Animals on Display: The Zoocurriculum of Museum Exhibits

Helena Pedersen

Abstract


Museums have been viewed as valuable education resources as well as sites of reproduction of colonialist narratives about the "other." This article, based on ethnographic field studies of school visits to museums and drawing on postcolonial critique in visual culture and critical education theory, analyzes two different museum exhibitions and the human-animal relations they produce. Different agendas seem to be at work at the two museums; one inviting a conventional zoological gaze of "exoticism," and the other interrogating issues of power inherent in human-animal relations. I argue that the pedagogical messages produced by particularly the natural history museum are part of a generic zoocurriculum; a species-coded hidden curriculum structuring human-animal boundary work by delimiting and separating human and animal subject positions. However, student responses to both museum displays indicate that their own interpretive framework largely operated in the opposite direction as the exhibited animal "specimens" seemed to invoke reflections on mortality that facilitated students' self-identification with them.

Keywords


Critical Ethnography; Museums; Power; Human-animal relations; Zoocurriculum; Animal Studies; Education Policy; Ethnography

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education