Science & Education

, Volume 27, Issue 3–4, pp 371–377 | Cite as

The Evolution of U.S. Museums and Science Centers as Informal Learning Environments

Karen A. Rader and Victoria E. M. Cain (2014) Life on Display: Revolutionizing U.S. Museums of Science & Natural History in the Twentieth Century. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN: 978-0-226-07966-0, 467 pages, $45 USD (hardback)
  • Renee M. Clary
Book Review


In this book, Rader and Cain explore how the public and educational roles of museums and science centers changed throughout a century of evolving facilities and missions. The U.S. museum journey begins in the 1890s, with specimens in dingy displays that failed to capture visitors’ attention. Some of the stark presentations, including “slimy things in glass vessels,” terrorized rather than educated (p. 8). Fortunately, some early museum advocates envisioned that museums could better present their collections to both interest and educate the general public.

The Progressive Vision: Beyond Simple Display

Chapter 1 begins with the 1800s, when U.S. museums housed rows of glass-fronted cabinets filled with a multitude of specimens; cabinets served more as storage cases than educational displays. Individuals devoted to natural history were appalled that museums did not do more to educate and inspire future naturalists. For example, George Brown Goode (1851–1896) of the Smithsonian


Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GeosciencesMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA

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