American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world with a mission commensurately monumental in scope. The entire museum spans 4 city blocks and consists of some 25 interconnected buildings. Though today the phrase “natural history” is restricted to the study of animal life, the museum—founded in 1869 on the heels of discoveries by Darwin and other Victorians—uses it in its original sense: that is, the study of all natural objects, animal, vegetable and mineral.
Explorer, the amNH’s interactive application for the iPhone and iPod Touch, serves as a navigational tool through the museum’s 570,000 square feet and provides in-depth tours through the halls and a scavenger hunt option. The museum has about 360 devices that can be borrowed during a visit.
The museum’s scientists study the diversity of Earth’s species, life in the ancient past and the universe. The museum contains more than 40 exhibition halls, displaying a portion of the institution’s 32 million specimens and artifacts, many in lifelike dioramas. The exhibition program rotates as much of this material into public view as possible.
See the museum in a “Treasures of New York” special that shows the museum’s amazing exhibits and goes behind the scenes with scientists who work there.
Possessing the most scientifically important collection of dinosaurs and fossil vertebrates in the world, the museum has six halls that tell the story of vertebrate evolution. The public’s favorites include the Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus. Also on view in the Roosevelt rotunda is the tallest free-standing dinosaur exhibit in the world, which has been remounted to reflect current scientific theory about dinosaur behavior. This tableau depicts a massive mother Barosaurus trying to protect her calf from an attacking Allosaurus.
The Hall of Biodiversity is devoted to the most pressing environmental issues of our time: the critical need to preserve the variety and interdependence of Earth’s living things. Other permanent exhibits, known for their striking dioramas portraying people and animals on indigenous ground, include the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, the Hall of Asian Peoples, the Hall of African Peoples, the Hall of South American Peoples, the Spizter Hall of Human Origins, the Hall of North American Mammals, the Hall of African Mammals, the Hall of Ocean Life, the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and the Hall of North American Birds. For geology buffs there are also the separate halls of meteorites, minerals and gems.
The stunning Rose Center for Earth and Space is a $200 million glass box created by architect James Stewart Polshek. Enclosing a great white sphere, it opened to international acclaim in early 2000. The center features the Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway, where each step equals about 75 million years of cosmic evolution; the Scales of the Universe, which illustrates the vast range in sizes in our universe; the Cullman Hall of the Universe, focusing on discoveries in modern astrophysics; and the new Hayden Planetarium—the world’s most technologically advanced—which offers an absorbing three-dimensional tour of the universe and a multisensory re-creation of the Big Bang.
The first wing, the Romanesque Revival exposure running along West 77th Street, dates from 1872 and is based on a design by Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould. In 1892 the two turrets, central granite stairway and arcade of arches were added based on a design by J. C. Cady & Co. The 77th Street entrance leads to the Grand Gallery, which holds the 63-foot-long Great Canoe, carved from the trunk of a single large cedar tree. It was acquired in 1883 was created by craftsmen from more than one of the First Nations of British Columbia.
As one of the world’s preeminent scientific research institutions, the museum sponsors more than 100 field expeditions each year, including ongoing research projects in Chile, China, Cuba, French Guiana, Madagascar, Mongolia and New Guinea. It maintains three permanent field stations: Great Gull Island, St. Catherine’s Island and the Southwestern Research Station.
Children’s Workshops: The museum offers a variety of participatory weekend workshops for children, primarily during the school year. Topics range from A Whale’s Tail (for children age 4, accompanied by a parent) to Human Origins (for children ages 10 to 12). The schedule and offerings change seasonally.
Multicultural Programs: Some of these programs, which feature an international roster of performances, lectures, film programs and participatory workshops, are appropriate for older, more mature students who have a sustained attention span.
Discovery Room: Hands-on activities in a special room for children ages 5 to 9 and adults. Open the last weekend of every month October through July.
Programs at the Museum
Multicultural Programs: Weekend and evening performances, talks, films, craft workshops and lecture demonstrations that impart information on diverse cultural traditions and issues are offered throughout the year. Past programs have included Indigenous Peoples Celebration, Women’s History Month and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. School programs that enable students to experience cultures through the arts, in conjunction with their curriculum, are also offered.
Field Trips: The museum offers two types of field trips: guided visits with Teacher Volunteers through a specific exhibition hall or halls, and self-guided trips conducted by classroom teachers. School groups must register with the museum. For an extra fee, field trips can include “add-ons” such as an IMAX film or special exhibition.
Programs in Schools
The Moveable Museum: Developed through a partnership that includes the museum and six other New York City cultural and scientific institutions, this program visits the city’s schools. The free, all-day program for elementary and junior high school students, comprises an exhibition installed in a refitted recreational vehicle and supplementary interactive workshops. Teachers are required to attend a preliminary workshop. Reservations must be made by school principals or assistant principals, and are limited to two reservation dates per school. October and Janaury are limited to one reservation date per school.
Junior High/High School Assemblies: Museum science educators are available to visit schools and present a program to assemblies or other large groups. Programs include videotape screening and talk.
Programs for Teachers
Various workshops help teachers of children in Kindergarten through grade 12 create meaningful, self-guided class visits to the museum. Programs include a viewing of videos or slides, an examination of artifacts and specimens and a tour of the appropriate exhibiton halls. Resource lists and curriculum materials are provided.