NMNH Series

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The USNM fossil hall, circa 1932. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

It is an exciting time for paleobiology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The museum is undergoing a complete renovation of its paleobiology halls, and an initiative to support research in and improve understanding of evolutionary and environmental change across deep time is at the top of the museum’s agenda. However, it will still be awhile before visitors can enjoy the results of these efforts. The east wing, home to fossil displays since the NMNH building opened in 1910, closed on April 28th, 2014, and will not reopen until 2019.

In the meantime, it is worthwhile to take a look at the history of fossil displays at the Smithsonian. This series investigates the origins and histories of the skeletal mounts at NMNH. I will try to avoid discussing the biology of the animals in question, and instead treat these specimens as the historic artifacts they are. Since many of these mounts have been on display for more than a century, they tell an intriguing story of  the changing focus, methodologies, and philosophies of science and science communication. This series is also about the talented researchers and technicians who created the historic mounts, and the institution which hosted these people and their creations.

Overview of Fossil Exhibits at the Smithsonian

The Basilosaurus

Marsh’s Cretaceous Dinosaurs

Marsh’s Jurassic Dinosaurs

The Brachyceratops

Diplodocus and Camarasaurus

Permo-Triassic Synapsids

Ice Age Giants

Murals, Models, and Dioramas

NMNH Fossil Halls circa 1963

Hall of Ice Age Mammals and the Rise of Man

Life in the Ancient Seas: the Exhibit and the Mural

Please note that this is my personal blog and I am solely responsible for the veracity of its content. These posts do not represent NMNH, the Smithsonian Institution, or any of their affiliates. Be sure to check out Digging the Fossil Record and the Department of Paleobiology for official news on the fossil hall renovation.

3 responses to “NMNH Series

  1. Diana Marsh

    Hey I’m a museum anthropology student and new research fellow at NMNH working on plans for the new hall! Are you in the area? This blog is great!

    • Ben

      Thanks for the kind words, and congratulations on getting the research fellow position! What kind of work are you doing for the new exhibit?

      • Diana Marsh

        I’m in anthropology, so I’m doing an “ethnography” of the making of the exhibit for my dissertation, looking at how science is negotiated in the exhibit-making process and I’m also digging around in the SI archives–in Gilmore’s reports, daybooks and correspondences to look at the early history of exhibit-making in paleo , , , so I just LOVE your historical stuff . . . and then I’m also working on researching/compiling audience engagement resources for the exhibit team.

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