Smithsonian Unveils Evotourism (TM) Website For People Interested In Our Evolutionary Past

Ever heard of Evotourism? No? That’s because the Smithsonian Institution just made it up.

This month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine is all about Evotourism, which they’ve decided to trademark so we all have to put that pesky trademark symbol after it. Not a user-friendly way to coin a new term.

As their new dedicated site says, Evotourism is the “Smithsonian’s new travel-information service that will help you find and fully enjoy the wonders of evolution. Whether it’s a city museum or suburban fossil trove, a historic scientific site overseas or a rare creature in your own backyard, we’ll direct you to places and discoveries that figure in the science of evolution or offer eye-opening evidence of the process of natural selection.”

The site lists a variety of places to learn about the evolution of life on our planet, from Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where you and your family can pose for photos in front of a dinosaur still encased in rock, to Darwin’s home just outside London. Each destination is given a detailed treatment with an accompanying article.

There are also some general articles on subjects such as the life and work of Charles Darwin. One important piece is an interview with Christián Samper, former director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that clears up many of the misconceptions about evolution, such as the common misperception that belief in evolution and belief in God is an either/or proposition.

The site is organized by theme, so if you have kids in tow or are a photographer, you’ll be directed to the sites that are best for you.

It’s a good list to start with, but of course there are many more sites to visit and the folks at the Smithsonian will be adding to it. They were modest enough not to include their own Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, surely one of the best Evotourism destinations anywhere. I’d also suggest the Science Museum in London, the Natural History Museum in New York City, and the Natural History Museum in Oxford, England.

For adventure travelers who want to get to the source, there’s the National Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which has Lucy, the famous 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, and a display of skulls from the earliest human ancestors to modern humans in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. Other rooms show the evolution of other animals.

What other Evotourism destinations would you recommend? Tell us in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust]

Royal Institution In London Looking To Sell Its Historic Home

The Royal Institution of Great Britain, one of London’s great scientific landmarks, may soon be moving.

The BBC reports that it’s putting its historic Mayfair property on the market with an asking price of £60 million ($96 million). The Royal Institution was founded in 1799 to promote scientific study and education. It hosts numerous lectures, a video channel, and there’s a museum dedicated to Faraday on site.

Michael Faraday’s 19th century experiments, many of which took place in the institution’s building, led to the practical use of electricity.

The institution has been in financial difficulty for several years and hoped to turn itself around with a major remodel. Unfortunately, the cost of doing that was not matched by new income and donations.

One scientist I spoke to who has lectured at the Royal Institution says that this announcement may be a cry for help to get more donations. I hope she’s correct. I wouldn’t want to lose such an important landmark in the middle of my favorite city.

[Photo courtesy Mike Peel]

Museum attendance surged in 2009

What did you do instead of travel last year? Well, according to the American Association of Museums, you probably caught an art, science or historical exhibit. Museum attendance shot up last year, according to a survey of 481 of them, with more than 57 percent of them reporting gains in attendance. More than 40 percent sustained “significant increases” of 5 percent to more than 20 percent year-over-year. Science and technology museums were most likely to see the upside.

The reason cited for the change in visitorship shouldn’t surprise you: the recession. With wallets being squeezed mercilessly by the economic climate we’ve endured since the September 2008 financial crisis, fewer people have been going out on the road, even despite the deep discounts being offered by airlines and hotels. More people are staying home – and visiting museums. This is consistent with past recessions, when museum attendance grew.

Yet, not all museums benefitted: 23 were forced to close their doors.