Trip Report #2: The wonders of our planet and beyond

This week we visited the American Museum of National History (AMNH). Even though I had visited it before during my first days New York, this time I could focus on specific details, particularly in the behavior of some people walking through the different exhibits while visiting different scenes from the nature in our planet and beyond.

SPACE

This museum is a huge one! It has four floors of everything you could imagine related to natural history –animals, plants, rocks, meteorites, and all sorts of human artifacts. The museum complex is composed by 27 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, plus a planetarium and a library. I did only the first floor before joining the rest of the class for our visit. It was fascinating to explore every room, but at the same time it was hard find my way through the different exhibitions without taking a look at the map or asking for directions.
Most of the complex has a classical and traditional feel, and the atmosphere from one room to another can change a lot depending on the specific exhibition or curatorial layout. The Rose Center for Earth and Space stands out because of its much modern look, housed in a glass cube containing the spherical Space Theater.
The museum has a few cafes and there are also plenty of places to sit and relax. Something very interesting were all the stickers in the floor helping people to find the cafe!

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EXHIBITS

The exhibits are very well done in terms of visuals, layout, and content. Because of the purpose of the museum, everything is very educational and they use different mediums to provide information on the different subjects. Sometimes this is too much, though, and you will see a lot of diagrams and screens to talk about just one item in the exhibit.
All the dioramas -almost everything there is a diorama- are beautiful and detailed, but I was surprised to see that they are quite old. In the North American Animals room, some of the dioramas were made around 1930. And not many seem to have been done lately.
I imagine that today most of the effort goes to the temporary shows, which are much more fresh looking. I didn’t visit any of those this time, though.
My favorite exhibit was the Hall of Biodiversity. In this room, they are not trying to mimic the animal’s ecosystem. Instead, everything is organized as a large catalog of species displayed in the walls in a scientific style, some of them inside of containers and drawers. This really made me feel like these animals and objects were a part of someone else’s cabinet of wonder.

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INTERACTIVITY

The older exhibits lack of any interesting display element, apart from their traditional caption. The Hall of Biodiversity has some of screens that display interactive content related to the question “How is life classified?” People seem to use this one a lot, probably because of the chaotic feel in that room. The Hall of Planet Earth has more interactive content, like some screens with real-time data and more experiential activities. The most interactive exhibit is the Hall of the Universe at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Since most of the content there Is related to things from outer space, with size and behaviors beyond the space of the museum, they use a lot of screens and displays to provide the information, and also some hands-on installations. I also liked how they use a specific music in the whole area to provide a “cosmic” experience for visitors.

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PEOPLE

Fortunately on the day of my visit the museum wasn’t so crowded, considering that this is one of the most visited museums in New York. I tried to look carefully at the people visiting the place. There public was mostly tourists –I could hear many different languages, and families –there were plenty of children running around and touching everything.

I was particularly interested in a man visiting the museum on his own at the Hall of the Universe. He was wearing earphones, looking and reading carefully at the different displays in the exhibit. He suddenly seemed particularly amazed by the big meteorite in the room, which is an iron meteorite discovered in Oregon. He took out his earphones and had a conversation with one of the museum guides about the meteorite for a couple of minutes. Then, He asked her to take a picture of him, and then just stood there for a while staring and touching the object, probably thinking about the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life.

I felt happy to see a person connecting deeply with something in the exhibition. I think that this museum in particular allows people to discover new wonders about our planet, and because of the multiplicity of themes on display, it is a great place for everyone to enjoy.

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WEBSITE

As the museum itself, the design of the website is very traditional and academic, but very informative and full of different contents as well. It has very detailed information about the current and upcoming exhibitions, and it really helps to get more knowledge about them with special articles, videos, contests, documents for educators and even games for kids. As the museum itself, it has some very interesting content but there is so much that it is not so easy to navigate, specially considering the different audiences that it is designed for.

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