USF St. Petersburg campus Faculty Publications


Educating with Skins and Bones: Material Representations of Animals in Permanent Exhibits at Local Parks.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

Rebecca Johns

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Permanent exhibits are common material artifacts at nature parks in the United States. Exhibits are designed to represent features of local ecosystems and convey important information about environment and place. While the environmental education literature is extensive, no one has yet applied a material culture analysis to deepen our understanding of the work that exhibits do to engage and educate visitors. We used material culture analysis to investigate animal exhibits at three nature parks in Florida. Animal bodies preserved through taxidermy stand beside displays of skeletons, skulls, individual bones, and animal pelts; nearby, live animals are confined to cages and terrariums, while wild creatures populate the parks' outdoor spaces. We argue that animal remnants and the bodies of resident animals "speak" about human valuation of nature. Through rhetorical analysis of material and living exhibits, we ask: What normative messages are embodied in each type of animal display concerning human entanglements with non-human animals? Do exhibits encourage animals to be understood as persons establishing relational epistemologies? How do they leverage affective connection to promote more equitable and compassionate relations between humans and others? Conversely, do exhibits reproduce dominant discourses of scientific authority, human superiority and control of nature? Which displays are more potent in invoking animals as persons? This work occurs at the intersection of environmental education and material culture analysis. As environmental educators seek to increase their impact on the American public in a time of mounting environmental woes, permanent exhibits are an overlooked and little understood resource.


International Society for Landscape, Place, & Material Culture