Dublin's Natural History Museum is a uniquely preserved sliver of the 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, The First National Museum is the first detailed exploration of its early history, showing how and why it came into being, and what it meant in nineteenth-century Irish culture.
From its earliest days as a small collection at the Royal Dublin Society to the gala inauguration of its new home on Merrion Square in 1857, everyone had an idea about what it was for, and how natural science would benefit Ireland. It was the first public museum in Ireland, a project of the RDS that was supported by the 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 and shows how participation in natural science was a form of cultural activity for the people who engaged with the museum.
Sherra Murphy is a Senior Lecturer in Critical and Cultural Studies at IADT Dun Laoghaire
"'The First National Museum': Dublin's Natural History Museum in the Mid-Nineteenth–Century is an engaging account of the cultural history of the Natural History Museum, Dublin. This is a timely study, given the critical questions being asked of the histories of our museum collections. This book would appeal to those interested in museum and heritage studies, cultural history, Irish history and the history of science and I am sure it would be added to reading lists for university undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in those disciplines."
– Professor Elizabeth Crooke, Heritage and Museum Studies, School Arts and Humanities, Ulster University
"This book offers a detailed, nuanced study of an important institution. Written with an eye on broader scientific developments, it makes 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 processes of collecting, display and knowledge production."
– Jonathan Jeffrey Wright, Maynooth University