Manifesto for the Post-Oil Museum
This chapter examines the displays of oil’s prehistoric roots at the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries in Los Angeles as a space in which existing conceptions of environmental history and human dominion over the natural world might be productively reoriented, and in which contemporary Americans might begin to conceive a post-oil future. Los Angeles hosts the world’s largest archive of Pleistocene fossils, preserved in the asphaltum sinks that formed atop the Salt Lake Oil Field, itself the world’s largest urban oil reserve. The La Brea Tar Pits serve up natural history in the raw, and they share kinship with the Renaissance curiosity cabinet and other “disreputable displays of objects.” The making of the La Brea Tar Pits from a loosely defined exhibit into a museum coincides with the introduction of ecology into the design of the natural history museum in the 1960s. This chapter considers museums as organizing material cultures that in turn generate new social narratives and civic behaviors, and La Brea Tar Pits as the potential site of a post-oil museum.
Keywords: oil, George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries, Los Angeles, environmental history, Salt Lake Oil Field, La Brea Tar Pits, natural history, exhibit, ecology, post-oil museum