there was a Linnean Games question about it at the last North-Central branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America.
Megatherium are great. Here in Cambridge the zoology museum has one positioned right opposite an african elephant skeleton. It’s like a showdown at the end of some palaeontological cartoon battle.
The Shedd doesn’t have a lot of inverts actually. I prefer inverts myself and I did love the starfish exhibit (if anyone is interested I can post a link when I get time to put those pictures up on my page or in a Yahoo album or something) but I think that it’s gone now. They do have a small section of corals, jellyfish, etc but for the most part they seem to be focusing on habitats rather than on the specific animals so they have mostly fish, with the obvious exception of the marine mammal tanks. The Wild Reef exhibit is kind of like the aquarium at the Mall of America but on a different scale. The ceiling is higher so it’s an observation room rather than the tunnel that you walk through at the mall. Shedd does claim to have the largest display of living coral in the midwest though…
Steve LaBonne says
I haven’t been to the Shedd in a number of years actually- sounds from Mena’s account like it’s gone downhill (in keeping with the creeping Disneyfication of museums all over the country.) Too bad. OK, recommendation withdrawn. ;)
While I’ve loved the Field Museum, I’m always wary of large monsters running loose at night.
AmTrak stops in/near Morris doesn’t it? Take the train to Chicago. We do it all the time from Winona.
I took my 10-year-old nephew to the Evolving Planet exhibit yesterday, and a good time was had by both. He’s developing nicely into a serious dinosaur nerd, but most of the exhibit is well-designed enough that he took away bigger picture information and an appreciation for other taxa. It’s definitely a big improvment over the outdated human evolution stuff that the Field used to have.