The Harvard Museum of Natural History is connected to the Peabody by a causeway on the third floor. I wandered over yesterday after I had my fill of the Peabody's fractured casts of the stelea of Copan and their marvelous Mayan greenstone, which is not entirely theirs at all, of course, but belonged to the good folks of Honduras once, some of whom were pictured beside the booty after it had been wrested from where their ancestors placed it millennia before, just before it was carted up by the folks from Harvard and shipped back to Cambridge for study.
Which got me to thinking about our compulsion to collect. Which is a dangerous thing for a museum junkie to start wondering about.
Without museums would we have as much cause to wonder about the wider world? Would a lack of museums lead us to be insular and inward looking and unconcerned about others beyond our boundaries? This is to be avoided. But what right do we have to uproot the treasures of other cities and peoples and place them under glass?
And then I wandered into the taxidermic galleries of the Natural History Museum. Case after case of collected creatures stuffed and arrayed incongruously on display. Prey beside predator, each soul unmoved by the presence of the other, staring ahead with glassy eyes. Each unrelentingly anxious, as if in answer to my question.
Taxidermic creatures, Harvard Museum of Natural History.