Harvard's FeeJee mermaid | Summary and Q&A

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October 30, 2017
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Harvard University
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Harvard's FeeJee mermaid

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Summary

The Feejee mermaid is a famous exhibit that was displayed in museums in the 19th century. It was believed to be a real mermaid, but it was actually a combination of various materials such as fish parts, bone, and paper mache. This exhibit represents the early collecting practices of museums, combining scientific natural history and the spectacle.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the Feejee mermaid?

The Feejee mermaid was an exhibit that was displayed in museums in the 19th century. It was believed to be a real mermaid, but it was actually a combination of different materials put together to create the illusion.

Q: Where did the Feejee mermaid come from?

The mermaid was obtained by Moses Kimball, a museum owner, from a Boston sea captain. The sea captain had purchased it from Japanese sailors who claimed it was an actual mermaid.

Q: What was the mermaid made of?

The mermaid was made of various bits and pieces. The fish parts were most likely from a carp, and there were possibly monkey bones as well. However, a significant portion of it was made using paper mache.

Q: Why was the mermaid put on display?

Moses Kimball loaned the mermaid to his friend P.T. Barnum, who displayed it as an actual mermaid. The purpose was to attract attention and visitors to the museum, as it was a unique and intriguing spectacle.

Q: What does the Feejee mermaid represent?

The Feejee mermaid represents the early collecting practices of museums. It combines elements of scientific natural history, as it was believed to be a real mermaid, with the spectacle, as it was a fascinating and attention-grabbing exhibit.

Q: How does the Feejee mermaid fit into the exhibition "All the World is Here"?

The Feejee mermaid is included in the exhibition "All the World is Here" because it exemplifies the early collecting practices of museums. It showcases how museums in the past combined scientific knowledge with entertainment to attract visitors.

Q: Was the Feejee mermaid a popular exhibit?

Yes, the Feejee mermaid was a highly popular exhibit in its time. People were fascinated by the idea of a real mermaid, and it drew large crowds to the museums where it was displayed.

Q: Was there any controversy surrounding the Feejee mermaid?

There were debates and controversies surrounding the authenticity of the mermaid. Some people believed it to be real, while others suspected it to be a hoax. This contributed to its popularity and intrigue.

Q: Are there similar exhibits to the Feejee mermaid today?

In modern times, there are still examples of exhibits that combine scientific knowledge with entertainment. However, the Feejee mermaid is a unique and iconic artifact from the past, reflecting the cultural fascination of that time.

Q: What can we learn from the Feejee mermaid?

The Feejee mermaid teaches us about the history of museums and their collecting practices. It reminds us that museums have always strived to balance education and entertainment to engage and captivate audiences.

Takeaways

The Feejee mermaid was a spectacle of its time, captivating audiences with its supposed rarity and mystery. However, it was eventually revealed to be a creation made up of various materials. This exhibit serves as a reminder of the early collecting practices of museums, where scientific knowledge and showmanship were combined to engage visitors. It represents the intersection of science and entertainment that has long been a part of museums' efforts to educate and entertain the public.

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