Volume 122, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0040-7518
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1163


Towards the end of the nineteenth century, experimental science performed in laboratories set the tone in the life sciences. In the same period, the biological work done by museum conservators was increasingly presented as ‘merely’ taxonomic and descriptive, – and, thus, lost prestige. Scientists working in museums, however, restyled themselves in the following decades, trying to restore the reputation of their work compared with that of the laboratory. This article studies this ‘restyling’ by focussing on one particular museum: the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels. The Royal Museum chose to change itself from a place of collection and cataloguing into a centre of exploration and field-work. The article explores the consequences of this choice. Obviously, it affected the concrete scientific work of the museum personnel, but its impact was also wider. It influenced the development of its scientific infrastructure, led to a rearrangement of scientific networks, and resulted in a new kind of museology. Finally, it was also of importance for the reputation of the institution and the self-image of its researchers. The Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels, therefore offers a good case-study in the interaction between theories, practices, and representations of science at the start of the twentieth century.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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