The First National Museum

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Dublin's Natural History Museum is a uniquely preserved piece of our past, an intact example of a nineteenth-century natural science collection. While its polished cases and stuffed animals show us what the museum looked like in its heyday, this book is the first detailed exploration of its early history, showing how and why it came into being, and what it meant in nineteenth-centruy Irish culture. From its earliest days as a small collection at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) to the gala inauguration of its new home on Merrion Square in 1857, everyone had an idea about what if was for and how natural science would benefit Ireland. It was the first public musuem in Ireland, a project of the RDS that was supported by central government as an educational venue, and was frequented by ordinary citizens and visitors, as well as leading lights of natural science. Its history offers a view of science in Ireland, showing that the museum was built over time by donations from citizens and scientific amateurs, as well as professionals, and that Irish men of science shaped new knowledge from the raw material in the collections. Far from the aura of genteel nostalgia that continues to attract visitors today, the Natural History Museum of the nineteenth century was an active scientific institution, with strong connections to the wider sphere of European science. This book is the first monograph on the Natural History Museum, illuminating its importance as the first public collection in the country. It shows that natural science was a popular feature of Irish intellectual culture in the nineteenth century, showing the museum's role in educaton and knowledge creation. It discussses the range of people who created and made sense of the collections, showing how natural science in Ireland was not the preserve of the elite, but a collaborative project that enjoyed support from many quarters of society. This book has been described as "an important contribution to the literature on cultural and intellectual life in nineteenth-century Ireland, and will be read with particular interest by historians of science, museums studies scholars and those with interests in the interconnected process of collecting, display and knowledge production" (Jonathon Jeffrey Wright, Maynooth University, Ireland)