Mareike Vennen, ‘Making dry bones live:’ Entanglements between science and popular culture in early twentieth century Natural History Museums


Download audio


About the Talk

Between 1924 and 1931, the British Museum (Natural History) sent a paleontological expedition to what was then Tanganyika Territory, today’s Tanzania. Taking the example of the British Museum East Africa Expedition, the talk analyses the interplay between science, natural history museums and popular culture in the early twentieth century. It focuses on the material reconstruction of fossils for museum exhibits on the one hand and their pictorial and cinematographic reanimation on the other hand, which served as mutually fictionalizing science and authenticating fiction. The goal is to show how these different media all aimed at ‘making dry bones live’ as a way of making dinosaur remains potential objects of scientific, colonial, and commercial appropriation and popularization. (some slides redacted for copyright reasons)



Mareike Vennen is a postdoctoral assistant at the Technische Universität Berlin. She finished her dissertation in cultural sciences at the Bauhaus Universität Weimar with a thesis on the early history of the aquarium. She presently works for a research project on “Dinosaurs in Berlin. Brachiosaurus brancai as an Icon of Politics, Science and Popular Culture”, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Her research interests focus on transnational history of knowledge transfer, history of material cultures and the visual history of natural history in the 19th and 20th century.