Full title:

Rader, K.A. 'Interacting with The Watchful Grasshopper; or, Why Live Animals Matter in Twentieth-Century Science Museums', in Thorsen, L.E., Rader, K.A. and Dodd, A. (eds.), Animals on Display: the Creaturely in Museums, Zoos, and Natural History (Pennsylvania University Press, 2013) pp. 176-191.



Rader highlights the emergence of live animal displays in American science museums during the twentieth century. Focusing on The Watchful Grasshopper museum exhibit, which was part of the Exploratorium in San Fransisco from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, she highlights how audiences interacted with such displays in ways that their scientist curators often did not anticipate. Rather than, as the curators had hoped, 'naturalizing relationships emblematic of the museum space - between dead and living animals, or between animal subjects and human scientists', Rader relates how 'The Watchful Grasshopper simultaneously revived visitors' interest in animal life and destabilized beliefs about how (and who) should best make natural knowledge from it.' (177)

Rader charts the context for the installation of the exhibit, as well as its operation, and foregrounds ways in which some museum visitors felt that the exhibit (which utilised a wire inserted into grasshopper's ventral nerve cord to enable visitors to explore how the animals react to stimuli) was not appropriate for a museum setting. 'In The Watchful Grasshopper', Rader suggests, 'nonscientist visitors saw the contradictions, rather than the naturalness, of live animals in the museum space. By presenting a live insect and engaging the visitor in an experiment with it, The Watchful Grasshopper enabled the animal to be viewed both as a holistic form of life and as an analytic tool of scientific knowledge. Exhibit designers, without intending to... evoked this response in nonscientist visitors by compelling them to become scientists.' (187)