Back Issues





Exploring Africa: One Continent,  Many Worlds

Africa: One Continent, Many Worlds is the largest and most complex traveling exhibit the Museum of Natural History museum has ever staged. The exhibit arrived in Pittsburgh in seven moving vans, having just left the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. It has been on the road since 1996, and has reached over two million people at 13 different museums across the country, before arriving at its final stop in Pittsburgh. 

When the museum's exhibition committee members saw Africa at the National Conference of the American Association of Museums in Baltimore, they knew immediately it was right for Pittsburgh. Not only did it fit the museum's newly affirmed mission to present materials of scientific interest, it also explored a deeply fascinating subject, and it showcased artifacts from Chicago's famous Field Museum of Natural History.  

Africa is a 9,000 plus square foot exhibit that presents a comprehensive view of African cultural, geographical, political and social diversity, and it uses African and African-American scholars as narrators and designers of their own people's stories. It has interactive and hands-on activities, multi-media presentations, and covers West, Central, East and North Africa as well as the historic African Diaspora. In this exhibit "you are there" in a lively and festive marketplace in Dakar, Senegal, and you explore the art producing regions of the Camaroon grasslands and Zaire—and the mining and metalworking in Benin. You take a caravan trip across the Sahara to the marketplace at Kano, see modern eco-tourism, and learn how slavery created the African Diaspora. 

Presenting Africa in Pittsburgh required creative use of two museum spaces. The museum's front changing exhibits gallery is climate-controlled, but the larger rear exhibition space is not. Many artifacts of wood, fabric and metal on loan from the Field Museum required specific climatic conditions: a temperature of 70 degrees + or - 2 degrees; humidity in the range of 45 -50%; lighting of no more than eight or nine footcandles. A conservator travels with the exhibit to install it, and two technicians set it up.  

BBH, the commercial distributor handling the show for the Field Museum, presented a version of the exhibition tailored to the two spaces available for traveling exhibits at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Otherwise it could not have been scheduled. Because bronze artifacts such as masks, dolls and religious items are so sensitive to humidity, at one other museum BBH had to produce bronze replicas of these items. Other parts of the exhibit, like the reconstructed slave ship, are major installation projects, but do not require climate controlled environments.  

Bringing the exhibit to Pittsburgh required a united effort from committed individuals as well as local foundations. Esther Bush, president of the local chapter of the Urban League, learned of the exhibit from the museum, and became an enthusiastic campaigner to bring it to Pittsburgh. Her dedication helped win key support from the R. K. Mellon Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and the Pittsburgh Foundation, as well as support from Ford Motor Company. As chairperson of the Opening Gala, Ms. Bush welcomed many of the area's political and social leaders to the museum for the exhibit.  
 Public Programs for AFRICA 

AFRICA: One Continent. Many Worlds

Thursday, March 15, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm 

Join Dr. Deborah Mack, current director of Public Programs for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, for an in-depth look at the exhibit.  

Stories of Color from Around the World

Wednesday, April 18, 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm 

Nationally acclaimed, award-winning storyteller and author Len Cabral gives a fascinating hour of storytelling that will engage adults and young people alike. 

Archaeology, Slavery, and Freedom

Thursday, April 26, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm 

Dr. Kofi Agorsah shares his research on the archaeological evidence of the Maroon cultures--the enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations in the New World and established villages in the Caribbean and adjoining areas.  

All programs are in the Lecture Hall: Members: $8; Nonmembers: $12

For details see the web site at http://www.clpgh.org/cmnh


100,798 Fleas

The museum gets a gigantic flea collection 

Devoted readers of the Flea News (no. 53) would have seen the obituary of Robert S. Traub (1916-1996), a giant among flea enthusiasts, whose colossal collection of 100,798 fleas has now come to the Section of Invertebrate Zoology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The Traub fleas automatically swelled the museum's flea collection to international scientific stature. In sheer size Traub's was perhaps the third largest flea collection in the world, and the first in number of different species represented. Associate curator John Rawlins drove a rented truck from Maryland to Pittsburgh to get it here. 

Fleas, lest we forget, are one of the world's great lineages of parasites, and most are harmless to humans. Rawlins notes that fleas are everywhere. In the Arctic and Antarctic, fleas on penguins and marine birds survive while spending much of their lives submerged in icy saltwater. But like ticks and mosquitoes, fleas can transmit infectious disease from one animal to another by injecting bacteria on a blood-to-blood basis. The infamous bubonic plague (the Black Death) carried by flea-infested rats in the 14th century made fleas a classic subject in medical entomology. 

Traub collected fleas from all over the world. One of his close associates was the museum's former mammalogist Duane Schlitter, who for years sent Traub flea specimens from mammals he collected in Africa. Some 60,000 Traub fleas are slide-mounted, i.e. embedded in a resin from the balsam fir tree, and placed between glass plates, which gives them a kind of immortality, like the insects from prehistoric ages forever embedded in amber. 

However tiny, fleas loom large in the field of medical biology, and for experts on the world's diseases and on animal life the museum's collection is now a major asset for research entomologists. Scientific resources grow constantly through the acquiring of such collections, just as this museum's stature grew suddenly when its first director, William Holland, after scrupulously collecting butterflies and moths for 50 years, gave his entire scientifically documented collection of 250,000 specimens to the museum. There is a rule at Carnegie Museum of Natural History that staff scientists cannot collect personally when they do fieldwork for the institution, and they often donate their private collections accumulated prior to being employed by the museum. Virtually all of the current entomological staff have donated such collections, totalling more specimens than even the great founding collection of Holland. 

Such is the way great scientific resources in the life sciences are assembled. There are over 11 million scientific specimens in the entomological collections at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and now about 103,000 of them are fleas. 






Back Issues


Copyright (c) 2001 CARNEGIE magazine 
All rights reserved. 
E-mail:   carnegiemag@carnegiemuseums.org