Speaking of Evolution, in Non-Threatening Tones

Rick Potts first joined the Smithsonian Institution, the United States’ vast network of public museums and research centers, back in 1985, and he knew he wanted to create a new kind of human evolution exhibit — one that went beyond phylogeny and taxonomy. The hall’s lofty title — “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” is no accident. “Ours is the only one to ask that larger question,” he says of the installation. Still, by 2010 Potts says he realized that the only people coming to the exhibit were those who had no quarrel with the science of evolution. In order to reach the more than 100 million Americans who still question that science, he would have to take the evidence — carefully packaged — to them. Such was the origin of the Human Origins Traveling Exhibit, which wrapped up last year. The idea was to bring key parts of the permanent installation in the nation’s capital to diverse communities, including ones that were rural, religious, remote.

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