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Purchase suggestion (wink): American Dinosaur Abroad: A Cultural History of Carnegie’s Plaster Diplodocus

Last updated on January 24, 2020

American Dinosaur Abroad

Yeah, I wrote that. It has been out for a while in fact, but I forgot to put it on the blog somehow. Below, I will try to tell a bit more about it. Also, my publishers, University of Pittsburgh Press, posted a Q&A with yours truly at the time of the presentation we did at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. If you don’t need more information and want to order it right away (which I obviously wholeheartedly encourage), this is one place where you might do so.

What is the book about?

In early July 1899, an excavation team of paleontologists sponsored by Andrew Carnegie discovered the fossil remains in Wyoming of what was then the longest and largest dinosaur on record. Named after its benefactor, the Diplodocus carnegii—or Dippy, as it’s known today—was shipped to Pittsburgh and later mounted and unveiled at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in 1907. Carnegie’s pursuit of dinosaurs in the American West and the ensuing dinomania of the late nineteenth century coincided with his broader political ambitions to establish a lasting world peace and avoid further international conflict. An ardent philanthropist and patriot, Carnegie gifted his first plaster cast of Dippy to the British Museum at the behest of King Edward VII in 1902, an impulsive diplomatic gesture that would result in the donation of at least seven reproductions to museums across Europe and Latin America over the next decade, in England, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Russia, Argentina, and Spain. In this largely untold history, Ilja Nieuwland explores the influence of Andrew Carnegie’s prized skeleton on European culture through the dissemination, reception, and agency of his plaster casts, revealing much about the social, political, cultural, and scientific context of the early twentieth century.

Some nice words from good people

American Dinosaur Abroad is brisk, fascinating, and enormously informed. The topic demands a scholar of Ilja Nieuwland’s skills: he knows the languages; he understands the interplay of science, culture, politics, and the press; and he understands how, in human relations, personality is always the wild card. A must read for lovers of history and ancient bones.

Tom Rea

Diplodocus is a Jurassic icon, one of the largest and most impressive dinosaurs ever uncovered. But it is not just that. In this detailed, thoughtful exploration, Ilja Nieuwland follows the changing cultural significance of this famous dinosaur in its role as ambassador, celebrity, and scientific catalyst, revealing how a single, spectacular skeleton can spur broader changes in the process of science and appreciation for nature. Read this book and you’ll never look at old bones the same way again

Brian Switek

The story of Diplodocus is supposed to be familiar. But as revealed here by paleontological historian Ilja Nieuwland, the true story is more complex, nuanced, and interesting. His book is a crucial contribution to the sparse literature on historical paleontology and includes a vast amount of detail not previously covered elsewhere.

Darren Naish

Ilja Nieuwland has written a thoroughly researched and engaging account of the history of Diplodocus carnegii. American Dinosaur Abroad offers fascinating insight into the workings of international and national science in the early twentieth century and the growth of the iconic popularity of dinosaurs. A landmark work in the history of paleontology.

Chris Manias
Published inBooksDinosaursExhibitsHistory of PaleontologyOtto Jaekel


    • Ilja Nieuwland Ilja Nieuwland

      There’s a comfortable and an uncomfortable answer to that one. Not too late to remedy this, though.

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