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From an auxiliary study room at the Moscow Higher Courses for Women to a modern museum complex. How the museum has changed from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day.

We suggest taking an online tour of the Museum: Guestbook exhibition, which opened at the State Darwin Museum in June. Museum staff carefully store the reviews of their visitors. The curator of the exhibition, Elena Demyanova, tells about what visitors wrote at different periods of his life.

“Thank you very much for the information provided.”

The history of the Darwin Museum began in 1907. That year, a graduate of Moscow University, Alexander Fedorovich Kots, was invited to the Moscow Higher Women’s Courses to conduct practical classes in animal anatomy, and later he began to read lectures on Darwinism to the listeners. The young teacher brought his home collection of stuffed animals to the zoological laboratory of the courses and used it as a demonstration material in the classroom. The review of the lecture by Alexander Fedorovich Kots, written on June 30, 1911, became the starting point of the exhibition.

“We express our heartfelt thanks to you for the information you have provided … In our desire to open the eyes of the students of the folk school to the causal relationship between natural phenomena and the beauty of God’s world, we often encountered insurmountable obstacles in the absence of scientific data. You have expanded our knowledge with your lectures … We saw that careful observation of certain phenomena of the animal or plant kingdom is enough for the life of nature to be understandable. We will try to introduce this biological method of studying nature into our schools. “

In the first decade of Soviet power, the museum became widespread, the number of visitors grew from year to year. If in 1921 it was visited by 1,160 people, then already in 1928-1929 the employees recorded the figure of 41,738 people. Schoolchildren, students of Soviet Communist Party schools, workers ‘schools and workers’ universities, teachers, students, workers, and Red Army men came to the museum.

The excursions for them were read by the founders of the museum Alexander Kots and his wife Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots, as well as the taxidermist of the museum Philip Evtikhievich Fedulov. Knowing perfectly each exhibit and the entire exposition as a whole, he easily found a common language with peasants and workers. One of the workers’ faculty left a little simple-minded, but very warm comment about the visit to the Darwin Museum.

“Satisfied all [excursions], but especially the Darwin Museum from the scientific point of view; got a great acquaintance also with the animals of the world and how they adapt to the climate and generally satisfied ”.

The exhibition features excursion registration books and visitor reviews from the 1920s. It is curious that, in addition to the section “Feedback from sightseers”, some also contain the section “Feedback from the head of the museum.” Visitors wrote their impressions of the time they spent in the museum in the section “Feedback from sightseers”. In the column “Manager’s review”, the guides left notes “good, attentive group”, “tired group, came after work”, “disorganized and lazy.”

In 1929, the famous American psychologist Robert Yerkes visited the museum. He met with Nadezhda Nikolaevna Ladygina-Kots, who was studying the behavior and psyche of animals. Her work was of great interest to her overseas colleague, judging by his review:

“The more I think about your museum’s work as an educational center for evolutionary doctrine and an original research center for primate studies, the more I become aware of the importance of your work, and I hope that it will be supported by your government.”

The first female zoopsychologist. Meet Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots

During the war years

During the Great Patriotic War, the museum tried to support Muscovites as much as possible. On July 1, 1941, it stopped receiving visitors, but resumed work in September. Despite the fact that the exposition was in a semi-folded form, schoolchildren, nurses, students, military men, and war invalids came to the museum.

An important area of ​​activity at this time was cultural and educational work in hospitals. During the war, the founders of the museum held over 700 lectures in hospital clubs and wards for wounded soldiers and officers. Grateful listeners wrote that the lectures were accompanied by “a demonstration of pictures, tables and preparations from the Darwin Museum.” They noted that the conversations were bright, interesting, and left a good impression. For example, this review was left on August 3, 1942 by soldiers and commanders, patients of hospital No. 4623:

“Professor Kots – father and his son – Rudya – are frequent guests of our ward. The professor tells us about the origin of man and animals, about the struggle of animals for life. The professor’s lectures are accompanied by a demonstration of transparencies. But the most important thing is that the professor’s conversation itself is lively, simple, understandable to everyone. After the professor left, we talk for a long time about what he told us, and about himself. The professor is replaced the next day by his son Rudya. Rudya shows us films. Both the son and the father are always welcome guests ”.

“In an unsuitable space”

The 1950s saw a significant decline in museum attendance. Alexander Kots explained this by the congestion of the exhibits in the museum halls. New items appeared, but there was a sorely lack of space for everyone. In 1952, the founders of the museum wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin about the plight of the museum and the need to build a special building for it. Visitors also advised.

“… We expected to see rich and interesting collections, but what we saw cannot be called simply rich and interesting. This is a perfect miracle! It is simply difficult to find words to describe the value of these collections. And what a pity that all this wealth is in such poor conditions and is inaccessible to many masses of visitors … ”- this entry was left in the fall of 1952 by students of zoology.

The early 1960s were sad for the Darwin Museum. One by one, the founders – Fedulov, Ladygina-Kots and Kots – passed away. They never saw the museum in their own building. In 1964 Vera Ignatieva became the director, who was able to obtain a new permit for the construction of a building for the museum. After renovations in the old premises in 1966, the staff opened an exposition to serve school groups. The museum was visited by schoolchildren, students, teachers, as well as families with children. Here is a typical review from the time, posted in June 1966:

“Today we listened to a very interesting lecture by Pyotr Petrovich Smolin. He shared his knowledge with us, the visitors of the museum, in great detail, with knowledge of the matter and with love, although there were only two of us – me and my son. The museum is very, very interesting. The collection of birds is very rich. But it is desirable to expand the exposition so that all these luxurious birds are kept not in closed cabinets, but so that they are constantly pleasing to the eye. “

In the 1970s, the country began to pay great attention to the topic of nature protection. Museum staff organized exhibitions and tours dedicated to nature and its resources. A circle of young biologists of the All-Russian Society for the Conservation of Nature (VOOP) and a circle of young animal painters worked in the museum; took place “Biological Fridays”, which included lectures by scientists, writers, travelers.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, a lot of work was going on outside the walls of the museum; visiting lectures and exhibitions were held, for example, in the foyers of city cinemas.

New life

In 1984, the museum was closed to visitors due to the emergency condition of the premises. The building on Vavilov Street was already being built, but very slowly. The new director, Svetlana Kuleshova, tried to speed up this process. In 1988, she passed the baton of the construction of a building for the museum to her successor, Anna Klyukina.

Finally, the museum opened its doors to its new home on September 2, 1995. The first visitors wrote in the guest book their impressions of the bright and spacious halls and the design of the exposition. In the same decade, the first interactive exhibits and the simplest computers began to appear in the halls of the museum.

“You should have come here before your biology exams. Your computers have answers to all exam questions … ”- this entry appeared on July 25, 1999.

Today’s visitors highly appreciate interactive educational centers, laboratory classes, environmental programs and holidays, exhibitions, quests. Among them, for example, 10-year-old Vika from Belgorod, who left the following review in November 2018: “I especially liked doing experiments under a microscope, interactive programs are very unusual – I saw this for the first time, amazed by a huge collection of animals”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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