Botany Hall

Dioramas in Context: Using Digital Display to Unveil the Cultural History and Artistic
Development of the Hall of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Project Website:

Project Managers:
Colleen O’Reilly
Department of History of Art & Architecture

Aisling Quigley
School of Computing & Information

University of Pittsburgh


In the Winter of 2016, Colleen and I ran into each other at an art opening and we got to chatting about our own research as we looked at the photographs on the walls. This project came out of that conversation. 


We’re both interested in the liminal space that exists between disciplines, genres, or “types.” Thanks to Colleen’s previous work with staff at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH), she knew that Botany Hall presented an ideal venue for conducting research about hybrid objects that are neither scientific objects nor art objects, strictly speaking (see Colleen’s blog post from a year prior to the conception of this project).


January-March 2016
Although we weren’t seeking funding initially, Colleen and I found it helpful to articulate and organize our research goals within the framework of a mock grant proposal. From day one, we were committed to working collaboratively not only with one another but with other institutions in Pittsburgh. In the first phase of this research, we benefited greatly from the expertise of Cynthia Morton, then associate curator and head of the section of botany at CMNH, and Erin Peters, Lecturer in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh and Assistant Curator in the Carnegie Museums.

April 2016
Dr. Nora Mattern, a Postdoctoral Researcher at Pitt, was scheduled to teach a course on museum archives during the summer of 2016. As part of the course, Nora customarily asks students to conduct provenance research about objects in local collections. Colleen and I thought that one or two students in Nora’s course might be interested in contributing to our project as part of their provenance research. Nora agreed that this sounded like a promising opportunity. 

May-August 2016
Two of Dr. Mattern’s MLIS students, Emily Enterline and Kate Madison, conducted extensive provenance research within and outside of the museum.

September-December 2016
We (and Colleen, in particular), mentored three undergraduate students as they worked on independent projects related to the Botany Hall project. Their work is incorporated in the final website.

January-April 2017
We started to work on our exhibition website in earnest. After considering various platforms, we opted to develop a WordPress site. Colleen and I applied to participate in the Andrew W. Mellon-funded workshop Consuming Nature, a part of Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh.

May-December 2017
We started to prepare for the launch of our online exhibition. As part of this process, we applied for and were awarded an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant through the University of Pittsburgh’s Humanities Center. We also presented our work at the International Council of Museum’s Natural History Conference and the Museum Computer Network Conference.

March 29, 2018
Colleen and I invited three professionals with backgrounds in science and art history to form a panel to celebrate the launch of our online exhibition,