Natural history museums: looking to the past to secure our future


What if there was a vault so full of wealth and knowledge that it could not only help you understand the past, but also predict and plan for the future? We’re about to head to one of those magical places where, behind closed doors, some of the most enormous breakthroughs and fascinating discoveries are made! Here is an overview of the treasures hidden in the rooms you are not shown when you go to the museum.

Whether it’s solving the mysteries of bird deaths or helping cultures whose histories have been wrenched back to their roots, we have to thank the breathtaking collections of natural history museums! They’re even finding out how humans came to be human and making strides in our understanding of climate change, but how?

Well, behind these perfectly organized rooms and hallways that you and I have walked through, scientists and researchers are working hard to study tens of millions of invisible artifacts. Why? Well, these specimens hold the key to understanding the inner workings of life as we know it!

So, stick around as we take a peek into this hidden world. You will look at these extraordinary places with a little more gratitude and wonder!

Source: Pixabay

Why collect so much thing?!

If you walk around a natural history museum, you might be overwhelmed by how much thing There are. Endless fossils, halls of taxidermy animals and rows of human artifacts – surely this must be the extent of it all! But oh, my friend, we’re not even being shown the whole story. Why we seeing in most museums is just one tiny fraction of their amazing collection!

I mean, the American Museum of Natural History alone has 34 million artifacts and specimens lined up row after row of shelves and drawers that the general public can’t see!

So why do they need so many “extra” things?

Among the hundreds of millions of artifacts in the hundreds of natural history museums around the world, we have a unbelievable collection of historical data. And this data is used to better understand the issues we face today and help us predict and plan for the future!

Mosquito collections have been used to understand and mitigate diseases like West Nile virus. Seed collections help end crop shortages. Artifacts from early 1900s expeditions help people reconnect with their spiritual and ancestral roots, and some specimens have even been used by law enforcement to solve crimes!

These discoveries are only scratching the surface!

Prepare to see your vision of museums shift from stuffy and stagnant buildings to vivid places of learning and discovery. Their endless collections of the life of our world are changing the way we see our planet and ourselves. Now let’s see what it all really means – and find out more about the people who work in these museums – in this awesome video from TED-Ed!

If you want to see more on TED-Ed, check out their YouTube channel! Their content covers all corners of the world of science, art, history and even philosophy in a short, fun and digestible way.

While researching this article, I also came across an amazing series from the American Museum of Natural History titled The duration of the conversation. In the series, they explore the museum’s collections and explain how their artifacts help researchers make cutting-edge discoveries and unearth lost knowledge. Make sure to check it out! In one of my favorite episodes, they show how a collection of artifacts gathered in Siberia at the turn of the 20th century is helping the indigenous peoples who still live there today reconnect with a legacy lost under Soviet rule.

If reading is more your thing, I also found this excellent article from The Museum Scholar which details some of the ways in which natural history collections are used to inform and shape scientific research.

The incredible power of the museum!

Museums are incredible treasures for our imagination and our curiosity.

I will never forget the awe I felt walking into the Field Museum in Chicago as a child and seeing SUE the T-Rex towering above me in the main lobby. That day, I rushed from room to room with joy, completely absorbed in a sense of wonder at the science, culture and history all around me. These museums are not only important because of the groundbreaking research they are conducting, but also because of the way they inspire us, yes, even us adults.

For many of us, natural history museums are closest to the hands that painted the intricate casket of an Egyptian mummy, the dinosaurs that once roamed this Earth, the extinct dodo bird, or the cultures of peoples whose traditions lived a long time ago. or far away. And now we know how close we are to ideas that will lead us into the next century.

What can you do?

At present, many museums are in difficulty. But fear not, because we can support our beloved collections and the research and education they keep alive! If you can afford it, consider donating to your favorite museum. You can also support museums by visiting their online stores and making your next gift or book purchase there. Of course, if you have a youngster in your life, or if you just need some inspiration yourself, a virtual tour is always a great way to spend a weeknight.

Who knows what the “artefacts” of our time will look like in the museums of the future!

Whatever the future holds, we now know that museums will continue to use knowledge and exploration of the past to change the world. One discovery at a time, we will all benefit from their wealth of knowledge.

There’s a reason we here at Ever Widening Circles call ourselves “curators”. Like museum curators, we find the most outstanding examples of science, art, human ingenuity, culture and our planet and exhibit them to our viewers. So if you want to explore other ways (big and small) that museums inspire us and see how you could become a museum specimen, check out these articles!

Stay beautiful and keep laughing!


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Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor and now CEO of Ever Widening Circles. She’s a longtime traveler with a camera, a researcher of world stories, and a budding, but most often hectic, outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @ Liesl.UV


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