Season 2: Nature Reconstructed

The second season of HEAR UR explores the life and works of the father of modern taxidermy, Carl Akeley. Akeley rose to fame in the early twentieth century as the chief designer of the famous “Hall of African Mammals” in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. The hall was created to teach the public about the importance of wild life conservation, ironically, a message they transmitted through killing, preserving, and displaying of these beautiful, exotic animals. Akeley was one of a cohort of taxidermists who trained in Rochester at Henry Ward’s “Museum of Science” in the late nineteenth century. Alumni of this organization would go on to establish modern natural history museums, with taxidermy dioramas as the major centerpieces, which they hoped would educate a broader public on the importance of nature conservation. The new season of HEAR UR examines Akeley’s life as it intersected with local Rochesterians, like George Eastman and Henry Ward, but also national figures like Teddy Roosevelt, P.T. Barnum, William Temple Hornaday, Frederick Jackson Turner, Delia Akeley, and Osa and Martin Johnson.

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Taxidermy is a strange art form/scientific method. It is both gruesome and beautiful, hopeful and melancholy. When viewed from our present dilemma of climate change and environment decline, our history of the strange art of taxidermy reveals the variety of ways people have reacted to the destruction of wild life and disappearance of the natural world, and suggests, that we are not so far removed from the world the taxidermists made

Episode 200: Extinction

Behind the glass eyes of each taxidermy specimen there is a story of conquest, empire, race, gender, environmental anxiety, conservation, and preservation. Join us this season as we listen to the narratives of the people, places, and animals that defined the man known as the father of modern taxidermy, Carl Akeley. Welcome to Hear UR season two, Nature Reconstructed.

Bison Skull Pile

Episode 201: The Silence of the Bison

In the late 1800s the United States would experience an extinction of unparalleled levels. No not the dinosaurs but the Bison. This majestic creature, once numbering in the tens of thousands, would dwindle to mere hundreds at the end of the 19th century. How did this happen, and what was done to counteract this? In this episode, your hosts Louis Herman, David Backer and Max Stern will explore these questions and more covering the the American Plains, Native Americans, and of course the Bison, in this episode of Hear UR: Nature Reconstructed.  

An old black and white photo of the dead body of Jumbo the elephant is centered in middle, men in suits and hats surround him on all sides.

Episode 202: DInner WIth Jumbo

Jumbo the elephant lived many lives. From being taken from his home in Africa, to his time in the London Zoo, to being the star of P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, Jumbo was a spectacle both in life and death. In this episode we explore his life, and how his untimely death provided Carl Akeley with his first big break in the art of taxidermy.

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EPISODE 203: BEHIND THE GLASS

In this episode, we explore the impact of natural history museums and the taxidermied specimens within them. Through one particular animal, Clarence the Gorilla, we learn what the art and science of taxidermy tells us about humanity and about our response to climate change and the rapidly growing environmental anxiety that accompanies it. We delve into the the figures behind the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the infamous dioramas in Akeley’s Hall of African Mammals, specimens sitting in their own unique worlds, still and silent, behind glass.

Photo of Delia Akeley while on safari, with JT perched on her shoulder.

Episode 204: Little Prisoner

Delia Akeley, commonly know by her nickname Mickie, was an american explorer who often traveled with her husband, Carl Akeley. Her adventures in the African savannah, interaction with indigenouse tribes and treatment of the local wildlife reflect many imperialistic and western ideologies. By looking at theses values and Mickie’s journey though Africa we can see how they shaped her response to environmental change and crisis related to the conservation movement.

Episode 205: Lived by the Will

George Eastman, known for revolutionizing mainstream photography, lived a multifaceted life. Despite his success in founding the Eastman-Kodak company, his passion for hunting took him far outside of Rochester, NY. In this episode of Hear UR, join us as we take you on a journey inside the George Eastman Museum, through a safari with Eastman himself, and delve into the implications of the Kodak founder’s penchant for hunting, travelling, and collecting animals across the African landscape.

Episode 206: The Woman Who Married Adventure

We probably encounter more films portraying animals than taxidermy nowadays, but why is that? In this episode of Nature Reconstructed we are introduced to a woman who may have single handedly contributed to the end of the golden age of taxidermy: Osa Johnson, and her thrilling nature documentary “Simba: King of the Beasts.”

Bird Eggs

EPISODE 207: DE-EXTINCTION

The final episode of Season Two travels to Wyoming, New York to find perhaps the world’s tiniest Natural History Museum. There we visit a time capsule of the United States at the turn-of-the-twentieth century, and find the origins of modern taxidermy, contemporary anxieties about extinction, and wonder what comes next.

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