Atomic Age Rodents in the National Museum (2012)

Few interspecies relationships are as sordid and complicated as that of mice and men... and rats. For centuries Europeans despised rats as the bringers of the deadly plague. Victorian men made sport of killing rats. Farmers employed cats to guard against the vermin infesting their grain stores. And yet, nearly everywhere in the world humans travel, rodents have followed. 

Despite all the negative feelings, the rodents have found ways of seducing us. Mouse and rat breeders of the 19th century stumbled into a quirk of genetics that generates coat colors not typically encountered in nature: Gleaming white fur seemed somehow cleaner and divorced from the associations of disease and sickness. Soon Victorian shops were selling myriad colors and patterns of “fancy” mice and rats. From these shops researchers in the early 20th century purchased the first white mice and rats that became the iconic “Lab Mice” and “Lab Rats” who continue to serve as miniature substitutes for human behavior, disease and suffering.

The rodents recorded in this booklet found their way into the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History via several different paths. Each path tells a tale of rodent life, human culture, and the government of the United States of America. This is not just any collection. This is the National Museum, where U.S. government employees compulsively organize, document, and store objects into the vast archive of State memory. In this collection, hidden in plain sight, is the history of America, told by skins and skulls.