How is a natural history museum different from other museum types?



A natural history museum is concerned with the natural world; their collections may contain specimens of birds, mammals, insects, plants, rocks, minerals, and fossils. These museums have their origins in the cabinets of curiosities built up by prominent individuals in Europe during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Some of these museums hold enormous collections from the natural world. The mid-eighteenth century saw an increased interest in the scientific world by the middle class and the natural history museum was a new space for public interaction with the natural world. I found this article about “The rise of natural history museums” by Oliver Farrington that give some insight on how these museums came to popularity. These museums differ from other museums because They show a wide array of items and collections that have been collected over the years and show the world in its natural state. They have a little bit of everything to exhibit or to show. Unlike other specific museums like a Museum of History which is specific to the chronological order of history and the events that go along with that and maybe specific to a certain area. Art museums are concerned primary with an object of a means unaided communication with its visitors with the aesthetic value is therefore a major consideration when accepting items for these collections they have to be a pleasing to the people that would come to the museum to look at the pieces. There are many other museums that are specific like science museums, virtual museums or botanical museums these focus on a specific field. Natural Houston history museums also have or show us the biodiversity around the world. People come to these things to see animals and species that they might not be able to see in the real day life. Also help scientists know what types of animals and plants that are out there so that they can study the earth and the natural environments of these animals and the natural environment they were in. Natural History museums are also very unique just for the fact that they are based on their collections that have collected over the years. This allows people to go back and see these collections and to study them and to learn from them to also learn the evolution of these items from studying in Natural History museums.

Recently I had the opportunity to go to the Sea Life Center down in Seward, AK. and this was after the pandemic hit and they were still struggling with covid and how to keep the Sea life center open. And we saw them reach out to the communities because they were struggling to stay open and the community came together to help them raise money to stay open throughout 2021. Not only were they going to lose the center, but all the animals were going to have to be returned or moved and all the work that they do rescue animals was going to have to cease to exist. So, I wondered if this was happening to museums in general or too other places that might need public or tourism to come in to keep them running.

I came across this article about Natural History museums in the current COVID-19 pandemic that we’re going through. in this article it really shows how Natural History museums and other museums are going through during this pandemic and also what they have to do to stay in business or to stay open. It also shows that these museums have to start thinking about how to reinvent what is a museum and how to reinvent themselves in a way that they can still have the museum and show case their works. it also shows that Museums are going back and looking at previous collections and trying to make them better enhance them in any way that they can Which could be through digitizing the collection making it more accessible for people or others that need to work on those collections. I think this is a great opportunity for museums to look at expanding their reach to many different peoples in many different countries through many different languages to share that knowledge with people.

Question:   Do you think it is important  for museums to try reinvent themselves and to reach as many people as they can?

Link to article:

Farrington, O. (1915). The Rise of Natural History Museums. Science, 42(1076), 197-208. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from




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

  1. Martin Gutoski

    Michael, you piqued my interest in responding to your post above when you mentioned the Seward Sea Life Center. When I attended a Museums Alaska conference in Seward the main meeting venue was at the aquarium in 2014. The keynote speaker was from new York presenting her in involvement in the team who were responsible for building the 911 memorial of the World Trade Center disaster. Although not a museum as such a memorial to this national tragedy was fraught with many varied ideas from a disparate committee consisting of government agencies, survivors and the developers who wanted to rebuild the commercial structures on this very valuable real estate. Reaching a consensus just a few years past the event was very difficult that resulted in the present pool of remembrance that was finally approved along with the underground memorial wall like displays in one of the deep basement floors of the collapsed towers.
    If museum committees wrestle with inclusions of diverse stakeholders and the public this would go down in the history books as one of the most contentious in dealing with how to remember the death and destruction in the beginning of American conscious awareness of global terrorism brought home.

  2. Dylan Debuse

    I agree with your points regarding museums and the COVID-19 pandemic and the related article. I think the museums may have no choice but reinvent themselves, at least in the short term. I don’t think the reinventing is that terrible of an idea regardless of the circumstances. perhaps this is an unfortunately forceful way to achieve an optimistic outcome, allowing these institutions to find a useful way of informing the public that they may have cast aside.

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