The University of Chicago News Office
July 9, 1997 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421

Why are Americans smitten by dinosaurs? University of Chicago Professor explains our fascination in July 12 talk

There are many books on the scientific riddle of the dinosaur. University of Chicago professor W.J.T. Mitchell, however, studies the cultural riddle of the dinosaurits chameleon status as a national icon, a childrens toy, a popular attraction, a corporate logo, a scientific wonder and a figure of the outmoded and obsolete.

Mitchell will speak about the American fascination with dinosaurs in his talk “Imaginary Dinosaurs,” at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12 at the Field Museum of Natural History, as part of a dinosaur lecture series offered in conjunction with the Field Museum’s “Dinosaur Families” exhibit. Tickets are $12. For more information, call (773) 322-8854.

Mitchell will use slides and film clips to highlight how dinosaurs are represented in Victorian dinosaur models, Calvin & Hobbes cartoons and monster movies. In this talk, taken from his upcoming book, Mitchell will suggest that the dinosaur has become an unofficial icon of the American nation. Thomas Jefferson’s support of an excavation of the “big bones” of ancient creatures found in the soil of America laid the foundation for thinking of American soil as a repository of national antiquities. Europe had their art museumswe had our dinosaurs.

“Big bones,” says Mitchell, “were a perfect spectacle to illustrate big ambitions.”

Mitchell also turns his keen eye on the “dinosaur hunters.” Americans, he says, hold an image of the paleontologist as a big-game hunter whose quarry includes the biggest and most dangerous game that ever stalked the planet.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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