Mankind has always been fascinated by what came before us. People of all ages are enthralled by the prehistoric world. Children love pretending their dinosaur actions figures are real, teenagers are sucked in by dinosaur comic books, and even adults are captivated by dinosaur movies from over the decades.
The Mesozoic Era is a common interest around the world, which is why a large sector of science is dedicated to studying the landscape and inhabitants of the prehistoric world. As technology has evolved, people have been able to research more accurately, study details in a more efficient way, and model the biology of the landscape cleaner than ever before. That’s why our exhibit showcases how the models for prehistoric biology have evolved over the past few centuries.
To communicate our findings on the evolution of the study of the prehistoric world we have created an online exhibit. Divided into two major subsections, our online exhibit explains the prehistoric world as seen prior to, and post, the twentieth century. Furthermore, the subsections of our exhibit divide the sources of our information. The pre-1900’s page is full of rich information extracted from books and pictures found in The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature. On the contrary, the page pertaining to more recent findings serves as a bridge to new sources of information that cannot be obtained through the Baldwin.
The beginning of our information pages begins at the early 1800s. Here, viewers will discover where the term paleontology came from, exploring early paleontologists such as Georges Cuvier, and how and why the research of ancient prehistoric fossils came to be such a large sector in science and history. This section will also showcase a few books that were published before the 20th century that were among the first books of their kind to showcase fossils and prehistoric animals accurately to young audiences. These books were not only important for educating young readers, but also gaining interest from children in those fields, spurring growth in those scientific fields.
1900s - Present
Dinosaur research took a turn in the late 1960s as the Dinosaur Renaissance materialized. In the 60 years preceding the Dinosaur Renaissance, all time and resources were focused on the Great Depression and the World Wars. Animal research, particularly dinosaurs, was considered to be the least of all concern. Scientists began to view dinosaurs as irrelevant creatures with no descendants. However, in the late 1960s, Jon Ostrom changed this belief. He revolutionized dinosaur research with the theory that dinosaurs were endothermic creatures - warm-blooded, not cold-blooded. Through extensive fossil research, Ostrom also revealed that dinosaurs might have had feathers. He hypothesized that dinosaurs had very large brains and were much more athletic than scientists had previously recognized. Ostrom drew a new parallel between dinosaurs and birds and threw out the old comparison between dinosaurs and lizards. Robert Bakker and Greg Paul drew specific skeletal reconstructions of dinosaurs. Greg Paul in particular designed the traditional modern dinosaur. For example, the dinosaurs seen in movies such as Jurassic Park are called “Greg Paul dinosaurs.”
Also seen in the post 1900s section of the exhibit is a representation of how dinosaurs are portrayed in the media. From movies, to comics, to children’s books, dinosaurs are everywhere, and are represented in a variety of different ways. Most often, dinosaurs are depicted as vicious and deadly creatures, like in the movie Jurassic Park and the comic Age of Reptiles. However, dinosaurs are not always viewed as destructive and antagonistic. Sometimes, dinosaurs are portrayed as friendly creatures, like in the 1914 film Gertie the Dinosaur. Dinosaurs are portrayed in countless creative ways, and are even used teach young children valuable lessons, like in Jane Yolen’s children’s book series ‘How do Dinosaurs’
In order to include interaction between creators and readers, as well as between readers themselves, a hashtag was created. Using Twitter to develop a means of communication, our designated hashtag (#1102prehistoric) allows for viewers to tweet their questions, comments, or thoughts. Not only will the exhibit creators be able to view feedback from the readers, and answer questions, but the hashtag will also allow other Twitter users with a common interest to find, and interact with, each other.
This exhibit is designed to highlight the history of scientific documentation as biology knowledge became more sophisticated. Our audience is not limited to one specific age group, it is open to students of all ages, scientists, professors, and historians. Our exhibit could be considered interdisciplinary because not only does it discuss the actual biology of dinosaurs, it comments on the historical documentation process and the ever changing social perceptions of dinosaurs. In a display that is simple yet sophisticated, viewers should walk away with a deconstructed version of centuries worth of science and history.
What can we learn about the history of science?
The development in the depictions of dinosaurs improved as scientific knowledge grew. Originally, dinosaurs were immediately classified as large reptiles because it was four-legged, considered to be cold-blooded, and laid eggs. Therefore, dinosaurs were initially represented as giant lizards. As more fossils were collected, a greater understanding of dinosaur characteristics was revealed. This exhibit serves to demonstrate the idea that science is ever-changing and improving. A century before today, dinosaurs possessed a set of characteristics and that were completely revolutionized with the presence of Jon Ostrom, his discoveries, and consequent conclusions. Our current perception of dinosaurs could once again change as a combination of science, technology, and media progress and evolve.