This week’s question asks how Natural history museums differ from other types of museums. As we covered in the first part of the the semester, what exactly classifies a museum is not a rigidly defined set of guidelines and a wide range of institutions can be classified as museums despite differences in size, focus and materials. Thus, it is a good idea for us to begin by classifying the elements that make a museum, a natural history museum. This can be broken down into roughly two elements, which are a focus on the Natural world and the inclusion of a research collection.
            Firstly, Natural history museums fall into a similar category as science centers, planetariums, and discovery centers, which focus on displaying or teaching about the scientific principles of the natural world. This distinguishes them from many other types of museums which focus on human cultures and the products of those cultures. What further distinguishes a natural history museum from the other museums that fall into this category is the presence of a collection for research purposes, which is used to better understand the natural world, as well as to educate visitors about it.
            So now, that we have a clearer idea of what exactly makes a museums specifically a natural history museum, and how it differs from other similar types of museums, why is this difference important and what purpose do these museums serve? While, firstly Natural history museums, emphasize that museums don’t have to be about humans to be a museum, but that a museum structure and organization can be used to teach people about an aspect of the natural world just as easily as it can be used to educate them about history or about other cultures. Secondly, natural history museums give scientists access to repositories of materials from any branch of natural science to study, whether in a single specific field or for holistic cross-disciplinary studies.
            Ultimately, natural history museums serve much the same role as any other type of museum we have seen in this course, even if their focus might be broader than some. The importance of natural history museums is not that they do something completely different from any other form of museums, but that they fill a critical niche within the broader classifications of museums extending their application into the natural world, and offering a place for the scientists and academics interested in this aspect of science to expand and provide their knowledge to the general public in the same way other museums do with their own disciplines.
            Natural history museums cover a broad range of more focused disciplines such as ornithology, botany, mammalogy and more. In your personal experiences with natural history museums, what was one element or discipline of natural history which you were most curious about or which you remember most vividly?

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Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

4 Thoughts to “Korovin Ellis: Types of Museums”

  1. Arianna Wyanski

    I’ve never visited a Natural History Museum, but I think that the area that would proably catch my attention the most are any areas that involve paleontology or dinosaurs. I’m a huge fan of the past (like waaaaaaay back) and dinosaurs, so I think that I could spend a long time in an area like that.

  2. Kai Doak

    Mineralogy has always been very fascinating to me. The fact that some have been around as far back as scientists can study. The interactions between different types of substances that create certain other precious gems, metals, etc, is one of my favorite things to learn about.

  3. Avatar photoSavanna VonScheele

    I like how you took the consideration of last weeks discussion on categorizing museums. You were able to break down different categories of a Natural Museum and explain your viewpoint. I think as above the other people mentioned dinosaurs and geology, I find it incredible there were animals or reptiles walking this planet! along with meteorites, crystals, and different types of sand, how they were formed etc.

  4. Angela Linn

    Thanks Korovin – great observations about what makes natural history museums unique. For the public side of things, I think natural history museums are a great way to orient yourself whenever you come to a new place. As Ariana mentioned, getting to know the WAAAAY back history is a valuable way to contextualize the modern world and the changes we see comparatively. Natural history museums are valuable as physical records of those changes and it’s fascinating to me how scientists can learn so much from a single specimen when they compare it to other specimens in the collections.

    I remember a particular small exhibit case at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History that showed a cross-section of a lake in Iowa with an eagle capturing a fish in its talons. But under the water it showed all the pollution that had sunk to the bottom of the lake that was poisoning the fish… it made a lasting impression on my young mind about the impact humans can have on the environment and how we need to do a better job of stewarding it.

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