Thesis ID: CBB103459398

“Distinct from the School Experience” The Development of Pedagogical Authority through Teacher Programs at the American Museum of Natural History, 1880–1962 (2020)


This project uses a historical case study of teacher-support programs at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City between 1880 and 1962 to better understand how science museums have come to be viewed as spaces for improving the effectiveness of classroom teachers. This study uses the concept of “pedagogical authority”—defined here as the socially constructed power to determine best practices for classroom teaching—to characterize the presumption of the museum’s value for teachers. By identifying the individuals, ideologies, and methods behind the museum’s support programs for teachers, including late-nineteenth century lantern slide lectures and school loans in the early-twentieth century, this project traces how museum-based scientists and educators, as well as professional educators, including teachers and school administrators, contributed to the AMNH’s pedagogical authority. When using these teacher-support programs as a lens, professional educators working alongside and within the AMNH emerge as the primary architects of the institution’s pedagogical authority. At various points in the AMNH’s history, school administrators, teachers, and museum educators with pedagogical training leveraged the museum’s resources to support classroom instruction by aligning museum programs with shifting school curriculums, filling perceived gaps in teacher education, and creating museum programs designed to address emergent national concerns about workforce development. The AMNH’s leadership, meanwhile, was driven to work with schools and teachers by the substantial annual subsidies the museum received from the City of New York. This research shows that educators were among the first groups of outside professionals to recognize that the AMNH (and museums writ large) could be used as a platform to help achieve desired outcomes. Moreover, by demonstrating the AMNH staff’s capacity to create educational programs specifically designed to meet their partners’ needs, this project sheds light on the integral role that the museum educators have played in developing the museum’s institutional identity. In doing so, this dissertation calls for further research on how educators have used museum-based educational programs to shape museums and classroom instruction alike.

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Authors & Contributors
Despy-Meyer, Andrée
Homchick, Julie
Rainger, Ronald
Rossi, Michael
Bal, Mieke
Braghini, Katya Mitsuko Zuquim
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Critical Inquiry
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Journal of American Culture
University of Washington
University of Alabama Press
World Scientific Publishing Company
Natural history
Science and society
Teaching; pedagogy
Osborn, Henry Fairfield
Akeley, Carl Ethan
Bradley, Mary Hastings
Burden, William Douglas
Doob, Joseph L.
Laughlin, Harry Hamilton
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
20th century, early
17th century
18th century
20th century, late
United States
Connecticut (U.S.)
American Museum of Natural History, New York
Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
University of Nebraska
Natural History Museum (London, England)

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