Curators Behind the scenes of natural history museums

Lance Grande

Book - 2017

"Over the centuries, natural history museums have evolved from being little more than musty repositories of stuffed animals and pinned bugs, to being crucial generators of new scientific knowledge. They have also become vibrant educational centers, full of engaging exhibits that share those discoveries with students and an enthusiastic general public. At the heart of it all from the very start have been curators. Yet after three decades as a natural history curator, Lance Grande found that he still had to explain to people what he does. This book is the answer - and, oh, what an answer it is: lively, exciting, up-to-date, it offers a portrait of curators and their research like none we've seen, one that conveys the intellectual ex...citement and the educational and social value of curation. Grande uses the personal story of his own career - most of it spent at Chicago's storied Field Museum - to structure his account as he explores the value of research and collections, the importance of public engagement, changing ecological and ethical considerations, and the impact of rapidly improving technology. Throughout, we are guided by Grande's keen sense of mission, of a job where the why is always as important as the what. This beautifully written and richly illustrated book is a clear-eyed but loving account of natural history museums, their curators, and their ever-expanding roles in the twenty-first century"--Publisher.

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Chicago, IL : The University of Chicago Press 2017.
Main Author
Lance Grande (author)
Physical Description
xvi, 412 pages : illustrations (chiefly color), color maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 355-406) and index.
  • Preface: Curators of Natural History and Human Culture
  • 1. Moving toward the Life of a Curator
  • 2. Beginning a Curatorial Career
  • 3. Staking Out a Field Site in Wyoming
  • 4. Mexico and the Hotel NSF
  • 5. Willy, Radioactive Rayfins, and the Fish Rodeo
  • 6. A Dino Named SUE
  • 7. Adventures of My Curatorial Colleagues from the Field
  • 8. The Spirit of K-P Schmidt and the Hazards of Herpetology
  • 9. Executive Management
  • 10. Exhibition and the Grainger Hall of Gems
  • 11. Grave Concerns
  • 12. Hunting-and Conserving-Lions
  • 13. Saving the Planet's Ecosystems
  • 14. Where Do We Go from Mere?
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes, Added Commentary, References, and Figure Credits
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Many people visit a natural history museum at some point in their lives, but how many know what goes on behind the exhibits? That museums have far more specimens and artifacts in storage than on display? And that those specimens often support groundbreaking research by scientists from all over the world? Grande, a senior curator of paleontology at Chicago's world-renowned Field Museum of Natural History, takes readers on an intimate tour backstage to explain exactly what natural history museum curators do. He also uses his career as a framework to present an inside view of the entire profession. As he recounts his start in science and profiles his mentors, we get a personal look at the development of a research scientist. He also portrays many of his colleagues and shares their experiences, and tells fascinating stories about events both well known (the bidding war, eventually won by the Field Museum, for the fossil T. rex known as Sue) and more obscure (the herpetologist who kept notes of his symptoms as he was dying from a venomous snakebite). Grande's illumination of the evolving role of the natural history museum and of collection curators completes this passionate memoir and celebration of an essential public resource.--Bent, Nancy Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An insider's account of "what a natural history museum curator does."After more than 30 years as a research scientist at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, one of the world's largest natural history museums, Grande (The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time, 2013, etc.) steps back to describe the inner workings of these institutions devoted to the study of biology, anthropology, geology, and human culture. Drawing on his own life and career, he reveals the critical role of curators whose fieldwork advances scientific knowledge and makes possible the exhibitions so popular with the museumgoing public. As a working-class kid from the Minneapolis suburbs, Grande was smitten by natural history when he received a 52-million-year-old fossil fish as a gift. He earned a doctorate in evolutionary biology, joined the Field Museum in 1983, and has spent several weeks each summer for the past four decades engaged in fieldwork in the fossil-rich Wyoming desert that produced the prized fish of his youth. In this profusely illustrated book, he captures the excitement of scientific discovery and the "passion and competitive drive" of successful curators as they pursue wide-ranging research interests in caves, oceans, rain forests, and other locations around the world. His thumbnail accounts of colleagues' work involving everything from mushrooms and ants to meteorites and ancient civilizations offer readers an opportunity to watch top curators in action. Grande also provides detailed accounts of controversies, such as the legal battle over the museum's iconic T. rex skeleton named SUE; the long-standing tensions between academic and commercial fossil collectors; and his field's "fierce debates" about systematic methods. A strong believer in the need to help nonscientists understand science, the author brings curatorial work to life through absorbing stories about fossils, gems, and other natural objects and the men and women who find them. Certain to appeal to aspiring curators as well as anyone who has wondered what goes on behind the exhibitions. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.