The Natural History Museum


Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History

One of the most fun, entertaining and popular of museums is one devoted to natural history.  Today, no one goes to college to study for a major in natural history–it is, in fact, an antiquated field–except in the museum world.  The museums’ architecture often comes from a bygone era, reflecting the field’s age.

In these museums, one is treated to the wonders of the natural world, past and present, but often also human past–particularly that which was discovered without the aid of documents as in the field of history.  It offers incredible freedom to curators, though there are often also hallmark pieces that have existed in the collection since a museum’s founding.

These become our reason for visiting museums.  For example, the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum features an incredible exhibit on the various natural habitats of the world’s mammals.  But, there is also an undersea exhibit, dinosaur and other extinct animal fossils, ancient cultures and fluctuating additional exhibits, such as a live butterfly exhibit and archaeology exhibit featuring forensic anthropology on bodies found in the Chesapeake region.

Pittsburgh’s famous Carnegie Natural History Museum, is most renown for its dinosaurs–a colorful past surrounds the aquisition of some of the most famous fossils!  When Andrew Carnegie set his heart on a large dinosaur skeleton to be the prized exhibition, he got what he wanted, with a lot of money and fast maneuvering, and for years had the largest complete dinosaur ever found.  In addition, he also had a fine T-Rex specimen.  But, the museum also features geology, Egyptian and First Nations exhibits.

So, what is natural history?  It comes from an earlier age before specialization.  It is the study of the natural world and its past, but it often extended to the human history culled from the earth and the life of “primitive” cultures that lived off nature with minimal technology.  In other words, in addition to biology, paleontology, astronomy and other natual sciences, natural history often included archaeology and anthropology.

As learning tools, natural history museums offer a wide array of experiences for visitors–and, often the most awe-inspiring.  When most people think “museum“, they often think of natural history museums.  The hit movie series, Night at the Museum, has reinforced this image no doubt.  There is a much larger range of fields represented than city museums, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum or the Carnegie Science Center, however cool any one of these maybe.

While the study is all but extinct, it lives on in natural history museums.  These museums share the passion of the field’s original practioners: helping people learn about and understand the as much of the world as possible.  That’s a large goal, which is why the museums cover so much ground and share so much.


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Filed under Historian's Journal

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