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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Educational Museums and Field Lore

by Mr. E. W. Swanton
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 601-609


Thursday, May 16th, 10.30 a.m.
The Lady Louise Loder in the chair.
Mr. E. W. Swanton read his paper on Educational Museums and Field Lore.

At a time when education is the watchword of the hour, a consideration of the best methods to be adopted in the formation of educational museums seems very desirable.

It is now universally admitted by parents and teachers that a familiarity with the elementary facts of natural history is of the greatest value to children. To quote from Huxley, "the great peculiarity of scientific training, that in virtue of which it cannot be replaced by any other discipline whatsoever, is this bringing of the mind directly into contact with fact, and practising the intellect in the completest form of induction; that is to say, in drawing conclusions from particular facts made known by immediate observation of nature."

If our museums are to assist the young in their scientific studies they must keep abreast of the latest discoveries in the world of science; they must not only live but grow, otherwise they become useless, and like a decaying tree in a forest are a source of danger if not removed.

A great authority (Professor Boyd Dawkins) in the course of an address on the museum question at Manchester in 1892, remarked that "museums fall naturally into four groups:--

"I. The Art Museum, which includes also antiquities arranged from the art point of view.
"II. The Natural History, which illustrates the history of Nature in its widest sense and of man in his physical aspects.
"III. The Archeological and Ethnological, which deals with the works of man, and his progress in civilization.
"IV. The Technical, in which objects are arranged in relation to industry.

"The leading idea of the first is Art; of the second, Nature; of the third, Civilization; and of that last, the conquest of Mind over Matter."

Though the Professor so carefully separated these groups yet he afterwards admitted that they must of necessity often overlap. The above is a classification of museums according to their contents, and lucky indeed is the city or town with four museums respectively illustrating Art, Nature, Civilization and Industry! Obviously there are not many such. Moreover it would seem that an educational museum in the broadest sense of the term should be a combination of the four groups, Natural History being the most important, to which the other groups would stand in the same relationship as branches to the trunk of a tree.

At a conference of teachers held at the Educational Museum at Haslemere, some two or three years ago, one of the speakers alluded in glowing terms to the educational value of a museum of commercial products, which he had acquired with little trouble or expense, by adopting the ingenious method of obtaining his specimens from large factories, the managers apparently being always ready to advertise their goods in this way. Though his zeal was greatly to be admired one could not think that a school museum in which geological and zoological types had no place was not so highly educational as the speaker imagined. It would be too far fragmentary.

Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson, F.R.S., LL.D., a great authority upon education, and founder of several educational museums, maintains that modern education, in its zeal to avoid the charge of being superficial, incurs that of being merely fragmentary. "It aims at thoroughness, but is obliged at once to admit that it can attain it only in certain subjects, which compared with the sum of human knowledge are but few and small." He encourages superficial acquaintance with things, and argues that "as regards fitness for the affairs of life, better by far a general acquaintance with all that is around us, though it be not very deep, than slices of profound knowledge placed sandwich-wise between thick layers of utter ignorance."

Before entering upon a description of the educational methods as established by Professor Hutchinson, let us consider museums, not as regards their contents, but in relation to their character. Our ideas of classification would work out somewhat in this way:--
I. National
II. University
III. County town and provincial
IV. School

Our national and university museums having for their aim the assistance of scientific students, cannot be educational in the sense in which the word is used in this paper. Indeed the learned phraseology of the labels employed therein only mystifies the ordinary observer; but the other two might be made a great deal more interesting, and at the same time educational.

County museums are as a rule well looked after, but the state of many museums in provincial towns is simply deplorable. Valuable collections are huddled together in dark, small, and unsuitable rooms, and remain utterly uncared for, while year after year the dust silently accumulates upon them, entirely obliterating what few labels there may once have been. Nobody enters the building unless it be some museum-lover, who, after paying an admission fee to some janitor--who knows little of the contents of the museum, and often cares less--soon notices the state of affairs and quickly leaves the building praying that the time may soon come when local authorities will throw off the cloak of apathy and ignorance and learn to appreciate the value of a museum as a means of providing an elementary knowledge of natural science.

School museums too often consist only of a small cupboard, and this through no fault of the teacher, but owing to the lack of interest in the governing body.

It cannot be maintained by those responsible for the well-being of the provincial and school museums that it is impossible to make them educational, because the best methods of doing so are unknown to them; for in the Government Educational Reports for 1898 they will find a full description, with schedules and diagrams, of the educational museum established at Haslemere by Professor Jonathan Hutchinson. It is with great pleasure we are able to say that several educational museums have been founded since then, for which this museum served as a model.

Its distinctive features are:--
I. The wide scope.
II. The Space-for-Time wall schedules.
III. The use of popular explanatory labels only.
IV. The establishment of a vivarium.
V. Absence of all attempt to stereotype the collections.
VI. The giving of explanatory lectures.

Let us examine these in detail. As regards the wide scope nothing is purposely omitted, e.g., human history and modern geography are taught side by side, and nature, art, civilization, and industry are all expounded under one roof.

The "Space-for-Time" wall schedules are a very special feature, and we predict their ultimate adoption in all educational museums. The only drawback is the imperative demand for large continuous wall spaces, a matter which might easily be overcome, if when forming plans for arranging a museum it be borne in mind that an ordinary house is not a suitable building. A museum should be specially designed with a view to its requirements, and not, as it is too often the case, consist of a badly-lighted, inconvenient building used as a substitute simply because it is of interest to the antiquary. One is sometimes almost tempted to say that antiquaries are chiefly responsible for the utter lack of educational arrangement in many provincial museums.

The Space-for-Time method of teaching geology is briefly as follows:--A continuous wall space of at least 70 ft. is divided into 35 equal spaces; each of these represents an approximate period of one million years. The names of the geological formations head these, and within the divisions appropriate rocks and fossils are placed. A few modern objects emphasise the evolution of the different types of animals and plants, e.g., in the division allotted to that formation in which the first vertebrate remains occur, we find a stuffed sturgeon, placed there to shew that the first vertebrate was a fish. The skull of a man, in the last division or first million, denotes the very modern origin of the human race, geologically considered.

Of this schedule Mr. Hutchinson writes:--

"The calculation of the periods of geological time, which is exhibited in this large diagram, has been made by reference to the thickness of the strata. In explaining it, I never lose the opportunity for avowing that the present state of knowledge does not justify us in assigning definite periods of time to the changes in the formation of the earth's crust, and that what has been here attempted must be accepted as an approximation only. With full allowance on this score I believe it is not open to any serious objection, though I am well aware it may be open to much criticism. I feel sure that it has served better than any other method could to impress upon successions of visitors the lessons of the immense duration of geological time, of the order and relative length of different periods, and of the succession of animals life on the earth's surface. For educational purposes, that is to enlarge the grasp and purview of the mind, these lessons are of far greater importance than the knowledge of details. If the latter are desired, it is a great advantage to have secured, in the first instance, a vivid and picturesque representation of the general scheme. Many a time have I observed the astonishment with which the revelation of the extremely short duration of human history on the earth, in comparison with that of preceding ages of life, as conveyed by this diagram, has been received by my auditors. Yet this is surely the most instructive of all possible realisations."

In the history schedule each division represents 100 years. It is headed by the name of the most important character of that century. There are 40 divisions, illustrating human history from the 20th century B.C. (XIV. Dynasty, Egypt) to the present time, and each division contains appropriate maps, pictures, medallions, portraits, busts, coins, &c.

An educational museum may be defined as a well-illustrated series of labels. No object should be admitted unless it bears a short description written in such a style as to be intelligible to all who wish for information. In practice this is a matter of the greatest difficulty, and probably there is not a conservator living who does not break this rule very frequently. The use of popular labels cannot be too strongly insisted upon, e.g., it is simply absurd to label such an interesting specimen as the tusk of the Narwhal whale, "Tooth of Monodon Monoceros," and expect people to give it more than a passing glance. Yet that is the kind of label only too prevalent--two or three Greek or Latin words and nothing more.

The establishment of a vivarium for the display of the common objects of the country in the living state will prove most attractive to the young. At Haslemere the vivarium consists of an open shed, with stands for the accommodation of wild flowers, mosses, &c., and glass cases and bell glasses for other exhibits. Of course nothing should be admitted into this section without a label.

If little or no attempt be made to stereotype the collections, and specimens, diagrams and maps are constantly changed, public interest is kept up. Where show cases contain the same exhibits year in and year out, it is not to be expected that the residents will evince any interest in a place where little that is new is ever seen.

Explanatory lectures should be frequently given, and children's classes held two or three times a week. By inviting school authorities to send children regularly, we have always secured a punctual attendance of a large number of pupils on Tuesday and Friday afternoons throughout the autumn and winter months. Many children bring their own specimens of fungi, galls, &c., for it has always been a rule to give a large share of time to a consideration of the common objects of the country.

An examination has lately been held at Haslemere, its object being to encourage children to take a more critical notice of the specimens and schedules. All candidates were provided with a ten-page pamphlet of questions--twenty on each page--the answers to be obtained from any source within a stated time. On tables in the Museum were displayed a large series of skulls, plants, fossils, shells, &c., and some forty historical portraits, all being without labels; the names of these the candidates were expected to ascertain by comparison with the Museum labelled exhibits.

On coming up for examination candidates were given one page of the questions to answer, and about a dozen portraits and objects to name, great importance being attached to the correct naming of the portraits and objects.

The scheme was quite a success, many children showing marked ability in the practical work. All successful candidates were allowed to choose a book from a series set apart for the pupose.

There are two other classes of Museums, a brief reference to which should not be omitted; we allude to home and temporary museums. It is hoped that these will play an important part in future educational schemes.

Parents should encourage their children to form home museums if they have not ready access to some school or public institution of the kind. Of course nothing pretentious could be expected, and the space-for-time wall diagrams would in almost all cases be an impossibility, but charts giving these on a small scale and suitable for fastening to the wall of a home museum may be obtained from the Haslemere Institution. Parents should also strongly condemn bird-nesting, for the collecting mania is an irresistible one unless properly checked by strict supervision of the boys. We remember our schoolboy days when not content with one blackbird's egg for "the collection," as it was proudly called, we exacted a tribute from every nest we found.

The wish to show a very large series of any object of especial beauty--such as certain species of shells--is seen in nearly all museums, a dozen specimens being often exhibited where one would have been sufficient.

A museum maker should have no fads. He should possess a general knowledge of natural history, and the other objects he intends to illustrate. Too often upon entering a museum it is at once discernable whether the curator is a botanist, conchologist, geologist, or antiquary!

In forming a temporary museum an all-round knowledge is a sine-qud-non. Temporary holiday museums deserve the attention of all naturalists who are born teachers. There is practically no expense attached, and the formation of such a museum affords a delightful holiday pastime. The village schoolroom can be hired for a month for a nominal sum of, say half-a-crown. A few boards placed across the desks make excellent tables. Bring a microscope, a store of collecting boxes and jars, and nets, and bell glasses for living specimens, and enlist the sympathy of the influential people of the place, and the rest is easy. If you can obtain the loan of some local specimens so much the better. In this way, by exhibiting the flowers, fungi, &c., &c., of the district, and giving short popular lectures upon the same, you will do much towards elevating the standard of thought which is so very desirable in our rural districts.

But in all museums of natural history the conservator should be well versed in field lore. Indeed, if we would that our country rambles were enjoyable in the fullest sense, we should all take a dip in that well of knowledge. Ruskin said that "the study of natural history is one of the best elements of education; there is no child so dull or so indolent but it may be roused to wholesome exertion by putting some practical and personal work of natural history within its range of daily occupation, and when once roused few pleasures are so innocent and none so constant. But we must show them things, not tell them their names. A deal chest of drawers is worth a hundred books to them, and a well-guided country walk worth a hundred lectures."

Half the interest of a country walk consists--at least to naturalists-in the recognition of old friends. At this time of the year we should listen for the nightingale; he sings by day as well as night, but only to the trained ear is his not recognisable amidst the babble of bird melody around us. If we hear him we shall know that the young are not yet hatched; for, when these arrive, the father nightingale immediately hushes his voice; he is, as it were, struck dumb in the contemplation of the many mouths he has to feed!

The remarkable phenomenon of insect mimicry, by which a harmless species simulates a dangerous one to escape capture, would demand our attention just now; for in open glades in many a wood we should notice an insect hovering gracefully over primroses. At first sight we should say it was a bumblebee, and probably even arrive at that conclusion upon a closer inspection. We have often seen young entomologists led into thinking that a bee was in the net, and watched with great amusement the elaborate precautions adopted in taking the supposed bee, at our request, from the net. They are always so very much afraid of being stung, yet the suppositionary bee is only a harmless fly, which is mimicking an insect provided by nature with a defensive weapon, to ensure its safety from the fly-catcher and other insect-eating birds.

The marvellous adaptation of flowers to ensure fertilization by insects would afford us half-an-hour's delight in watching the bees and the broom flowers. A comic element is introduced by the bee not being able to diagnose those flowers which will not spring, owing to the pistil and stamens being eaten by a grub. Alighting on the keel he finds that his weight does not cause the flower to open as he expected. He flies off and returns again only to fail. Then he loses his temper and buzzes fiercely, and after perhaps another attempt seeks a fresh flower.

But we might spend hours dilating upon the marvels of nature to be seen by an earnest student on a May morning in any country district. The curious cuckoo-spit insect with its home of froth; the larvae of the caddis-fly with their peculiar building propensities; the currant-galls on the make catkins of the oak, each unfold a fascinating chapter of field lore. *

If it be asked-"But how is one to become acquainted with all these wonders?" we would reply, "Go to nature and learn her ways!" The great naturalist, Louis Agassiz, once sagely remarked, "Many study nature in the house, but when they go out of doors they fail to find her!"

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* A work, entitled The Centuries, has been written by Mr. Hutchinson, expressly for use with the space-for-time historical diagram. For the guidance of field naturalists, a series of nature notes for the year, arranged according to the months, has lately been published. Particulars respecting these may be obtained from the Librarian of the Haslemere Museum.