Different functions of learning and knowledge—Geology takes form: Museums in the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1848
Published:November 27, 2018
Marianne Klemun, 2018. "Different functions of learning and knowledge—Geology takes form: Museums in the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1848", 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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Few institutions are as multifaceted and successful as museums. The three main objectives of the museum—collecting, researching, and teaching—always existed next to each other, but they were not necessarily equally weighted. They changed in the course of the history of the museum depending on location and concept. How different was the character of these institutions at the beginning of their existence, when many of them were newly established in the Habsburg Empire. In contrast to modern museums, which focus apart from preservation on exhibitions for a broader public, the concept of the museum of the Vormärz period (1815–1848) was based on different forms of teaching. In 1811, Archduke Johann founded the Joanneum, a universal museum (a museum that included objects from nature and culture as well as crafts) in the province of Styria as a state museum (Landesmuseum) for the region, which became the model for other institutions in the Habsburg provinces. It has been largely overlooked that this outstanding early museum, first and foremost, provided regular instructional lectures in botany and mineralogy and, in so doing, made natural history and earth sciences known to interested people. At a time when mineralogy was not taught at secondary schools and was rarely part of the university curriculum, scholars such as Friedrich Mohs, Matthias Anker, and Karl Haidinger filled this gap and gave lectures in these subjects at museums. This contribution examines the shift from mineralogy as a science of specimens to geognosy (geology) as a science of stratigraphy during the Vormärz period, and I will argue that museums played a pivotal role in this transition process.
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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.