Paper No. 12
Presentation Time: 3:45 PM


SAMPSON, Scott D., Research and Collections Division, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80205,

Geoscience has traditionally been presented, both in formal and informal education settings, as an isolated subject. Even the recent movement toward “earth systems science” has typically maintained a comparatively narrow focus. Natural history museums have perpetuated this longstanding trend, featuring exhibition halls devoted to geology, paleontology, and other “ologies.” Yet growing evidence indicates that geoscience could be communicated more effectively if placed within a larger narrative context.

Throughout human history, cultures have been rooted to their native places by origin stories weaving together cosmos, Earth, life, and culture. Today, most people in Western societies lack any such “cosmology,” in spite of the fact that an astonishing and beautiful account of our deep time evolutionary history has emerged within science over the past several decades. Evolution in this expanded view is much more than mutation, natural selection, and speciation, encompassing no less than the history of the universe, from the Big Bang to the present day. Variously called the Epic of Evolution, the Great Story, the Universe Story, or Big History, this grand narrative provides the foundation for seeing ourselves as deeply embedded within a creative cosmos. Importantly, the evolutionary epic is not a cosmology unto itself; rather it consists of a collection of elements compatible with a diverse range of cosmologies, spiritual and non-spiritual.

Natural history museums—as 1) repositories of diverse nature collections; and 2) centers of both research and education—are well suited to lead the way in conveying the universe story. Viewed from this larger perspective, geoscience provides the planetary context for all life, as well as the ever-changing stage for human cultural evolution. Moreover, abundant research suggests that experiential, place-based approaches to communicating earth sciences will be most effective. Today, as we embark upon the Anthropocene and contemplate a range of alternative futures, we must empower people to consider alternative futures, and engage in behaviors that enable both humans and nonhuman nature to thrive. The evolutionary epic, with geoscience woven into the narrative, has an important role to play is this pressing challenge.