Exploring Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: An Education

Facade of the Museum of Jurassic Technology
Facade of the Museum of Jurassic Technology

The Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT) is an eccentric museum that houses objects from various geographical regions across different time periods — including human horns, a scaled model of Noah’s Ark, and mice on toast. Not only is David Wilson’s cabinet of wonder full of items that spark our curiosity to find out more details about its individual marvels, it fundamentally challenges our traditional perception of museums and also possesses unique educational values.

For “The Idea of America,” a politics elective that I am taking this semester, we had the pleasure of taking a group road trip here with Prof. Seery!

Like other museums, the MJT features dim lighting and an authoritative museological voice in written and audiovisual forms. Both apparently isolate us from the outside world in order to fully immerse in a learning environment. Yet the MJT is also distinct from traditional museums. Unlike most museums whose names state their specific focus (e.g. the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Chocolate), the Museum of “Jurassic Technology” does not clarify the type of objects it exhibits. Instead, it only confuses viewers, making us wonder about the nature of this particular museum while challenging the traditional view that museums generally serve to clarify knowledge for, not confuse, us. If the name directly corresponds to anything in the MJT, the “Technology” part could relate to the peculiar blend of old-fashioned TV sets and 3D technology, and the technology used to synthesize everything from choral music to a simultaneous playing of English and German narrations in some videos, all of which create a more perplexing experience for the viewers.

The majority of objects displayed either are true yet too strange to be believed, or actually non-existent but so obscure that one may not even question their validity. Simultaneously as we observe the concrete objects of wonder, we are confronted with such abstract ideas as beliefs, knowledge, hyper-symbolic cognition, and the “restitution of decayed intelligence”. Often, visitors find malfunctioning lights or sound devices and “out of order” signs. Over time, one may even suspect that they are intentionally “out of order” to mock the over-cautious, detached personality of museums in general.

We could consider the MJT a museum about museums, one that challenges us to question the form of museums as a method of presenting past human discoveries to contemporary learners. Ultimately, viewers reach an aviary with birds and interact with real, living dogs next to an exhibition about dogs that contrasts with the traditional museum atmosphere. Perhaps this hints that nature is in itself a museum. By often highlighting the pedantic artificiality of museums, the MJT may be suggesting alternative ways of discovering wonders: proactively seeking our own wonders instead of relying on museums and other traditional learning environments to didactically teach us.

The structure of the museum, moreover, is in itself a wonder that may leave a long-lasting educational impact. To a large extent, the journey that one takes in exploring the MJT mirrors the very process of human discovery: viewers enter an exhibition room; their peripheral vision tells them that there are two more mini-spaces nearby; as viewers excitedly finish examining the objects in their current location and the displayed artifacts in the two surrounding spaces, they most likely find more exhibitions on the left and right, sometimes equally inviting. Which path do the viewers take? Even the stairs that lead visitors to the second floor are themselves surrounded by images of staircases, creating an almost dizzying effect that challenges visitors to reconsider everything around them. Possibly, this is a metaphor for the level of uncertainly that we often inevitably face as we delve into the realm of the unknown across academic disciplines, and in life. For this reason, the MJT does fulfill its stated mission of educating “the academic community” and “the general public” alike by “reintegrat[ing] people to wonder”, for “the primacy of doubt” is the “essence of knowing”.

Indeed, part of the MJT’s educational value lies in its ability to help visitors physically experience what it feels like to discover wonders, which may in turn provoke more wonders. This cycle continues as newly-found wonders open doors to more wonders: the more we know, the more we want to know. Mr. Wilson may have believed that he barely scratched the surface of the world. Yet the impact of his little cabinet of wonder on its viewers possess long-term education values, for the MJT inspires viewers to continue the long-existing tradition of wondering at the world around us, teaching us that museums are not the only way to discover wonders. Everything around us is worthy of wonder: the forgotten, the obscure, the apparently mundane, and the unexplored that awaits our discovery.