Developing a modern diorama: changing habitats in Scotland since the end of the last Ice Age - NMS Research Repository
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Developing a modern diorama: changing habitats in Scotland since the end of the last Ice Age

Abstract

Dioramas were once a commonly used tool for communicating the natural world to museum visitors, but in the second half of the twentieth century they fell out of fashion despite their effectiveness in interpretation. This decline was probably caused by lack of funding and space, a decline in numbers of museum taxidermists, and a rejection of what was perceived as an old style of presentation. The development of the exhibitions for the new Museum of Scotland (now the National Museum of Scotland), which opened on St Andrew’s Day in 1998, provided a unique opportunity to tell the story of long-term climatic and environmental change in Scotland since the end of the last Ice Age within a single diorama. This was a major challenge, bringing together the skills of exhibition designers, taxidermists and model makers, scene painters, lighting technicians and computer software designers. The decision to use the diorama as a tool for interpreting this particular story was taken partly because of limited available space for explaining a complex chronology and partly because the diorama offers multiple ways of interpreting the natural world beyond the immediate story being conveyed. For example, by creating interactions between plants and animals, it is also possible to use the diorama to convey messages about behaviour, adaptations, food chains and webs, and ecological associations that transcend the chronological theme. In this paper, I set out how this diorama was developed as an interpretive tool and provide an assessment of its success following the opening the Museum of Scotland in 1998.

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