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Richard Fortey quotes (showing 1-21 of 21)

“A life accumulates a collection: of people, work and perplexities. We are all our own curators. ”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“I believe profoundly in the importance of museums; I would go as far as to say that you can judge a society by the quality of its museums. ”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“You must not lie about trilobites, nor yet about time.”
Richard Fortey
“Whether we find it appealing or not is another question, but personally I like being fourth cousin to a mushroom and having a bonobo as my closest living relative. It makes me feel a part of the world.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“Museums have no political power, but they do have the possibility of influencing the political process. This is a complete change from their role in the early days of collecting and hoarding the world to one of using the collections as an archive for a changing world. This role is not merely scientifically important, but it is also a cultural necessity.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“The great proliferation of museums in the nineteenth century was a product of the marriage of the exhibition as a way of awakening intelligent interest in the visitor with the growth of collections that was associated with empire and middle-class affluence. Attendance at museums was as much associated with moral improvement as with explanation of the human or natural world.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“I confess that the idea of taking off one's boots in a howling squall to safeguard fossils that had survived since the Precambrian had its funny side.”
Richard Fortey, Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
“The great museums may harbour the conscience for the natural world, not merely provide its catalogue.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“Mankind is nothing more than a parasitic tick gorging himself on temporary plenty while the seas are low and the climate is clement. But the present arrangement of land and sea will change, and with it our brief supremacy.”
Richard Fortey
“I wonder if we are seeing a return to the object in the science-based museum. Since any visitor can go to a film like Jurassic Park and see dinosaurs reawakened more graphically than any museum could emulate, maybe a museum should be the place to have an encounter with the bony truth. Maybe some children have overdosed on simulations on their computers at home and just want to see something solid--a fact of life.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“Without death there is little innovation. Extinction - death of a species - is part and parcel of evolutionary change. In the absence of this kind of extinction new developments would not prosper. In our own history, periods when ideas have been perpetuated by dogma, preventing the replacement of old by new ideas, have also been times of stultifying stagnation. The Dark Ages in western society were the most static, least innovative of times. So the fact that trilobites were replaced by batches of successive species through their long history was a testimony to their evolutionary vigour.”
Richard Fortey, Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution
“Westwards along the basement, I let myself through a heavy door just beyond the dead giraffes. There was a notice on the wall that read "Departmental cock"--I never did find out what that meant. ”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“I attempted in vain to calculate the size of the holdings on the shelves, floor on floor, only to boggle hopelessly, baffled by bibliographic boundlessness.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“My contract had specified only that I 'should undertake work upon the fossil Arthropoda,' which left me free to roam through hundreds of millions of years. It might as well have said: 'Amuse yourself--for money.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“But, for now, I retreated back down the little hidden staircase into the familiar world of the basement of the Natural History Museum, and to the embrace of the trilobites.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“Later . . . the sports jacket became a kind of signature uniform for the museum scientist, complete with leather elbow patches. It indicated an endearing otherworldliness. Too much smartness might betray the wrong priorities, and an inadequate grasp of carabids.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“There is no final truth in palaeontology. Every new observer brings something of his or her own: a new technique, a new intelligence, even new mistakes. The past mutates. The scientist is on a perpetual journey into a past that can never be fully known, and there is no end to the quest for knowledge.”
Richard Fortey, Trilobite!: Eyewitness to Evolution
“So my exploration continued, up dark stairwells and down dim passages. I came across a room full of antelope and deer trophies, the walls lined with dozens of ribbed or twisted horns, as if it were the entrance lobby to some stately home owned by a bloodthirsty monomaniac. On another occasion I found my way into one of the towers that flanked the main entrance to the Museum- only to find that to get there one had to take a path that led over the roof. I came across a taxidermist's lair, where a man with an eye patch was reconstructing a badger. I failed to find the Department of Mineralogy altogether, apart from meeting some meteorite experts in their redoubt at the end of the minerals gallery. There seemed to be no end to it. Even now, after more than thirty years of exploration, there are corners I have never visited. It was a place... labyrinthine and almost endless, where some forgotten specialist might be secreted in a room so hard to find that his very existence might be called into question. I felt that somebody might go quietly mad in a distant compartment and never be called to account. I was to discover that this was no less than the truth.”
Richard Fortey, Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum
“In the beginning there was dust, and one day the great, improbable experiment of life will return to dust. We are not secure. Just as our ultimate genesis was entangled with the birth of suns, and the terrifying tumult of asteroids and meteorites, so we are still bound to the cosmos.”
Richard Fortey, Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
“I doubt whether there would be many readers for a post-holocaust novel that was concerned with the hero's desperate search for a mite. But alas for the world if the mites and their diminutive allies failed to prosper!”
Richard Fortey
“And there is an earlier Wilson cycle, too, a billion years old, entrapped alongside the Appalachians: the Grenville, which rises to the surface in Central Park, New York, to remind us that the human and urban is no more than foam on the sea of the past.”
Richard Fortey


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Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth Life
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Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution Trilobite
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Earth: An Intimate History Earth
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Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life Of The Natural History Museum Dry Store Room No. 1
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