Dave has done me the favor (yes, favor) of not telling me about fantastic things in our collection, so eventually I stumble across them on my own and am either pleasantly surprised, horrified, intrigued (or all of the above), and most of all, it renews my excitement for this place (as if that ever dies). Yesterday was one of those days. While I was searching some of our lockers for extra small vials to house our new egg accession, I found this box full of old glass lantern slides.
Lantern slides were used in early opaque projectors around the beginning of the 20th century — so, from around the mid-1800’s to about 1950. Educators saw the benefit of being able to show large projections of images in the classroom and they quickly became popular in schools and universities. I’m unclear of the history of most of these slides in particular but I would estimate that they range from the 1880’s to the 1960’s (the primate in the women’s clothing is dated from a book from 1896, and the buffalo slide was photographed by our own Morton J. Elrod; he was active from around 1880-1920).
No doubt you have noticed the incredibly racist depiction of modern man in the second slide. I’m not about to sugarcoat anything — if you were studying biology or evolution up until the 1960’s you would have been shown something very similar. If you’re wondering how racism and race elitism was perpetuated throughout the ages, it’s right there in that diagram. By no means am I condoning this type of thing by posting it on my blog, and I’m not trying to make UM look bad in any way; it’s purely our job as a museum to preserve historical artifacts in order to paint an accurate portrayal of history for future generations. We can’t deny our past, we can’t cover it up and pretend we’ve always been righteous or dignified or politically correct. It’s seeing things like that slide which remind me how far we’ve come, and how much further we still have to go.