This is a photo that I took of some jellyfish at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. I thought they were quite pretty.

Natural history museums are museums that collect and exhibit objects of biological, geological, and ecological relevance. I think the major difference between natural history museums and other types is its importance to research. That is not to say that other types are not important to research, but that natural history museums play a very large role in scientific studies and analysis of the natural world. For example, a type specimen of a species is the specimen onto which the description and name is placed. Type specimens are usually located in a natural history museum or an herbarium (which I suppose is a type of natural history museum). They can also provide other samples for scientific research. For example, the genomic resources department at UAMN contains tissue samples from many different species of animals that researchers can request to answer their questions. During Dr. Ickert-Bond’s presentation, she talked about an interesting application that was using the collection to provide forensic insight into the origins of disease and agricultural pests (where did they come from, were they introduced accidentally or deliberately, etc.).


At the end of Dr. Ickert-Bond’s video about Natural History Museums, she posed an interesting question. “What are the various objectives for having different museum types?” I think having several types of museums gives each museum to specialize in such a way that provides the most benefit to the industry and the public. In addition, each type of museum holds a different kind of relevance and value, I think. Specializing allows them to respect their collections in a very specific way. For examples, the methods of preserving biological specimens are, I’m sure, quite different from those used to preserve archaeological artifacts.


One thing that I found very interesting this week was the fact that in the “types of museums” lists, you often find zoos and aquaria. I’ve never really considered those as “museums” per se, but it makes sense. In essence, they are living collections. In the Latham and Simmons reading that was posted titled “Species of Museums: A Museological Bestiary” (which is a terrific title) they raise an excellent point that zoos and aquaria have additional ethical responsibility to the care of the specimens due to their… being alive. For the longest time as a young adult, I was unsure how I felt about zoos and aquaria. I have heard horror stories about the care and treatment of the animals that reside there which as a wildlife obsessed individual was pretty heartbreaking. That being said, the more I learned about the codes and regulations, the more comfortable I got visiting them. Today, I especially love visiting aquaria! The ones in Seattle, Washington and Newport, Oregon are my absolute favorite, but it is a dream of mine to visit the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. I bring these up because they are very natural history museum adjacent, I think. They, too, hold biological specimens and as I have learned in my evolutionary-based classes, living specimen can sometimes tell us a lot about the history of the species.


My questions (2) this week are: What do you think is an important reason that there are several different types of museums? And/or what is/are your favorite botanical gardens/zoos/aquaria that you’ve visited?

2 Thoughts to “How is a natural history museum different from other museum types?”

  1. Michael Hubert

    I think that the most important reason to have different museums is to have that diversity in the subjects, there are some many things that a museum can be. so the more museums that you could will help with the education of the items in the museum. I guess you could have one big museum that had different wings for all the versions but that would be a Hugh museum. I would have to say that as a kid my favorite was the zoo or aquarium. But as I have grown and had experiences all over the world I find I have a greater appreciation for all museum for the animals in zoos to the quiet relaxing feeling in botanical gardens.

  2. Angela Linn

    Thanks for raising the point about zoos and aquaria – I had the same reaction growing up. We’ll learn more about these unique educational institutions in Module 6 so keep some of these questions for that discussion as well!

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