Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 November 2005
In 1890 the staff of the Dublin Natural History Museum began a comprehensive rearrangement of the collection in their care. Inspired by visits to American museums and motivated by a desire to produce a truly educational display, curators arranged the zoological collection to include cases on the history and geographical distribution of animals. These cases explicitly depicted, in words and specimens, the main arguments of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Placed at a ground-floor entrance to the museum, the cases invited the visitor to examine the remainder of the collection in terms of evolution by natural selection. The exhibit was supplemented by guidebooks and several lecture-demonstrations, which served to further reinforce its messages. Through an analysis of the exhibit's development and contents, this paper will show how these cases reflected not only the status of evolutionary thinking in Ireland, but also the curators' goals for the future development of Irish natural history.
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