Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN: Whatever happened to museums?

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. He is still up in the frozen north - well Tyneside, actually, and is not due back until mid week. However he left us a few articles to be going on with including this splendid rant about the decline of museums...
I love museums, especially the more old fashioned ones. Dust cases with Victorian specimens, collections of skeletons and skulls, collections of mounted tropical insects looking like faded jewels, odd things floating in jars of formaldehyde, zoological booty from expeditions long since passed. I don’t like the modern museum with its interactive computer displays. Give me echoey rooms full of that unique ‘museum smell’ and dark corners hiding god knows what.

The little museum at Ilfracombe is one such box of delights. It displays bezoars (cows furballs) alongside huge stuffed pythons and a pine martin so old its fur has turned white.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery once had an amazing collection of stuffed specimens and fossils. The crowning glory to countless generations of school children was a life sized Tyrannosaurus rex. However, this wonderful collection has, in recent years, been broken up. None of the fossils or zoological specimens remain, heaven knows what happened to the lovely Tyrannosaur model. All had to make way for collections of local pottery, stuff on the industrial revolution and history of the Black Country. What was once one of the best museums in the country is now a crushing bore.

This small-minded parochialism seems to be spreading in museums. My own very dull and depressing hometown of Nuneaton once had a splendid little museum in Riversly Park. There was not much natural history in it but there was a fascinating ethnological collection including a great display of Eskimo artefacts. There was also an impressive collection of objects from darkest Africa and the South Seas.

Last year on a trip back to Nuneaton to visit my folks I decided to drop by the museum. Imagine my surprise and horror to see its marvellous collection gone and replaced with displays about local author George Elliot that were so mind bindingly banal that they beggared belief. Another room had a history of mining in the area.

None of the staff at the museum knew why the change had happened so I wrote to the curator. She wrote back telling me that a decision had been made to concentrate on things of ‘local interest’. Her definition of ‘interest’ and mine are at odds. Why must museums be obsessed with local things? It makes them introverted, dull and lacking in scope.

With the world in the state that it is we need now, more than ever, to foster our children a love and wonder of nature. To see natural history swept away by boring, local, recent, human history makes me sick.

There are still real museums out there displaying real, interesting stuff. These places need protecting from ‘modernisation’ and the whims of committees, focus groups (were there ever any people more unfit to pass judgement on anything?) and town councils.


dragonladych said...

Please explain that to our politicians who are forcing us to do such things.

They threatened to close our museum if it didn't help promote local culture... they don't even know what culture is anyway!

Curators don't have much power on such things they are employees also.

Little Weasel said...

Some are doing it right.
Wollaton Hall in Nottingham has just been refurbished and still has a great collection of hunting trophies, fossils, and rocks as well as local interest things(which are pretty interesting), such as lace looms and telephones and bicycles.
there are very few laminate boards or interactive gizmos, just good old rocks and dead things.
oh and once a month they power up the steam engines they have.