While PJ and I were in Boston last month, I visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s attached to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, so I visited both museums while PJ was attending his conference, the American Literature Association.

Most of the museums I’ve visited in the past few years have been art or history museums. A few years ago I visited the Field Museum in Chicago, which was really impressive and interesting. I enjoyed that museum so much that I decided to check out these museums in Cambridge when I had a free morning to look around on my own.

The HMNH is similar to the Field Museum in that it has several rooms of taxidermied animals to look at. I generally feel a little weird about these displays. On the one hand, they offer a relatively up close look at animals we would otherwise never get to see. On the other hand, it feels like a lot of animals died for what amounts to little more than idle curiosity. Having two adorable cats has definitely changed my mind about the expendability of animal life.

The animals in this picture are hummingbirds. This case isn’t huge, but it’s the size of a large bookshelf. As you can see, there are rows and rows of hummingbirds of many different varieties. Being able to see these birds up close is really interesting. It’s hard to believe that there are this many species of hummingbirds in the world. One effect of a display like this is, ironically, to impress upon the viewer just how vast and diverse and full of life the world is. I left this museum feeling very small and insignificant in the vast scope of things.

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