As if synchronized with the turn of the millennium, natural history museums are experiencing intense and exciting times around the world. In Paris, London, New York, Luxembourg, Dublin, La Plata, and Mexico City among others, these museums are announcing plans for renovation, have started them, already started part or have fully remodeled their old installations. The way in which they do this or have done so varies and is never free of conflicts. Should research be reduced for a greater educational effort? Should a highly technological area be added to previous installations, or should both be combined in the same place? Should collections be organized around the discourse of biodiversity since this topic attracts the indispensable funds for renovation. Should the term National History be removed from the names of museums? These and other questions which inevitably arise in the elaboration of projects make natural history museums spaces open to debate and to change.

The conditions in which these transformations take place are not insignificant: an acute planetary environmental crisis which has generated great interest in the ecosystems of other latitudes, species only seen in the zoo’s or on television, genes from useful plants and cultures which were previously considered “primitive” and which now are candidates for funds from International Institutions for their work in favor of the preservation of the planet. A strong interest of the mass communications media in these topics and the development of scientific disciplines devoted to the study of jungles, deserts, rivers, forests, seas, soil, and atmosphere, from micro to macro of their history and future.

At the same time, the way scientific activity is perceived has changed radically in recent years. It is no longer possible to continue to sustain the lineal conception of history, in which the dominant conception is the positivist one, according to which all societies must go through the stages of animism, metaphysics and all types of knowledge considered “pre-scientific” to inevitably reach the “objective science”, for which all other cultures must leave behind their superstitions and embrace the knowledge of contemporary science which is, by its own definition “superior”. From this perspective the development of science and technology is endowed with internal logic, and it is not considered that all types of  knowledge are generated in a specific natural historical and social context, respond to various specific needs and interests, and have a rhythm and a dynamic of change of their own. Scientific activity as well as theories and the facts which support them cannot be considered without recurring to philosophy, history, sociology and the psychology of science.

The idea of nature itself has undergone substantial modifications, in great degree due to the planetary environmental crisis. It is no longer possible to discuss nature without including human activity. Man can no longer be seen as a being outside nature, and much less as nature’s master, capable of dominating and controlling it. The search for a new relationship between societies and their immediate and planetary environments is imperative.

It is clear that for any renovation project, a natural history museum must consider these general circumstances, as well as its immediate context, and in function of these factors, propose the type of museum to be built, the communities with which it will be linked, the weight it will give to research, orientation of collections, etc. The work presented here is part of a broad project which covers museographical, architectural, and other elements, and is mainly focused on the conceptual framework which determines the goals of the project, the theme and its development, and the relationship to be established with visitors.

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Trópico lunar:A renovation program for the Mexico City Museum of Natural History

Cesar Carrillo Trueba   Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

As if synchronized with the turn of the millennium, natural history museums are experiencing intense and exciting times around the world. In Paris, London, New York, Luxembourg, Dublin, La Plata, and Mexico City among others, these museums are announcing plans for renovation, have started them, already started part or have fully remodeled their old installations. The way in which they do this or have done so varies and is never free of conflicts. Should research be reduced for a greater educational effort? Should a highly technological area be added to previous installations, or should both be combined in the same place? Should collections be organized around the discourse of biodiversity since this topic attracts the indispensable funds for renovation. Should the term National History be removed from the names of museums? These and other questions which inevitably arise in the elaboration of projects make natural history museums spaces open to debate and to change.

The conditions in which these transformations take place are not insignificant: an acute planetary environmental crisis which has generated great interest in the ecosystems of other latitudes, species only seen in the zoo’s or on television, genes from useful plants and cultures which were previously considered “primitive” and which now are candidates for funds from International Institutions for their work in favor of the preservation of the planet. A strong interest of the mass communications media in these topics and the development of scientific disciplines devoted to the study of jungles, deserts, rivers, forests, seas, soil, and atmosphere, from micro to macro of their history and future.

At the same time, the way scientific activity is perceived has changed radically in recent years. It is no longer possible to continue to sustain the lineal conception of history, in which the dominant conception is the positivist one, according to which all societies must go through the stages of animism, metaphysics and all types of knowledge considered “pre-scientific” to inevitably reach the “objective science”, for which all other cultures must leave behind their superstitions and embrace the knowledge of contemporary science which is, by its own definition “superior”. From this perspective the development of science and technology is endowed with internal logic, and it is not considered that all types of  knowledge are generated in a specific natural historical and social context, respond to various specific needs and interests, and have a rhythm and a dynamic of change of their own. Scientific activity as well as theories and the facts which support them cannot be considered without recurring to philosophy, history, sociology and the psychology of science.

The idea of nature itself has undergone substantial modifications, in great degree due to the planetary environmental crisis. It is no longer possible to discuss nature without including human activity. Man can no longer be seen as a being outside nature, and much less as nature’s master, capable of dominating and controlling it. The search for a new relationship between societies and their immediate and planetary environments is imperative.

It is clear that for any renovation project, a natural history museum must consider these general circumstances, as well as its immediate context, and in function of these factors, propose the type of museum to be built, the communities with which it will be linked, the weight it will give to research, orientation of collections, etc. The work presented here is part of a broad project which covers museographical, architectural, and other elements, and is mainly focused on the conceptual framework which determines the goals of the project, the theme and its development, and the relationship to be established with visitors.

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