Growth of a Natural History Museum on the Prairie: The University of Nebraska State Museum, 1871-1996

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Myers, Thomas P.
Other International and Area Studies
article description
Since its founding in 1871, the University of Nebraska State Museum has been a leader in the study of the natural history of the plains and prairies of the central United States. Its history can be divided into three eras: 1)founding and first steps in a struggling new university (1871-1891); 2) the Barbour-Schultz era (1891-1970) when research focused on vertebrate paleontology and exhibition became a major focus; and 3) recent history (1970-present) beginning with the consolidation of university collections in 1970, the professionalization of museum staff, and increased access through computerization. Research and public exhibits have been prominent components throughout the history of the museum. The success of the UNSM is based on at least five important factors: 1) its long history of public exhibition giving the Museum a high profile with substantial public support; 2) the high quality of its scientific research contributing to the growth and importance of the collections; 3) the regular participation of faculty in teaching and students in collections research; 4) the fact that museum faculty responsibilities are primarily to the museum, focusing their attention on the use and development of the collections; and 5) the fact that the museum director reports directly to the vice-chancellor for research rather than to a dean or department chair, thus making the case for the museum at a high administrative level.