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CHAPTER ONE “One of the Great Institutions”

Stephen E. Nash University Press of Colorado ePub

An Introduction

“As Denver is destined to be among the great cities of the Continent so will a museum here founded . . . grow up to be one of the great entertaining and educational institutions in the country.”

—Edwin Carter, on his vision for the museum, ca. 1894

On any given day you can visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and discover a bustling scene: visitors touring exhibits, school groups interacting with museum volunteers, hungry patrons eating at the T-Rex Cafe, crowds pushing into the Planetarium, eager listeners filling Ricketson Auditorium for a public lecture. The museum reaches, on average, about 1.3 million visitors every year—a number that is only exceeded by the Field Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and American Museum of Natural History. In short, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a big and busy place.

The hectic “front” of the museum—the exhibits, lecture halls, classrooms, theaters, and atria—hides a “back” of the museum that is also bustling. Out of public view, a staff that numbers in the hundreds oversees the museum’s day-to-day operations, planning and creating exhibits, seeking and securing funding, and enticing and tending to visitors. Although the museum’s curatorial staff often engages with the public through lectures, classes, and research activities, they too are often hidden behind-the-scenes, conducting research and working to care for the museum’s most essential asset: its scientific collections.

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CHAPTER FIVE World Ethnology Collection

Stephen E. Nash University Press of Colorado ePub

The World Ethnology Collection teaches us about societies around the globe and contextualizes the Rocky Mountains’ own history and cultures. For millennia, the Rocky Mountains have been a crossroads of cultures, from the ancient Paleoindian communities to the meeting of Navajo, Ute, and Pueblo peoples to the recent migrations of Hmong and Sudanese refugees. Today, Colorado residents drink coffee grown in Java and drive cars assembled in Japan. In a single day, we can travel half way across the globe. Pollution emitted in Boulder can reach Beijing—and vice versa—within days. The world is ever increasingly becoming a web of interconnections. The World Ethnology Collection is thus important for situating the Rocky Mountain region in a global perspective. It is through authentic objects that the collection acknowledges and celebrates the human experience in all its grand diversity.

This collection draws on one of ethnology’s disciplinary strengths, that is, comparative scholarship. The World Ethnology Collection not only provides the possibility of comparative research and exhibitions but also inherently strengthens the American Ethnology Collection. However, as the world is a big place, it is unrealistic to cover every culture in the world. Rather, efforts have focused on specific regions based on the identification of local connections (e.g., the Hmong refugee community in Denver), curatorial research agendas, or comparative dimensions with other parts of the museum’s holdings.

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CHAPTER SIX “Never Finished”

Stephen E. Nash University Press of Colorado ePub

The Anthropology Collections Today and Tomorrow

“A museum of natural history is never finished.”

—John F. Campion, first president of the museum’s board of trustees,
speaking at the museum’s opening, July 1, 1908

In 2008, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science celebrated 100 years of having its doors open to the public. As we move beyond this anniversary, it is important to acknowledge how the museum’s future depends upon its past. All the programs and exhibits, classes and research that the museum can pursue in large part depend on being able to effectively use the collections, gathered in fits and starts; careful science; and chance donations over the last century.

Never before has a book attempted to summarize and present the museum’s anthropology collections. This book is therefore an initial attempt to lay a foundation for future efforts, a means to engage the general public, scholars and researchers, and native and source communities. With John F. Campion’s maxim in mind, the Department of Anthropology is currently engaged in two new, broad initiatives that work toward our goal of becoming stewards of the best understood and most ethically held anthropology collection in North America.

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CHAPTER FOUR World Archaeology Collection

Stephen E. Nash University Press of Colorado ePub

The World Archaeology Collection includes primarily Egyptian artifacts with small collections from other Mediterranean cultures. It therefore facilitates an entrée into these cultures but cannot be considered systematic or representative. This collection arrived at the museum in myriad ways but largely through amateur collecting and subsequent donation. Such activities have been performed largely by interested parties outside of the Department of Anthropology and in association with temporary blockbuster exhibitions like Ramses II (1987) and The Quest for Immortality (2004).

The World Archaeology Collection consists of 2,105 artifacts, including objects from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Babylonia, and Sumeria. The remaining objects in the collection are, in order of decreasing frequency, Etruscan, Minoan, Assyrian, Turkish, Israeli, Cypriot, and Byzantine. A handful of objects are culturally unaffiliated. There are also eighty-seven CAT scans of the Egyptian mummy on display in the permanent Egyptian Mummies exhibition; these remain in particularly high demand by researchers.

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CHAPTER TWO American Ethnology Collection

Stephen E. Nash University Press of Colorado ePub

Countless Native American cultures have swept across the shores of North America, like the ocean’s ebb and flow. The rich diversity of many of these traditions and ways of life is documented in the American Ethnology Collection, which lies at the heart of the Department of Anthropology’s collections as a whole. The value of these holdings to American history, science, public education, and Native heritage is significant: it forms the foundation of the Crane American Indian Cultures Hall, dozens of temporary exhibits, articles and other investigation by numerous researchers, and lectures and classes offered annually. Since the 1968 donation of the nearly 12,000-piece Crane Collection, the holdings have doubled through curatorial field acquisitions, selective donations, and transfers from other museums.

Through acquisition and study of such cultural collections the museum is prepared for meaningful encounters with a wide variety of audiences, from Denver’s families to Native tribes and scholarly circles. The museum’s ethnology collections contain resources to reflect on the history and heritage of a cross-section of cultures throughout the Americas. The essential vitality of the objects comes through most clearly by relinking the collections with the living peoples whose ancestors made and used these irreplaceable treasures.

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