All is not lost: History from fossils and catalogues at the Museum of Natural History, University of Florence
Published:November 27, 2018
Stefano Dominici, Elisabetta Cioppi, 2018. "All is not lost: History from fossils and catalogues at the Museum of Natural History, University of Florence", Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making, Gary D. Rosenberg, Renee M. Clary
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Sedimentary strata and fossils of Tuscany have been the object of inquiry from the late Middle Ages into the onset of modern science, passing through the art and words of Leonardo da Vinci, and culminating in the work of Nicolas Steno on a Galilean foundation. In the Age of Enlightenment, the Florentine Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti perfected Steno’s scheme for a history of Tuscany to be extended to a general theory of the Earth, corresponding with European savants, writing the oldest catalogue of fossils now hosted at the Museum of Natural History, University of Florence, and passing on Steno’s taxonomy. A few decades later, founders of modern geology, Georges Cuvier, Giambattista Brocchi, and Charles Lyell walked Tuscan fossiliferous hills and studied public and private collections, focusing on the anatomy of Tertiary species as a means to track the making of the modern fauna. The international impact of Brocchi’s Subapennine Fossil Conchology reached the young Charles Darwin, offering a theoretical background for the early development of modern evolutionary theory and fueling the modern taxonomic study of Tertiary marine shells. Under Igino Cocchi, in the year of national unity (1861), the Museum became the Italian Central Paleontological Collection, attracting collections from all over Italy and stirring an enduring international interest in Tertiary and Quaternary faunas, including fossil primates. With fossil specimens brought in by Steno, Targioni, and Cocchi, among many others, and with the organization of its catalogues reflecting the onset of modern taxonomy, the Museum of Natural History, University of Florence, is today an archive of the history of science as a whole and a means to bring environmental consciousness to future generations.
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Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making
Natural history museums have evolved over the past 500 years to become vanguards of science literacy and thus institutions of democracy. Curiosity about nature and distant cultures has proven to be a powerful lure, and museums have progressively improved public engagement through increasingly immersive exhibits, participation in field expeditions, and research using museum holdings, all facilitated by new technology. Natural history museums have dispersed across the globe and demonstrated that public fascination with ancient life, vanished environments, exotic animals in remote habitats, cultural diversity, and our place in the cosmos is universal. This volume samples the story of museum development and illustrates that the historical successes of natural history museums have positioned them to be preeminent facilitators of science literacy well into the future.