dinosaur museum

April 2015 Newsletter

FROM THE EDUCATION DESK
FYI:Who was Sir Richard Owen?
The paleontologist, who rose from a poor background in Lancashire to become something close to what we might consider a celebrity scientist today, went on to establish London’s Natural History Museum in 1881. He coined the word “dinosaur” in 1842 and said they were like “terrible lizards”.
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Sir Richard Owen
He was labeled “impudent” by teachers at Lancaster Royal Grammar School, which he attended from 1809 to 1819. The current head teacher at the school, Dr. Chris Pyle, says, “it seems he was extremely stubborn, knew exactly what he wanted, was incredibly clever, but not in any way a conformist.” He developed a reputation for controversy, was accused of stealing other scientists’ specimens and undermining people by writing anonymous reviews of their work. Owen’s contemporary and rival Gideon Mantell described him as “overpaid, over-praised and cursed with a jealous monopolizing spirit.” He was also said to have clashed with another great Victorian scientist, Charles Darwin. Owen agreed with Darwin that evolution occurred, but thought it was more complex than outlined in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species . Owen worked on some specimens recovered during Darwin’s famous Beagle expedition.Dr. David Williams of the Natural History Museum, feels that Owen’s controversial reputation should not be allowed to cloud his scientific achievements. Many of the systems he put in place for researching the anatomy of species remain important today. As well as his academic research, he was motivated by a desire to share the latest specimens and theories with the public and that is why he established the museum. He wanted people to see and to study for themselves. The word dinosaur has its roots in the Greek for “terrible lizard”, but Dr. Williams feels that Owen would have meant the word “terrible” to be understood as “awesome” or “fearfully great”.

Owen’s aim was not just to describe these wonderful creatures, but to find a home for them so that the public would be able to appreciate how wonderful and important they were. After years of work the doors opened in South Kensington where the museum stands as a testament to his persistence and genius.

Geri Lebold
Education Director

“Despite the forecast, live like it’s Spring.” – Lily Pulitzer

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