The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago

Friday, 22 September 2017 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Museums, Exhibitions
Reading Time:  16 minutes

Field Museum on Lake Michigan © Fritz Geller-Grimm/cc-by-sa-2.5

Field Museum on Lake Michigan © Fritz Geller-Grimm/cc-by-sa-2.5

The Field Museum of Natural History, also known as The Field Museum, is a natural history museum in Chicago, and is one of the largest such museums in the world. The museum maintains its status as a premier natural history museum through the size and quality of its educational and scientific programs, as well as due to its extensive scientific specimen and artifact collections. The diverse, high quality permanent exhibitions, which attract up to two million visitors annually, range from the earliest fossils to past and current cultures from around the world to interactive programming demonstrating today’s urgent conservation needs. Additionally, the Field Museum maintains a temporary exhibition program of traveling shows as well as in-house produced topical exhibitions. The professional staff maintains collections of over 24 million specimens and objects that provide the basis for the museum’s scientific research programs. These collections include the full range of existing biodiversity, gems, meteorites, fossils, as well as rich anthropological collections and cultural artifacts from around the globe. The Field Museum Library, which contains over 275,000 books, journals, and photo archives focused on biological systematics, evolutionary biology, geology, archaeology, ethnology and material culture, supports the Field Museum’s academic research faculty and exhibit development. The Field Museum academic faculty and scientific staff engage in field expeditions, in biodiversity and cultural research on all continents, in local and foreign student training, in stewardship of the rich specimen and artifact collections, and work in close collaboration with public programming exhibitions and education initiatives.

The Field Museum and its collections originated from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the artifacts displayed at the fair. In order to house the exhibits and collections assembled for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair for future generations, Edward Ayer convinced the merchant Marshall Field to fund the establishment of a museum. Originally titled the Columbian Museum of Chicago in honor of its origins, the Field Museum was incorporated by the State of Illinois on September 16, 1893, for the purpose of the “accumulation and dissemination of knowledge, and the preservation and exhibition of artifacts illustrating art, archaeology, science and history.” The Columbian Museum of Chicago occupied the only building remaining from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. The Field Museum has maintained its reputation through continuous growth, expanding the scope of collections and its scientific research output, in addition to the its award-winning exhibitions, outreach publications, and programs. The Field Museum is part of Chicago’s lakefront (Lake Michigan) Museum Campus that includes the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. As of 2017, the museum´s permanent exhibitions include:

  • Animal exhibitions and dioramas such as Nature Walk, Mammals of Asia, and Mammals of Africa that allow visitors an up-close look at the diverse habitats that animals inhabit. Most notably featured are the infamous Lions of Tsavo
  • The Grainger Hall of Gems and its large collection of diamonds and gems from around the world, and also includes a Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window. The Hall of Jades focuses on Chinese jade artifacts spanning 8,000 years.
  • The Underground Adventure gives visitors a bugs-eye look at the world beneath their feet. Visitors can see what insects and soil look like from that size, while learning about the biodiversity of soil and the importance of healthy soil.
  • Inside Ancient Egypt offers a glimpse into what life was like for ancient Egyptians. Twenty-three human mummies are on display as well as many mummified animals. The exhibit features a tomb that visitors can enter, complete with 5,000-year-old hieroglyphs. There are also many interactive displays, for both children and adults, as well as a shrine to the cat goddess Sekhmet and her kinder, less hostile form, Bastet. A popular feature of the exhibit is the replica (with original materials) of the chapel in the tomb of Unis-Ankh, the son of Unas (the last pharaoh of the Fifth Dynasty).
  • Evolving Planet follows the history and the evolution of life on Earth over 4 billion years, from the first organism to present-day life. Visitors can see how mass extinctions in Earth’s history helped shape all the organisms. There is also an expanded dinosaur hall, with dinosaurs from every era, as well as interactive displays.
  • The Ancient Americas displays 13,000 years of human ingenuity and achievement in the Western Hemisphere, where hundreds of diverse societies thrived long before the arrival of Europeans. In this large permanent exhibition visitors can learn the epic story of the peopling of these continents, from the Arctic to the tip of South America.
  • DNA Discovery Center – Visitors can watch real scientists extract DNA from a variety of organisms. Museum goers can also speak to a live scientist through the glass every day and ask them any questions about DNA.
  • McDonald’s Fossil Prep Lab – The public can watch as paleontologists prepare real fossils for study.
  • The Regenstein Pacific Conservation Laboratory – 1,600-square-foot (150 m2) conservation and collections facility. Visitors can watch as conservators work to preserve and study anthropological specimens from all over the world.
  • Other exhibitions include sections on Tibet and China, where visitors can view traditional clothing. There is also an exhibit on life in Africa, where visitors can learn about the many different cultures on the continent and an exhibit where visitors may “visit” several Pacific Islands. The museum houses an authentic 19th century Māori Meeting House, Ruatepupuke II, from Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand. There are also a few vintage Mold-A-Rama machines that create injection-molded plastic dinosaurs collected by Chicago children.
  • On May 17, 2000, the Field Museum unveiled Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil yet discovered. Sue is 12.3 m (40 feet) long, stands 3.66 m (12 feet) high at the hips and is 67 million years old. The fossil was named after the person who discovered it, Sue Hendrickson, and is commonly referred to as female, though the fossil’s actual sex is unknown. The original skull, located on the balcony overlooking Sue, was not mounted to the body due to the difficulties in examining the specimen 13 feet off the ground, and for nominal aesthetic reasons (the replica does not require a steel support under the mandible). An examination of the bones revealed that Sue died at age 28, a record for the fossilized remains of a T. rex.

Main Hall © Fritz Geller-Grimm/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Kelly Martin/cc-by-sa-3.0 Field Museum on Lake Michigan © Fritz Geller-Grimm/cc-by-sa-2.5 © Diego Delso/cc-by-sa-3.0 © Joe Ravi/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Field Museum on Lake Michigan © Fritz Geller-Grimm/cc-by-sa-2.5
Professionally managed and maintained specimen and artifact collections, such as those at the Field Museum of Natural History, are a major research resource for the national and international scientific community, supporting extensive research that tracks environmental changes, benefits homeland security, public health and safety, and serves taxonomy and systematics research. Many of Field Museum’s collections rank among the top ten collections in the world, e.g., the bird skin collection ranks fourth worldwide; the mollusk collection is among the five largest in North America; the fish collection is ranked among the largest in the world. The scientific collections of the Field Museum originate from the specimens and artifacts assembled between 1891 and 1893 for the World Columbian Exposition. Already at its founding, the Field Museum had a large anthropological collection. A large number of the early natural history specimens were purchased from Ward’s Natural History Establishment in Rochester, New York. An extensive acquisition program, including large expeditions conducted by the museum’s curatorial staff resulted in substantial collection growth. During the first 50 years of the museum’s existence, over 440 Field Museum expeditions acquired specimens from all parts of the world. In addition, material was added through purchase, such as the Strecker butterfly collection in 1908 for example. Extensive specimen material and artifacts were given to the museum by collectors and donors, such as the Boone collection of over 3,500 East Asian artifacts, consisting of books, prints and various objects. In addition, “orphaned collections” were and are taken in from other institutions such as universities that change their academic programs away from collections-based research. For example, already beginning in 1907, Field Museum accepted substantial botanical specimen collections from universities such as University of Chicago, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago, into its herbarium. These specimens are maintained and continuously available for researchers worldwide. Targeted collecting in the US and abroad for research programs of the curatorial and collection staff continuously add high quality specimen material and artifacts; e.g., Dr. Robert Inger’s collection of frogs from Borneo as part of his research into the ecology and biodiversity of the Indonesian fauna. Collecting of specimens and acquisition of artifacts is nowadays subject to clearly spelled-out policies and standards, with the goal to acquire only materials and specimens for which the provenance can be established unambiguously. All collecting of biological specimens is subject to proper collecting and export permits; frequently, specimens are returned to their country of origin after study. Field Museum stands among the leading institutions developing such ethics standards and policies; Field Museum was an early adopter of voluntary repatriation practices of ethnological and archaeological artifacts.

Field Museum collections are professionally managed by collection managers and conservators, who are highly skilled in preparation and preservation techniques. In fact, numerous maintenance and collection management tools were and are being advanced at Field Museum. For example, Carl Akeley’s development of taxidermy excellence produced the first natural-looking mammal and bird specimens for exhibition as well as for study. Field Museum curators developed standards and best practices for the care of collections. Conservators at the Field Museum have made notable contributions to the preservation of artifacts including the use of pheromone trapping for control of webbing clothes moths. In a modern collections-bearing institution, the vast majority of the scientific specimens and artifact are stored in specially designed collection cabinets, placed in containers made of archival materials, with labels printed on acid-free paper, and specimens and artifact are stored away from natural light to avoid fading. Preservation fluids are continuously monitored and in many collections humidity and temperature are controlled to ensure the long-term preservation of the specimens and artifacts. Field Museum was an early adopter of positive-pressure based approaches to control of environment in display cases, using control modules for humidity control in several galleries where room-level humidification was not practical. The museum has also adopted a low-energy approach to maintain low humidity to prevent corrosion in archaeological metals using ultra-well-sealed barrier film micro-environments. Other notable contributions include methods for dyeing Japanese papers to color match restorations in organic substrates, the removal of display mounts from historic objects, testing of collections for residual heavy metal pesticides, presence of early plastics in collections, the effect of sulfurous products in display cases, and the use of light tubes in display cases. Concordant with research developments, new collection types, such as frozen tissue collections, requiring new collecting and preservation techniques are added to the existing holdings. During the World’s Columbian Exposition, all acquired specimens and objects were on display; the purpose of the World’s Fair was exhibition of these materials. For example, right after opening of the Columbian Museum of Chicago the mollusk collection occupied one entire exhibit hall, displaying 3,000 species of mollusks on about 1,260 square feet. By 1910, 20,000 shell specimens were on display, with an additional 15,000 ‘in storage’. In today’s museum, only a small fraction of the specimens and artifacts are publicly displayed. The vast majority of specimens and artifacts are used by a wide range of people in the museum and around the world. Field Museum curatorial faculty and their graduate students and postdoctoral trainees use the collections in their research and in training e.g., in formal high school and undergraduate training programs. Researchers from all over the world can search online for particular specimens and request to borrow them, which are shipped routinely under defined and published loan policies, to ensure that the specimens remain in good condition. For example, in 2012, Field Museum’s Zoology collection processed 419 specimen loans, shipping over 42,000 specimens to researchers, per its Annual Report. The collection specimens are an important cornerstone of research infrastructure in that each specimen can be re-examined and with the advancement of analytic techniques, new data can be gleaned from specimens that may have been collected more than 150 years ago.

The library at the Field Museum was organized in 1893 for the museum’s scientific staff, visiting researchers, students, and members of the general public as an resource for research, exhibition development and educational programs. The 275,000 volumes of the Main Research Collections concentrate on biological systematics, environmental and evolutionary biology, anthropology, botany, geology, archaeology, museology and related subjects. The Field Museum Library includes the following collections:

  • Ayer collection: This private collection of Edward E. Ayer, the first president of the museum, contains virtually all the important works in the history of ornithology and is especially rich in color-illustrated works.
  • Laufer Collection: The working collection of Dr. Berthold Laufer, America’s first sinologist and Curator of Anthropology until his death in 1934 consists of about 7,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and numerous Western languages on anthropology, archaeology, religion, science, and travel.
  • Photo Archives: The Photo Archives contain over 250,000 images in the areas of anthropology, botany, geology and zoology and documents the history and architecture of the museum, its exhibitions, staff and scientific expeditions. In 2008 two collections from the Photo Archives became available via the Illinois Digital Archives (IDA): The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Urban Landscapes of Illinois. In April 2009, the Photo Archives became part of the Flickr Commons.
  • Karl P. Schmidt Memorial Herpetological Library: The Karl P. Schmidt Memorial Herpetological Library, named for Karl Patterson Schmidt is a research library containing over 2,000 herpetological books and an extensive reprint collection.

Read more on Field Museum of Natural History, YouTube.com – The Brain Scoop with Chief Curiosity Correspondent Emily Graslie, tumblr.com – The Brain Scoop and Wikipedia Field Museum of Natural History (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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