Museum Wormianum: Collecting and learning in seventeenth-century Denmark
Published:November 27, 2018
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Lisbet Tarp, 2018. "Museum Wormianum: Collecting and learning in seventeenth-century Denmark", 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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During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Danish polyhistor, Ole Worm (1588–1654), established a collection in Copenhagen, the Museum Wormianum, consisting of minerals, plants, animals, and man-made objects. The collection attracted visitors and was renowned throughout Europe; however, Worm also used it as a site for teaching his university students. Even though Worm did not contribute significantly to the history of science with new discoveries, this article argues that he played a role in shaping an intellectual environment founded on international exchange in which discussions took place, methods were enhanced, and talents were supported. In this context, his museum had an important function as a site of attraction and exchange, anticipating social interaction and learning, even when Worm himself could not participate.
The past two decades have witnessed an increasing interest in the Danish scholar, physician, and antiquarian, Ole Worm (1588–1654), and his collection, Museum Wormianum. The number of research projects and publications on aspects of Worm’s life and pursuits has grown significantly. In 2006, the American artist, Rosamond Purcell, created the installation, “Room One,” an interpretation of Ole Worm’s museum. It was exhibited at Steno Museum in Aarhus and later at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen (Skydsgaard and Teglhus, 2006). As her point of departure, Purcell used the frontispiece of Worm’s collection catalogue, adding to the popularity of this engraving (Fig. 1). The engraving shows a room filled with different specimens from floor to ceiling. Objects such as stones, parts of animals and plants, ethnographic artifacts, small-scale sculptures, and labeled boxes surround a table in the center of the engraving. The frontispiece may depict the actual setting of Worm’s museum; however, more importantly in this context, it depicts a site of investigation. The table—metaphorically or in reality—designated Worm’s primary activity as a collector: It was the place to study and to develop and share his knowledge of the things he collected.
Worm’s project is relevant in relation to the topic of this issue—natural scientific museums—because his pronounced intention was to tie the process of making a collection together with the examination of specimens and the act of teaching. He wanted his museum to function as a place for sharing knowledge and learning by doing, not unlike the intentions expressed in the museums today. This article will discuss some of the evidence to Worm’s approach to learning in the museum.
OLE WORM (1588–1654)
Ole Worm was born in Aarhus, Denmark, as the son of the town’s mayor, Willum Worm (1563–1629), and Inger Olsdatter (1568–1619). Even though Worm was not of noble descent, he received an education equivalent to a nobleman’s son. In his youth, Worm was sent abroad to acquire proper training and to earn his university degrees in medicine, physics, and chemistry (Hovesen, 1987, p. 64; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 33–38).1 Despite the wars and outbreaks of plagues in Europe, he traveled in Germany, Italy, and France. During the years abroad, he was taught by Caspar Bauhin (1560–1624) and Felix Platter (1536–1614), who gave him access to their collections. Among other places, he visited Ferrante Imperato’s (1550–1625) collection in Naples, Ulisse Aldrovandi’s (1522–1605) museum and garden in Bologna, and the art collections of Duke Maurice of Hesse-Kassel (1592–1627) as well as the cabinet of natural curiosities of Francesco Calzolari (ca. 1522–1609) and Bernhard Paludanus (1550-1633). In 1613, Worm returned to Denmark in order to take up a position in pedagogy at the University of Copenhagen, where he was later appointed the chair of medicine as well as dean of the faculty several times (Hovesen, 1987, p. 127–144). Related to his training as a doctor, Worm was engaged in testing remedies, prescribing medicaments, and investigating human and animal bodily functions.2 In the 1620s, inspired by the collections he had seen and the instructions he had experienced, Worm began establishing his own collection, Museum Wormianum, in his home in Copenhagen.3
A considerable number of written sources have survived, providing evidence of the wide range of activities that Ole Worm pursued during his lifetime. Besides being a renowned collector and a university professor in medicine for more than 30 years, he mapped remains of Nordic antiquity in his important six-volume publication, Monumenta Danica, from 1643. He was busy as a physician, kept a botanical garden, and maintained an extended European network through his correspondence. His three marriages to daughters of the most influential Danish families at the university, Fincke and Bartholin, also enhanced his standing in the academic society (Kragh et al., 2008, p. 105). As a professor, he was engaged in teaching and writing and as a mentor, he supported young family members and sons of friends. Several of them, most notably Thomas Bartholin (1616–1680), became important suppliers of information and objects to his museum, since Worm seldom left Denmark in the last decades of his life.
The preserved body of written sources by Worm consists of the catalogue, Museum Wormianum, Monumenta Danica, his extensive correspondences translated by H.D. Schepelern, his dissertations, as well as a number of other publications.4 The sources indicate that Worm began collecting systematically in the early 1620s (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 39; Schepelern, 1971, p. 142–143). By the 1630s, the collection had reached a considerable size, and Worm had a short and concise catalogue printed (Worm, 1642). Just before he died in 1654, he managed to finish a major catalogue of his collection printed the year after his death, Museum Wormianum (Worm, 1655).5 Worm listed 1663 items in his catalogue, of which only 40 items are known to have survived (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 31, 43, and 79).6
The catalogue consists of the aforementioned frontispiece, title page, full-page portrait of Ole Worm, dedication to King Frederik III (1609–1670), preface, list of references, table of contents, and the inventory of the items in four parts (“books”) followed by an index of topics. The preface is an interesting source to Worm’s motivation for creating a museum and will be discussed later. The four books describe the kingdoms of minerals, plants, animals, and man-made objects. The man-made objects in book four were furthermore listed according to the materials from which they were made, e.g., amber, stone, iron, and so forth (Liber IV, chaps. 1–12).7 The four books consist of descriptions of the singular objects in Worm’s own collection, but some paragraphs also expand into longer discussions and introductory accounts. Some of the paragraphs can also be recognized in his correspondence or written lectures, of which Worm wrote 18 as part of his duties as a university professor (Hovesen, 1987, p. 157).
Within the text, selected items are illustrated with engravings of varying quality by different artists. Some, such as the illustration of the belemnites, seem to be copied from Conrad Gesner’s (1516–1565) catalogue (Gesner, 1565, p. 91; Worm, 1655, p. 70).8 Other illustrations are of a superior quality and seem to have been made while observing Worm’s specimens, such as the bird of Paradise (p. 294), the horse jaw embedded in an oak trunk (p. 342) (Fig. 2), and the Norwegian lemming (p. 325).9 Some of the items of book four are described twice in the catalogue. For instance, a “marble globe” is listed in the book on human artifacts as pieces of craftsmanship; however, it is also represented with another description in the first book on minerals according to the material, Florentine marble (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 169–171; Tarp, 2013) (Fig. 3). This dual perspective on the marble ball illustrates the fluid borders between what was then considered to be a natural and artificial object. Similarly, Worm treasured the horse jaw in an oak trunk mentioned above because it exemplified how nature could merge plant and animal fragment in a creative process. By meticulously describing every detail of the item, Worm tried to document and thus provide a basis for explaining the phenomenon (Worm, 1655, p. 342; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 162–165). Worm also collected objects with strange stories of origin, for instance, the egg born by a woman, or objects with exceptional features such as stones with the scent of flowers. As the modern taxonomies were established, the interest in these kinds of hybrid phenomena in nature faded, and consequently, objects such as the embedded horse jaw lost relevance as a potential key to understanding nature and its processes.
Going through the catalogue, the overall impression of Worm’s driving force as a collector is his profound interest in materials, their properties and origin. With varying degrees of detail, singular items are presented with information on features such as size, color, texture, shape, fragrance, pharmaceutical use, hardness, and flavor. The descriptions sometimes include information on the acquisition, acknowledgments to donors, or stories connected to the objects, in addition to the scholarly references to known literature on the subject. In this way, Worm combined two fundamentally different sources of information about the items in his catalogue: the input he received from secondary sources such as writings on the subject or his correspondences and firsthand observations he derived from his own study of samples and specimens and the experiments that he conducted. Working on correcting and clarifying knowledge on specimens and materials, Worm did not pursue a major rethinking of how to understand or conceptualize nature in general. His focus was on exchanging objects and information in order to understand and get firsthand experiences with samples. In this process, his museum served an essential function as a site for his own examinations as well as for sharing and helping other people gain knowledge of nature through their own practical endeavors.
THE MUSEUM AS A SITE OF LEARNING BY DOING
Some of the visitors to Worm’s museum are mentioned in a book by publisher and bookseller, Jens Lauritsøn Wolf (ca. 1584–ca. 1660) printed in 1654. Wolf’s book contains a paragraph on Worm’s collection of “strange and curios rarities and diverse things” that attracted “noble people” and “diplomatic representatives.”10 It is no surprise that the nobility and other persons of wealth, social, and political capital paid attention to the museum, but Worm was not a prince, and his purpose of making a museum was not to display political power. Instead, it becomes evident that the museum pieces were regarded as practical devices in the study of nature in order to improve his own understanding as well as that of his guests.
Being a professor at the university, Worm taught students in various subjects. He lectured on traditional subjects such as Aristotle or Galen, but two announcements in the course catalogues indicate that Worm supplemented his teaching in the lecture room with weekly demonstrations at his museum (Panum, 1879, p. 90; Spärck, 1962, p. 14; Hovesen, 1987, p. 149–152; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 90–92).11 In this way, his students gained access to the collection and its content, which seemingly altered the learning situation. This change of place and teaching style was not just an addition to Worm’s lecture plan, but the approach was fundamental to Worm’s attitude toward teaching and dissemination of knowledge. This is evident in an early account, where Worm ascribed value to learning by handling and examining things themselves. In the letter from 1639, Worm writes:12
As to the display of curiosities in my museum, I have not yet completed it. I have collected different things on my journeys abroad, and from India and other very remote places, I have brought various things: soil samples, varieties of stones, metals, plants, fish, birds, and terrestrial animals. I carefully store them with the intention that, together with a short presentation of the different background of the objects, I can invite the audience to touch with their own hands and observe with their own eyes, so they will be able to judge to what extent the information matches the objects and thus gain a more exact knowledge of them all.13
In this way, Worm made his intentions clear that the audience should not only read or listen to presentations of specimens, but should activate their senses in order to gain a better understanding of the objects presented. Many years later, Worm unfolded this position on learning in the museum even further in the earlier mentioned preface to the catalogue Museum Wormianum (Worm, 1655, præfatio).14
The three-page-long preface is a strong attack on “sophistry” and “superficial and scholastic philosophers,” who do not study nature at hand but rather only discuss questions on nature in theory. These sophistic discussions do not “… support our knowledge on nature, its distinctive features and properties on the most humble stone at our feet.”15 According to Worm, this mistaken approach was pursued at schools and academies, thus “… preventing the youth from examining the nature of things.”16 In tune with the general tendency in seventeenth-century Europe, he emphasizes the act of observing and recording natural specimens. In his defense, Worm cites a paragraph of the French philosopher, Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), elaborating on the subject of the misled students: “When they come into contact with real nature, they are confused and numb, likewise, if they are informed by people, who do not seek answers through contemplation but instead are guided by all things’ teacher: experience and observation.”17 In other words, Worm believed that in order to be adequately educated, the students had to have access to the study of specimens—an activity Worm considered the true way of gaining knowledge on nature. He concludes that the “… academics should replace persuasion with proof, discussion with examination, belief with knowledge.”18 In the following, he takes it one step further: “… no one should be forced to swear allegiance to his teacher, rather the objects themselves should consolidate understanding, and you should not trust your teacher more than he can prove with facts obtained by himself.”19 An effect of the emphasis on the empirical approach to knowledge production suggests a change in the relationship between teacher and student. Taken to the extreme, it can be said that both teacher and student are in a process of learning, while studying nature firsthand. After addressing the urgency of improving teaching methods, Worm explains that from the moment he began teaching on nature in Copenhagen, he used “… his means and energy to establish a treasury of natural specimens …”20 In this statement, he directly connects the making of the museum to his ambition of providing object lessons at the university.
In a letter from 1640, Worm also comments on presenting objects to students in connection with going through the first book on minerals. Subsequently, he proclaims, they would proceed to the books on plants and animals (Schepelern, 1967, v. 2, p. 166).21 The book he refers to is most likely an earlier version of his catalogue from 1655, and it seems that he used the books to support his object lessons. Unfortunately, we do not have any further substantial evidence of how Worm actually interacted with his students in the museum. A more vivid impression of how the procedures in the museum might have taken place can be found in a firsthand account from a group’s visit. In 1634, the French ambassador’s secretary, Charles Ogier (1595–1654), visited Worm’s museum. In his account, Ogier writes that Worm first lectured at the university and later presented his museum to a selected group of people. Worm showed them a large piece of rock crystal in which a cross and relics had been inserted.22 Ogier describes how the relics wrapped in silk were taken out of the rock crystal and studied by the group (Schepelern, 1971, p. 158).23 The description gives an impression of how the group gathered around the presumed table and were allowed to open up and touch the different parts of the item. Supposedly, they scrutinized the components, turned them in their hands, discussing what they saw, rejecting or agreeing on interpretations. Worm probably participated in this social event by providing information on the subject matter. For instance, Ogier adds that Worm tells the story of the acquisition of the rock crystal. Worm received it as payment for curing a Swedish captain, who had acquired it in Germany as war booty. Maybe not wanting to share this information to a wider audience, Worm omitted reporting how he came by the crystal reliquary in the Museum Wormianum catalogue. Furthermore, the piece does not appear in the book of artificial things according to its status as reliquary (Schepelern, 1971, p. 159). Instead, Worm focused on its physical qualities as a six-pound piece of rock crystal, placing it in chapter 16 on “chalcedony, carnelian, phengite, amethyst, crystal, flours, and aventurine” (Worm, 1655, p. 100; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 157 and 286–289). The difference Worm made between the oral and the written presentation of the object underscores the possibility for a more open and intimate dialogue on site.
As mentioned earlier, in his educational years abroad, Worm was exposed to famous collections and collectors, who hosted social events such as the one described above, where curiosities were displayed, engaged with, and discussed. From an early age, Worm was influenced by the international habits of exchange and the increasing emphasis on empirical studies in the scholarly environment, which eventually motivated him to establish his own museum (Hovesen, 1987 p. 137–143). In this way, he contributed to nourishing and settling the tradition of object lessons in Denmark (Spärck, 1962, p. 14–20; Schepelern, 1971, p. 134; Hovesen, 1987, p. 149; Findlen, 1994; Wolff, 1999).
Evident in his writings, Worm was engaged in many different discussions on natural phenomena that were related to objects from his museum. But what could he have presented to his students? One plausible topic of an object lesson was fossilized shark teeth, also called tongue stones or glossopetrae.24 Like many other people at the time, Worm was curious about these mysterious stones to which antidote powers were ascribed, and he was the owner of several samples (Worm, 1655, p. 67; Hoch, 2013). As already mentioned, Worm goes through the topic of fossilized shark teeth in a chapter in Museum Wormianum, which could be an excerpt from a lecture. Furthermore, he also corresponded with his friend Henrik Fuiren (1614–1659) on the subject (Worm, 1655, p. 67; Schepelern, 1968, p. 36–38, no. 1227). The fact that the fossils of sea creatures appeared at places far from the ocean was puzzling due to the belief in the concept of a static Earth crust. Furthermore, several of the animals that appeared in the stones were extinct species, for instance, belem-nites, making the recognition of their origin even more difficult (Etter, 2015).
In his considerations of the concept of fossils, Worm was primarily dependent on other people’s descriptions and the specimens sent to him. This left him with the reports he received, theoretical writings on the topic, and the observations he could make of the specimens he had at home. Worm’s theoretical approach to fossils was primarily based on the writings of Caspar Bartholin (1585–1629), who was a relative of Worm. Bartholin explicated the ideas of succus lapidescens—a lapidifying juice referring to the tradition of Georgius Agricola (1494–1555)—and its underlying principle, spiritus lapidificans, in his popular book, Systema physicum from 1628, which was widely distributed in Denmark (Garboe, 1959, p. 24; Kragh, 2006, p. 17). Following Bartholin, Worm used the term succus lapidescens, and he noted the effect of the supposed petrifying juice in connection with various specimens, for instance, the crystals, stalactites, and stones that looked crafted (Worm, 1655, p. 51, 81, and 99).25 In the letter to Henrik Fuiren, Worm sums up his knowledge on petrified shark teeth (Schepelern, 1968, p. 36–38, no. 1227).26 Firstly, he acknowledges that his knowledge on the subject was supported by the reports from his mentee, Thomas Bartholin (1616–1680), son of Caspar Bartholin, as well as what he had heard of ideas by Fabio Colonna (1567–1640), and what he had seen in the museum of Francesco Calzolari (ca. 1522–ca. 1609) (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 34). In the letter, Worm supports Colonna’s claim that parts of fish can turn into stone, and then continues that in some places there is a petrifying juice or evaporation capable of entering the pores of the bones and thus changing their nature. Nevertheless, Worm doubts that “all stones sold as tongue stone are teeth of canis carcharius changed into stones” (Schepelern, 1968, p. 36–37). He writes that his doubt is founded on the habitual discovery of teeth far from the ocean, and then he gives the examples of findings in Lunenburg in Germany and the Dutch town Deventer, both far from the sea. To this typical objection at the time, Worm adds his own reflections comparing the glossopetrae with a shark head and its teeth in his collection.
In his careful inspection of the stones, Worm notes that the glossopetrae and the shark teeth differed in size and shape. The glossopetrae were much bigger, and some were thicker. Secondly, they differed in color. The shark teeth were white, while the others had colors such as black, purple, and ash gray. Worm proposes that the colors might correspond to the nature and color of the exhalation that caused the petrifaction. The third objection concerns the number of teeth in the mouth. The massive size of the petrified teeth would require an equally large mouth. He writes: “It must have been a tremendous mouth that could hold two hundred of the kind. For this is the number of teeth in the head of the canis carcharius that I have in my museum” (Schepelern, 1968, p. 37). Neither material of the stone nor the shape revealed to Worm why the stones appeared as enlarged shark teeth, and the missing living giant shark as a counterpart to the fossils did not make it easier. At the end of the paragraph, Worm concludes that there are two different kinds of teeth made of stone: one kind that was created by mire containing petrifying powers that changed the fish teeth into stone and another kind of tooth-shaped stone, which was created by the “wit of nature.” In this way, Worm chose to interpret the seemingly causeless fossils as the result of nature’s ability to play and invent images, lusus naturae (Findlen, 1990; Adamowsky and Felfe, 2011; Felfe, 2015, p. 113–120).27
The case of the shark teeth exemplifies how Worm analyzed and compared the specimens, trying to establish a reliable argument. While reading the description in his letters, it is easy to imagine him performing an object lesson with his students on the topic of shark teeth. Despite Worm’s systematic approach to studying specimens, his limited access to dissections, excavation sites, and his loyalty to ideas of a static Earth crust restricted the conclusions he could make. Worm’s considerations on glossopetrae were neither original nor satisfactory. It was Niels Stensen (Steno) (1638–1686) who would finally argue for the connection between the shark teeth and the glossopetrae in his famous text on Canis Carchariae (1669).28 Stensen did not go into the ideas on the petrifying juice, which Worm had been twisting and turning in relation to many different kinds of natural specimens. Instead, Stensen’s dissection of a huge shark guided his conclusions. Worm’s limited empirical study was against him, and his reference to the idea of a petrifying juice also shows that he was attached to an older mindset than Stensen.
In an article from 1999, Jole Shackelford describes some of Worm’s investigations leading to correct or incorrect conclusions in modern terms (Shackelford, 1999). He points out several examples, where the most well known is Worm’s thesis on unicorn horn that he argued was narwhale tusk.29 Due to his empirical study, Worm recognized the narwhale tusk; however, Shackelford emphasizes that Worm at the same time maintained his belief in the concept of spontaneous generation (Rudwick, 1972, p. 45; Shackelford, 1999, p. 67). In other words, Shackelford depicts Worm as a researcher in a transitional phase of time with a foot in both camps. Shackelford sums it up: “Worm collected somewhat more selectively [than Aldrovandi] and sought to distinguish fact from fable, not always with success” (Shackelford, 1999, p. 66). Worm never made any important scientific discoveries, and from the perspective of this article, the relevance of highlighting Worm does not lie within his ability to distinguish between what we today consider fable or fact. Instead, Worm is relevant to this issue because he is an early example of an articulated wish to establish a connection between learning and the museum. In Worm’s writings, we get the outline of how he included students, friends, colleagues, and guests in discussing, studying, and testing the things he gathered in his museum. In this way, he stimulated the development of a learning environment in Denmark by promoting and providing a site for exchange and hands-on, empirical studies of nature.30
THE FATE OF MUSEUM WORMIANUM
When Ole Worm died in 1654, the main parts of his collection were transferred to the Danish King Frederik III, who merged it with the royal collection. This meant that the university lost its study collection, which was not replaced until Worm’s mentee and successor, Thomas Bartholin, financially supported the establishment of a new one (Spärck, 1962, p. 20–24; Wolff, 1999). Embedded in the royal collection, many of Worm’s items survived for more than two centuries. Additionally, a large number of Worm’s object descriptions from the Museum Wormianum catalogue were transferred and reformulated in the later inventories. Among them were two major inventories, both called Museum Regium, made by Holger Jacobæus (1650–1701) and Johannes Laverentzen (ca. 1648–1729) (Jacobæus, 1696; Laverentzen, 1710).31 Some of the altered descriptions in the Museum Regium catalogues give evidence to changed interpretations. For instance, the Museum Regium paragraph on glossopetrae does not refer to nature’s assumed capability of “drawing” the figures in stone, and Worm’s references to further literature as well as his speculations on the topic were omitted (Worm, 1655, p. 67; Jacobæus, 1696, p. 36; Laverentzen, 1710, no. 67).32 Instead, Niels Stensen was added as a reference for the origin of the fossilized shark teeth.
The royal Kunstkammer was established relatively late compared to other European collections, but it remained intact for an unusually long period of time (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 48). Whereas many other collections such as that of the Habsburg family were split up and dispersed in inheritance cases, the Danish royal Kunstkammer was handed over from king to king in the order of succession in the royal family. This feature makes it possible to follow the items and the reception of them over a long span of time. Camilla Mordhorst has investigated and analyzed the reception of the 40 known surviving items from their appearance in Worm’s collection until the nineteenth century, when the absolute monarchy in Denmark ended and the museum institutions were founded (Mordhorst, 2009). Descriptions of now lost items and later additions are included in her account, widening the scope of her study. She demonstrates how the reception of individual items changed, and she provides examples of how parts of the collection were tied to a wide range of ideas, old and new. One of Mordhorst’s conclusions is that Museum Wormianum and its afterlife in the royal collection were characterized by continuity of tradition, gradual change, and minor adjustments rather than innovative thinking and radical changes.33
In the late eighteenth century, a wish to reorganize the royal collection emerged. Besides Worm’s collection, several private collections had been added to the royal chambers during the years, demanding better storage and administration. Eventually, it was decided to establish six commissions responsible for (1) paintings, (2) Nordic antiquities, (3) classical antiquities, (4) contemporary genuine polished stones and precious objects, (5) ethnographica, and (6) carved and turned pieces (Garboe, 1959, p. 183; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 127 and 270). As an example, the collection of minerals was placed at Rosenborg Castle in 1804, where it was merged with other mineral collections, for instance, Theodor Holm’s (1731–1793) and Peter Christian Abildgaard’s (1740–1801) collections (Andrup, 1933, p. 25; Callisen 1945; Garboe, 1959, p. 184–188; Mordhorst, 2009, p. 204).34 In the middle of the nineteenth century, the mineral collection was relocated at the Natural History Museum (Callisen, 1945, p. 529–530). In this way, the commissions dispersed and relocated the items of the collection step by step. Most of Worm’s items disappeared in this process, and the royal Kunstkammer was officially closed in 1825. By the end of the nineteenth century, the pieces of the royal collection had either been sold, lost in fire, or transferred to the newly constituted museums (Mordhorst, 2009, p. 67–71 and 279–282).
Ole Worm’s museum was not radically different from many other cabinets of curiosities of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. His collection reflected older concepts of nature such as the above-mentioned ideas on petrifying juice, nature’s ability to play, and the supposed hybrids between the different kingdoms of nature. The key point of this article is to highlight Worm’s contribution as taking a reflected position on learning and the creation of a learning environment. Worm did not only tie together learning and the making of his museum. He also had a need to express why he had an ambition to do so. As argued in this article, Worm enunciated his approach to learning about nature in his preface to Museum Wormianum and in his letters. These sources give evidence to Worm as a collector who explicitly aimed at establishing what he considered to be optimal conditions for other people’s learning on nature by facilitating object lessons and hands-on activities. In this way, as a teacher and collector—albeit not as a scientist in modern terms, Worm supported the emerging scientific communities, the international exchange of knowledge and students as well as the increasing emphasis on documentation and empirical evidence in the seventeenth century.
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.