I am a self-proclaimed geek about two specific topics: history and biology. I studied both in high school and have made a point of taking related courses in college, so when the opportunity came up to get a guided tour of Harvard’s Natural History Museum, I jumped. Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Andrew Berry – of the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department – took ten students on a tour of the museum, which started with a lecture on the history of the collection and transitioned to a tour around both the museum and the research facilities in the facility.
The event was sponsored by Harvard’s Woodbridge International Society, which is a student group on campus focused on supporting international students in their transition to an American university. They run a freshman pre-orientation program (the First-Year International Program) that helps students start bank accounts, get cell phones, and adapt to American-isms before school starts. During the year, they host social events on campus to establish an international community. Since Dr. Berry is British himself, the idea inspiring the event was to connect an international faculty member with international students. Confession: I’m not international! But it was great to participate and meet students from all over the world.
We started with a lecture about the history of the Natural History Museum, which was founded by Louis Agassiz in order to disprove Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The idea was that if he could arrange specimens from all over the world, it would evidence divine creation. I’m definitely a bit of a history nerd, but especially given that I’ve been learning about Agassiz in one of my courses this semester, I thought it was fascinating to learn more about the start of the museum. We then transitioned into a guided tour of the exhibits, and Dr. Berry would point out different specimens he thought were particularly interesting. Even though I’d been to the museum a few times, I was still blown away by some of the stuff he was telling us.
We also stopped at the Glass Flowers Collection, which is absolutely incredible. In the late 19th century, Harvard commissioned the design of these glass flowers for botany courses on campus, because it was so difficult to find certain species in the New England winter that they needed life-like replicas to study instead. I highly recommend you check out the website to learn a bit more about the history and creation of the flowers – they were all hand crafted! So incredible.
The last part of the tour was a trip into the “belly” of the museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology. This is where the curators and researchers do all of their work with the different specimens Harvard has and continues to collect. Dr. Berry took us to the beetle collection, where they apparently have over 3 million beetle specimens stored.
Overall, it was SUCH a cool afternoon – so excited I got the opportunity!