That Time a Dinosaur Had to Save the World

Activiteit: Toespraak of presentatieAcademisch


ABSTRACT The cultural incorporation of dinosaurs in continental Europe took place surprisingly recently, and was mainly provoked by a donation of plaster casts of the dinosaur Diplodocus carnegii by the Scottish-American tycoon Andrew Carnegie. Between 1905 and 1913, no fewer than seven of these 26-metre skeletons appeared in European natural history museums. An eighth found its way to Argentina, while the original was unveiled in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie, who had been active in philanthropy for some time, discovered a new ambition in the closing years of the nineteenth century: to more or less single-handedly establish a system of international legal arbitration that should make warfare a thing of the past, and Diplodocus played a clear role in this endeavor. Although the impact of Carnegie’s donations diminished over the years, Diplodocus became part of scientific as well as political and popular culture. The association with the original context of the donation often disappeared, however: Europeans appropriated the dinosaur, both in a scientific and cultural sense.
This was reflected in publication, music and art. Diplodocus’ celebrity also turned the animal into a suitable “substrate” for addressing other issues. Perhaps the most far-reaching exploitation of Carnegie’s plaster dinosaur took place in Germany, where scientists used the animal to attempt far-reaching science reform.
Carnegie’s pursuit of world peace suffered a tragic demise in August of 1914. But this “by-product”, the eight molds of Diplodocus carnegii, became the dinosaur for generations of European museum visitors.
Periode27 nov. 2018
Gehouden opKNAW Humanities Cluster