Build Your Own Museum

What do colourful stamps from Tannu Tuva, a vintage 1926 Marmon, human teeth and pencils have in common? They are all things that people collect.

Stamp and antiques collecting are fairly common, but did you know that Peter the Great collected teeth? In addition to being a professional czar, he was also an amateur dentist.

A scientific illustration of human teeth.

Peter the Great liked to perform surgery on passers-by and amassed a considerable collection of human teeth. Image: Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body © Public domain

And as for pencils, there is even an American Pencil Collectors Society.

The tip of a sharp pencil.

One collector in North Dakota, U.S.A., has accumulated over 25 000 pencils. Image: Thomas Wydra © Public domain

This human desire for collecting is so common that the Russian scientist Pavlov (dogs, bells, conditioned response) thought it was a basic and universal human instinct.

If you like collecting things from nature like rocks and fossils, or bugs and bones, you should come on down and check out the Trading Post at the Canadian Museum of Nature!

A museum educator shows specimens to three young visitors.

The Trading Post is located on the fourth floor of the museum. Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

Unlike the more traditional, didactic museum displays with which we are heartily familiar (evolution from Eohippus to the modern horse), the Trading Post allows you to “build your own museum”. It connects visitors with their own experiences. Visitors trade what interests them, not what the museum wants or asks for. Nor do we tell you what to learn about what you collect—that is up to you.

Collage: A child looks at a rock, a child looks at a shell through a magnifying glass, a museum educator and a child use a microscope that is hooked up to a monitor.

By appealing to the five senses, the Trading Post promotes the use of multiple learning styles. Images: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

On a recent Saturday, for example, one little girl traded a mermaid’s purse, the jawbone of a sheep, a sea urchin, and some rocks that she found on a beach in Newfoundland during her summer vacation. She brought these specimens into the Trading Post, and through the point system, she was able to trade for some minerals that she wanted to make into jewellery.

A child looks at an array of mineral specimens in trays.

Rocks and minerals are the items most-often traded, followed by shells, fossils and insects (dead and prepared). Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature.

You don’t have to trade to make a “nature exchange”: you are welcome to just bring an object in and share with us the information that you have about it. (One woman said to me last Saturday, “I can tell that’s a beaver skull. My parents found one when I was a kid. I used to bring it to show and tell every year, ’till the other kids got sick of it”.)

Or, if you are a bird watcher, you can bring in pictures of the birds you spot. Or you can make a study project of object(s) you have found, just like a real naturalist would. To each his or her own… museum!

A child holds a specimen in front of a cabinet containing rocks and minerals.

To each his or her own museum. Image: Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

This entry was posted in Collections, Education, Museum Visitors and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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