The Center for PostNatural History doesn't house the dinosaurs or dioramas of your run-of-the-mill natural history museum. Instead, it's the first museum dedicated exclusively to the study and preservation of 'postnatural' life: genetically modified organisms, lab animals, and cloned livestock. While the CPNH has been organizing traveling exhibits since 2008, its permanent exhibition space is due to open in Pittsburgh in the fall of 2011. While there have been several art shows centered on bioart and transgenic life, the Center may be the most science-minded endeavor to tackle the fuzzy boundaries between nature and culture.
Natural history museums have traditionally defined nature as strictly separate from human culture. Human activity is usually framed in the context of how it affects a pristine habitat. Poachers, polluters, and developers topple nature from its edenic state, while environmentalists and researchers attempt to restore it to its pre-human glory. The only 'correct' humans are the native peoples who preexisted the incursion of industrialized societies. It can be a relief to wander through the halls of tyrannosaurs and think 'At least us bipedal jerks didn't play a role in their extinction.'
The CPNH, in contrast, recognizes that nature is deeply cross-contaminated with human culture. A pet store GloFish is just as worthy of preservation as a zebrafish plucked from a Himalayan stream. Monsanto determines the distribution of plants as much as local temperature and water availability. The Center's past exhibits include Transgenic Mosquitoes of Southern Florida and Transgenic Organisms of New York State. These not only place GM critters in an ecological and historical context, but are also pretty funny send-ups of traditional natural history exhibits. If Next Nature ever takes a safari to Pennsylvania, we'll be sure to show up at CPNH and bring home a bag of transgenic souvenirs. We can only hope that one day we'll see the equivalent of the Akeley Hall of African Mammals for postnatural organisms.
Below, the Center's introductory video: