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Tactile Taxidermy: The Revival of Animal Skins in the Early Twentieth Century Museum

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Taxidermy specimens are cloaked in animal skin; organic material that can decay or be eaten by insects. This essay examines the tactile relationship between this changeable skin-creature, and the figures of the taxidermist and the natural history curator in the turn of the twentieth century museum. Using Bristol Museum as a case study, it argues that specimens were not inert or stilled within museum collections. It explores how taxidermy specimens were meeting places between animal remains and human bodies, as natural history curators sought to remount existing specimens, and prevent them from deteriorating further. Taking a material approach, it examines how animal skins were physically shaped by human hands, and figuratively woven into stories of science, the British Empire and the natural world.
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Keywords: Animals; decay; museums; taxidermy; touch

Appeared or available online: December 11, 2020

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