Accidental Love Story: The Art Major and Natural History Museums
Many students are familiar with Crash Course, the Youtube channel containing various videos on a multitude of subjects, often found while cramming. Introducing, a similar channel called The Brain Scoop, in hopes that you all can start a new year with a rekindled vigor in your education.
Did I mention it has over 230,000 subscribers? Meet Emily Graslie; originally an art major, Emily began volunteering in the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum in 2010 to improve her understanding of animal anatomy. The moment she stepped into the museum lab, she fell in love with what she saw: mammal skeletons, stuffed mounts of hawks, and flesh eating beetles. “I really didn’t decide [to do taxidermy, the art of stuffing and preserving animal remains],” Emily admits, “It was more… like Charles Darwin descended from the heavens and whispered into my ear, “Go forth, and scoop brains.”” It was too late to change majors by the time she graduated, and Emily Graslie understandably felt uncertainty about her future (something we can all relate to).
“I must have had some kind of weird expression on my face,” says Emily, “because a coworker asked me what was wrong and I said, “Bryce, I think I want to skin animals for the rest of my life.”” Her struggle between spending thousands on an art degree and her newfound love of science is a struggle many people face. I, myself, have had to focus my passion in the sciences while putting art on the back-burner.Despite this uncertainty, her big break as a Youtube celebrity was instigated by Hank Green, a famous figure to many science students cramming for tests. He himself has many fans of his Scishow and vlogbrothers channels and teaches in Crash Course with his brother, John Green (writer of The Fault in Our Stars). At the Brain Scoop’s inception, Hank Green featured Emily Graslie and her new channel in several of his videos, kick-starting her Internet career.
Her unique sense of humor, both simultaneously overzealous and nonchalant, has made her a popular figure, despite the lack of web traffic generated by natural sciences. As Emily jokes in reference to the Spotted Bat’s large ears, “It’s like having two satellite dishes on your head. You get all the good channels that way.” Since then, it has taken off and has a wide fan base of people who love to watch videos of what goes on “behind the scenes” in museums. The Brain Scoop’s videos range from dissecting zebras to recent scientific developments to descriptive videos on “some-pretty-metal” animals. Her more famous videos include a start-to-finish documentary on skinning and gutting a wolf, which had been hit by a car and donated to the museum.
Despite the humorous and educational content, it is clear what Emily Graslie’s message is: the museum to be severely underutilized resource. “I personally believe that one of the biggest challenges facing [museums] today is that the general public just has no idea what’s going on behind the scenes,” says Emily, “We need to spread the word that [natural history museums] are institutions of ongoing research, and if we can do that then we can help them to continue to thrive.” Unfortunately, the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum was on its last legs by the time the Brain Scoop took off, due to lack of finances, and her publicity did not generate enough donations to keep the museum’s collection running. “We’re losing data, we’re losing records,” Emily explains, “It’s all information and data that you can’t replace..
.. You can’t go back to Flathead Lake in 1900 and collect another sturgeon…Our grandchildren are going to be pretty upset with us that we didn’t put a little more effort in taking care of what is going to be their collective past.” Emily Graslie accepted a full time job in the Chicago Field Museum, one of the largest natural history museums in the world, in 2013, originally believing she would be in Chicago to film a few episodes of the Brain Scoop. On the last day of her leave at the Chicago Field Museum, Emily was invited to work in their museum as the newly dubbed Chief Curiosity Correspondent, in which she comments that, “the Field Museum totally pulled a fast one on me.
” She has also unwittingly become a feminist icon, encouraging more women to pursue careers in science, to balance out the still male-dominated field. In her episode ‘Where My Ladies At?,’ she explains that she often has to “sift through negative and sexist comments in [her] mailbox on a daily basis….How ridiculous is that?” Very. She subsequently calls out sexist and offensive behavior and analyzes why the sciences are severely unbalanced in genders, in a polite and respectful way. Rock on, Graslie.
Despite the sexism women face, she inspires many young women who watch her videos (myself included) to continue to pursue science and educational media and not give into pressure. “Young women who have always had an interest in science and are starting to wonder if they should take it more seriously,” Emily explains, “If I was that age watching my show, I would want that reassurance—that what I was interested in was cool, that people would still like me and think I’m funny even if I’m into weird, gross stuff that nobody else was talking about.” The Brain Scoop is a phenomenal educational channel, and it is truly a joy to watch Emily incite a renewed public interest in natural history and the sciences. “Graslie’s work as a creator, a communicator, a comedian, and a scientist makes it clear that science is not the opposite of the humanities,” remarks Hank Green, “We’re all creators in our way.” If you have an interest in science, I highly suggest you visit The Brain Scoopon YouTube.