Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at a natural history, or natural sciences, museum?? Many of us are at least occasional, if not regular, visitors to such places, drawn in by the myriad exhibits. Sometimes it’s the aesthetics that catches our eye (e.g., that’s beautiful), sometimes the novelty or exoticness (e.g., what IS that?), and sometimes the information (e.g., I had no idea!).
Think of an iceberg: what you see above the waterline is but a small portion of the entire object. A natural history museum is conceptually similar to large floating chunks of ocean ice, minus the… ice and floating in the ocean bit. What is generally open to the public is but a small fraction of what makes a museum a museum.
But wait, what is a museum?
Display… check! But what about procurement, care, and study? This takes us to the “back of the house,” the aspect of a museum the public rarely sees and the underwater portion of our proverbial iceberg — a substantial part of this revolves around a museum’s collections, which reflect the focus of the institution which houses them, whether it be art, human artifacts, toys, dioramas of gophers, etc. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is no exception; its natural history collections contain more than four million specimens.
Natural History Collections
At this point you may have some questions, like:
- What ARE natural history collections?
- What is their purpose?
- Why should I care about rooms filled with bones, skins, rocks and minerals, or jars containing dead animals?
- Who funds these collections?
- Who cares for these collections?
- What does this entail?
- Are people actually doing something with specimens in these collections?
- Does this in any way, shape, or form have an impact on my life?
We can start by answering these latter two questions with a simple and resounding YES!
Importance of Collections
The 1001 Jars initiative was started by the Non-molluscan Invertebrate Unit of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in collaboration with the Museum’s Naturalist Center, Brimley Memorial Library, and Natural World iLab as part of our IMLS grant (MA-30-17-0117-17). We are building from the general framework of a former classroom activity on the importance of collections – entitled 1000 Jars – that was developed and led by staff in the Museum’s Education Section.
The Non-molluscan Invertebrate Collection is highly diverse, containing hundreds of thousands of specimens ranging from sponges to annelids, sea stars to crayfishes, arrow worms to pill bugs, mud dragons to moss animals, and so much more. Every specimen housed in the Collection has a story: who, what, why, when, where, and how. As such, these specimens are important, not only for research and education, but in providing a social context and history that directly ties these museum collections to our lives.
Our goal with the 1001 Jars initiative is to communicate the importance of natural history collections while giving you behind-the-scenes access to the incredible diversity of specimens that we maintain and continue to build. We will try to answer the questions that we posed above, and many more. The thing is, natural history collections ARE important! They do have an impact on YOUR life! We are doing, and facilitating, incredible research with these collections! And we want to share that with the world! We want to share that with you!
How Can I Get Involved?
We want your help with this initiative!
Do not hesitate to contact us with questions about collections you want answered, questions about our holdings and particular non-molluscan invertebrates you would like to see imaged (photos or 3D scans), or ideas about how we can expand the idea of 1001 Jars. Are you an educator? Let us and/or the Naturalist Center know if you are interested in integrating 1001 Jars into your classroom.