Tag: reptiles

Reptilian State

Reptilian State

Henry Knight Lozano

This article explores the American Museum of Natural History's (AMNH) Florida Group display that opened in 1918 and provides insight into evolving US conceptions of Florida as a reptilian state on the eve of modernity. Scholars of the AMNH's historic animal dioramas—what one calls the museum's "windows on nature"—point to their importance within the institution's educational agenda. At a time when film and wildlife photography were fledgling technologies, these three-dimensional exhibits offered a form of "virtual reality," aided by the museum's claims to the authentic reproduction of nature. The Florida Reptile Group, however, has been overlooked by historians, despite being a major display for several decades; moreover, the diorama coincided with a period of rapid development in South Florida, a site of real estate, tourism, and population booms, including the reclamation of waterlogged environs that inspired the exhibit. Visitor perceptions of the display are unfortunately absent from the historical record, but we can glimpse the diorama for ourselves: photographs survive in the archive, allowing us to contemplate its physical representation but also interpretation of Florida. Building upon older ideas of the region as a primeval wetland, but crucially one being "conquered" by the inroads of drainage and development, the diorama highlights the fraught significance of reptiles and amphibians to how Florida has been popularly imagined, often in deeply ambivalent ways.