Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is Harvard University’s most-visited attraction. As a public exhibition space for three of Harvard’s research centers, the museum is committed to sparking visitors’ curiosity about the natural world and providing education about humanity’s place within it.
The museum was founded in 1998 as a public display space for collections and research from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, its Herbaria, and its Mineralogical and Geological Museum. It has quickly become Harvard’s most-visited museum, attracting over 250,000 annual visitors, and is one of four museums that comprise the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture consortium, along with the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Semitic Museum, and the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.
The museum is host to a number of permanent and rotating exhibits focusing on national and international wildlife, paleontology and prehistoric preservation, and climate and ecosystem change.
The centerpiece of the wildlife galleries is the historic Great Mammal Hall, originally constructed in 1872 as part of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. The gallery was recently renovated to reflect the original vision of the museum’s founder, Swiss zoologist Louis Agassiz. On the balcony level above the hall, the newly remodeled Birds Around the World gallery showcases specimens from the museum’s ornithology collection, with over 200 different bird species on display.
Three other permanent galleries focus on past and current wildlife from various world regions. In the African Gallery, visitors can see gorilla, hippopotamus, ostrich, lion, and hyena specimens on display, along with a collection of rare animals from Madagascar. The Asian Gallery features a male peacock specimen posed with its wings spread as well as Bengal and Siberian tigers, an Indian rhinoceros, and dozens of bird specimens. The Central and South American Gallery is home to a 7-foot Amazon pirarucu, one of the largest specimens of the species ever caught. Visitors to the gallery can also see sloths, tapirs, jaguars, and giant armadillos on display, along with a wall of hummingbird specimens.
The Arthropods: Creatures That Rule gallery showcases a variety of invertebrate specimens and live animal displays, using videos and hands-on activities to illustrate the 500-million-year history of Earth’s most populous group of animals. Inside the gallery, the special Bees exhibit provides a look inside the life and operation of a bee colony with a hive on display seasonally. Through interactive activities, visitors can learn about the diversity of bee species and the production of honey.
A number of galleries focus on prehistoric preservation, showcasing rare fossils and mineral holdings.In the Romer Hall of Vertebrate Paleontology, visitors can see the world’s only mounted kronosaurus skeleton, along with a full pteranodon skeleton and one of the world’s earliest-discovered triceratops skulls. Cenozoic Mammals focuses on the early ancestors of today’s hoofed mammals, which first appeared following the extinction of dinosaurs. In the renovated Earth and Planetary Science gallery, visitors can touch rocks, gemstones, and meteorites dating back millennia, including some of the oldest mineralogical specimens on Earth.
The natural life of New England’s habitats is celebrated through full-scale recreations and multimedia presentations in the New England Forests and Marine Life galleries. Interactive displays encourage visitors to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the region’s forests and marine ecosystems, with special exhibits on the woodland caribou, wolves, lichen, and other species that populate the area. A special jellyfish exhibit is part of the museum’s What’s In A Name? series, which explains the history and steps of the scientific naming process.
Climate and ecosystem change is highlighted in several galleries, including the Climate Change: Our Global Experiment exhibit, which presents the latest research from Harvard experts to show up-to-date simulations of future earth changes. The Evolution exhibit gives visitors a chance to examine the interconnected history of species throughout the ages via fossil and anatomical holdings and computer simulations. Species extinction is highlighted in two galleries, Final Flight: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and Next of Kin: Seeing Extinction Through the Artist’s Lens, which showcases the work of Christina Seely, Susannah Sayler, and Edward Morris to offer a new perspective on our current biodiversity crisis.
The connection between art and nature is a focus throughout other exhibits in the museum, with two exhibits of works by glass artisans Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. The internationally acclaimed Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, popularly known as the Glass Flowers exhibit, features more than 4,000 glass models representing over 830 flower species. In the Sea Creatures in Glass gallery, a permanent display of 60 Blaschka models depicts jellyfish, sea anemones, and octopuses.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The museum has developed a reputation as a major educational resource in the Cambridge community, with over 40,000 K-12 students participating annually in school visits and other integrated educational programs. Additionally, the museum’s popular public lecture series invites Harvard faculty members and other biologists, conservationists, and authors to speak to the community about a variety of science and nature topics. These lectures are archived for the public and can be viewed in full on the museum’s website.
26 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138