The Museums of the North was a really fun module for me. I really enjoyed exploring different museums for the assignment. It felt like I could travel again just briefly. I was debating a couple of museums that I wanted to dive deep into, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre for example. Ultimately, I ended up deciding to look into two natural history (surprise!) museums in the north. I chose the Alaska Science and Nature Museum (AKSCI) in Anchorage, AK and the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo (UHM-UIO) in Oslo, Norway.

I suppose the best place to start would be to compare their mission statements.

AKSCI – “To inspire, through educational exhibits and programs, a better understanding and appreciation of the natural world, the sciences, and ourselves.”

For the Natural History Museum in Oslo, I couldn’t find a specific, concise mission statement on their website, however I was able to find a document outlining their strategies and plans between now and 2030. In this document there was a social mission that stated the following: “The Natural History Museum shall develop knowledge, educate students and disseminate knowledge about the diversity of nature. The museum shall develop, secure and manage the scientific collections for new generations. The museum’s outreach about natural diversity shall create understanding, wonder, engagement and be relevant. The connection between research, education, collections and outreach shall be the basis for the museum’s activities.” The Natural History Museum is a part of the University of Oslo, so it makes sense that its mission would be more complex and more research-based than the AK Science and Nature Museum.

Both have similar exhibits that are largely based on plants and animals that were present long ago in their specific areas. AKSCI has 6 exhibits listed on their website:

  • Dinosaurs of Darkness
  • Alaska Marine Life – ancient and modern information about whales
  • Birds of a Feather – Alaskan birds of today
  • Bare Bones – compares bones of various species
  • Ice Age Alaska
  • Rocks and Minerals
Image from the AKSCI website featuring their exhibits. Image from: https://www.alaskamuseum.org/index.html

The Natural History Museum in Oslo has 6 exhibits listed on their website as well split into three categories, zoology and geology exhibitions (in Collett’s House), the botanical garden, and the climate house.

  • The Norwegian hall and the zoogeographic hall – dioramas that take the visitor through various levels of biodiversity. Organized by increasing sea level and geographic region, respectively.
  • Stones and Bones – or “Stein and Bein” – Geologic and fossil collections including a cast of Stan the Rex.
  • Tree of Life – Takes the visitor through evolutionary history
  • Nature’s Most Beautiful – a “mini-exhibition” about bird plumage and song.
  • The Botanical Garden
  • The Climate House – An exhibition on climate and climate change
One of the specialized gardens in the botanical gardens at NHM-UIO, the Scandinavian Ridge is a cooperative project between botanists and geologists that features plants and rocks found in the Scandinavian mountains. Different plants prefer different rock substrates. Image from: https://www.nhm.uio.no/english/visiting/botanical-garden/thematic-gardens/scandinavian-ridge/index.html

Both museums seem to focus on ancient animals quite a bit, which I think is great because each area likely has very unique attributes when it comes to ancient biodiversity and ecology. It seems like the Natural History Museum in Oslo may offer a bit more range with exhibits like the botanical garden and the climate house. It does make sense though seeing how the Alaska Science and Nature Museum only opened in 1994 in a shopping mall (until acquiring their own building) whereas the Natural History Museum in Oslo is Norway’s oldest and largest museum of natural history. The Botanical Garden was the first program and was started in 1814!

I think the main difference between the two would be the scope of their objectives as mentioned before. The NHM-UIO, while they do aim to educate the public, their scope also encompasses research and general collections as well. Just a few of their research groups are sex and evolution; evolution, eDNA (!), genomics, and ethnobotany; and integrative systematics of plants and fungi. They have several collections including zoological, botanical, mycological, geological and paleontological collections. I would love to visit this museum someday!

Q: If you could work with one of the Natural History Museums biological or geological collections specializing in species or objects from the north, which would it be? Personally, if I had to choose to work with a collection that I haven’t worked with before, I would love to learn more about paleontological collections. It kind of incorporates both biology and geology and I think it would be really interesting to learn more about the natural history of the north! I would also love to learn more about botany/ethnobotany so those would be really fun as well!

Featured cover image caption: Zoology Museum at NHM-UIO in Oslo, Norway. Image credit: Nickrds09.

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zoology_Museum_Oslo,_Norway.JPG

2 Thoughts to “Comparison of Two Northern Museums: Alaska and Oslo, Norway”

  1. Barbara Long

    Good Evening,

    A lovely post! In response to your question: it would be the same answer that you gave for your question. They are my favorites. I would add, what are the contributions of Indigenous science to these disciplines overtime? I think the department needs to plan a field trip for us all. Exploring the world’s museums is fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

    Respectfully,
    Barbara

  2. Angela Linn

    Nice comparison between two museums I’ve never visited! The Alaska Museum of Science and Nature has struggled over the past decade, with some financial problems and leadership issues. I”m concerned I don’t see any personnel listed on their site and I think their Board of Directors – “coming soon” is a bit troubling (I think it’s been like that for a while now…). However I do see they’re quite active on social media so it’s good that they’re working hard to share their offerings!
    The Natural History Museum in Oslo is definitely on my list of top museums to visit. The long history combined with the rich educational and teaching mission is right up my alley. And being based in a city I really want to visit, well that just takes the cake! Nice job finding their core strategic documents – Oslo’s are so inspiring, especially as an academic museum.
    I’d love to work with botany collections if I had to do something different. Steffi’s work has been really inspiring to me and as I learn more about the botanical diversity of the north I think it would be really fascinating to do more.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.