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To Display or not to display?

Jenni MFewery8 July 2014

While undertaking my Museum Studies Masters at UCL this year, common themes that kept cropping up were the issues that arise when displaying certain subjects or indeed objects. During our Museums: A Critical Perspective class we covered ethnographic collections, ‘Dark Tourism’ and national memory and the debate over displaying human remains. With my interests lying with the history of science and medicine I wanted to find a topic I could sink my teeth into whilst also focusing on museums of science and their methods of display.

Brown Dog Statue, 1906 with the plaque reading: “Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?”

Brown Dog Statue, 1906 with the plaque reading:
“Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?”

In April a UCL Science Collections curator asked me if I would be interested in taking a look at a 1930s dog respirator as a starting point for a dissertation topic. I was informed that the object may have been used during animal experimentation and there were concerns about how to display it responsibly, considering its historic role in experiments to which so many have a negative responses. I researched the history of vivisection – live animal dissection – and discovered the story of the little brown dog. During the early 1900s protests and riots spread through London as anti-vivisectionists campaigned against experimentation on animals in response to the illegal dissection of a little brown dog. Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog to be erected as a memorial, antagonising medical students or “anti-doggers” and resulting in the statue being removed under the cover of darkness. In 1985 another statue, commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society, was erected in Battersea Park and remains there today. (more…)