"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Pseudonymous Chronicle of Higher Ed columnist "Thomas H. Benton" describes the wonders of the Victorian natural history museum:
One of my most powerful early memories is of visiting the great hall of Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences: an enormous 19th-century gallery decorated, as I recall, with wrought iron, entablatures, oak, and marble. I remember my footsteps echoing as I walked toward the polished railing behind which stood the Hadrosaurus, more than 20 feet tall and impossibly ancient. The mounted skeleton -- brown, lacquered, and crackled, like a Rembrandt painting -- revealed itself gradually as my eyes adjusted to the light.
Wreckovators since have intervened, in the cause of up-to-datedness and kid-friendliness:
Now the towering Hadrosaurus is hunched over -- in deference to current theory -- and banished to an inconspicuous corner to make room for a gathering of fossil replicas designed as photo-ops. Instead of gazing up at a relic of the heroic era of Victorian science, people ignore the Hadrosaurus and get their picture taken with their head beneath the jaws of the scary Giganotosaurus, a sort of Tyrannosaurus Rex on steroids, before going to the gift shop to buy a "sharp toothed" plush toy. See, kids, science can be fun!
But programmed "fun" is not necessarily pleasure, nor is entertainment the only means of sparking an interest in science. The people who run museums these days seem to think that children cannot enjoy quiet reflection. I suppose they think that would be elitist. As a result, decorum -- once one of the key lessons of the museum for children -- is replaced by the rules of schoolyard, the serious is usurped by the cute, and thought is banished by the chatter of last decade's high-tech gizmos.
Preservationists of all sorts of cathedrals will agree: Touches a chord, no?