Museum Making: Natural History Museum

Library 3Makers are everywhere… and at every time. We went behind the scenes at the San Diego Natural History Museum, where they recently broke ground on a new exhibition space they’ll be offering to the public come early summer 2016. They are transforming their Research Library, which has historically only been available to the public by appointment only, and making it into a lovely, open exhibition space and gallery that will emphasize the importance of citizen science. Citizen science is scientific research partially or completely conducted by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often also called “crowd-sourcing science.” The citizen scientists who will be on display were the Makers of their day.

Model of the future Research Library

“The model is never done—it’s a planning tool, not a finished product,” said Erica Kelly, senior exhibit designer, “So it changes every day…”

These citizen scientists were hobbyists and tinkerers with a great love and intense curiosity for the natural world. Much of the work that will be on display is from the 1800s. Without the information technologies we have today, these 19th century citizen scientists relied on publications, art, and their fellow enthusiasts to make their work known and to learn from others.

We asked Erica Kelly, senior exhibit designer at the NAT, who her favorite citizen scientist is so far: “Probably Edward Lear. He was best-known for his nonsense poetry, most famously The Owl and the Pussycat! But he was actually an extraordinary natural history artist (you can see some of his work here). We’ll be featuring a copy of this volume about the natural history of turtles and tortoises, for which he did the lithograph prints, and they are gorgeous.” In the upcoming exhibit, rare books, art, photographs, maps, and historical documents will be displayed to highlight early naturalists and the impact their work and observations had on science as we know it today.

Library model opening.These are stories of ordinary people who did and created extraordinary things. You truly can find Makers throughout history!

The NAT is one of ten fantastic museums that will be hosting exhibitors for Maker Faire San Diego Oct 3+4. They are also teaching the next generation of Museum Makers. You can see the results of their Exhibit Makers Summer Camp, Astounding Adaptations, now open on Level 1 of the Museum.