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The colossal stranger

A cultural history of Diplodocus carnegii, 1902-1913
PhD ceremony:Mr I.J.J. Nieuwland
When:May 11, 2017
Supervisors:prof. dr. K. (Klaas) van Berkel, prof. dr. F.H. van Lunteren
Where:Academy building RUG
The colossal stranger

The way in which “the” dinosaur was established as the cultural point of refer- ence in continental Europe is surprisingly recent and turbulent. It largely came about as a consequence of the donations made by the Scottish-American ty- coon Andrew Carnegie to European potentates. Between 1905 and 1913, seven plaster copies of his 27-meter-long Diplodocus carnegii were mounted in as many natural history museums on the European mainland. An eighth speci- men found its way to Argentina.

Carnegie’s overarching ambition became the establishment of a world- wide system of legal arbitration to prevent international con ict. Diplodocus was part of that ambition, and the casts’ donation served as one of the tools Carnegie used to organize a working relationship with foreign heads of state.

The original context of Carnegie’s donations eroded as the Europeans ap- propriated the dinosaurs both in a scienti c and cultural sense. Diplodocus’ fame turned it into a suitable substrate for addressing various issues. For in- stance, both the London and Paris casts were exploited to deliver political com- mentary. But its most far-reaching use took place in Germany, where scientists attempted to gain public support for scienti c reorganization using Carnegie’s plaster dinosaur.As Carnegie’s ambition of peace arbitration tragically failed in August of 1914. But its by-product, the eight casts of Diplodocus carnegii, was established as the dinosaur for generations of European museum visitors. Seen as such, these copies are true historical originals, uniting various cultural, scienti c and political world views.