Creating The Public Exhibits

Text: "Creating the public exhibits".

Exhibit Makers

Throughout the first few decades of the museum’s history, curators and assistants were busy sorting through collections. While the museum mainly focused on academic research and teaching, it also included public galleries where visitors might glimpse the collections. Creating the public exhibits could be a slow process, and it often took years to select specimens and prepare displays. Women assistants played a significant role in creating these exhibits, and they were involved at all stages of the process.

Paleontology Collections, 1890s

During the 1890s, Elvira Wood, Bertha Parker, and other assistants prepared many public exhibits at the museum. This work included selecting materials for exhibition, mounting individual specimens on cardboard, and labeling each one. While the museum’s exhibits would continue to change throughout the twentieth century, their work was an essential early step in making the collections available to a broader public beyond students and research scientists. Pictured here is the crowded workspace of the Invertebrate Paleontology Department, where Wood spent her days cataloguing, labeling, and preparing specimens.

Courtesy of the Ernst Mayr Library ©President and Fellows of Harvard College

Museum of Comparative Zoology Paleontology Exhibits, 1890s

Like many nineteenth-century natural history museums, the Museum of Comparative Zoology—or “Agassiz’s Museum,” as it was popularly known—featured crowded galleries in order to display as many specimens as possible. While the museum would later divide up mammals, birds, and fossils, early exhibits featured numerous collections packed together, as in this gallery that contained specimens from the paleontology collection.

Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives ©President and Fellows of Harvard College

  • MCZ Classroom with Harvard Mastodon

  • Invertebrate Paleontology Department, 1888

  • MCZ Laboratory, 1892

  • Paleontology Department

  • MCZ Laboratory, 1892

  • MCZ Laboratory, 1892

  • MCZ Attic Classroom, 1892

  • MCZ Basement Classroom, 1892

  • Atlantic Fauna Exhibition, Invertebrates, 1892

  • Australian Mammals Gallery, 1892

  • European Fauna Exhibition, 1892

  • Systemic Collection of Birds Exhibition, 1892

  • Whale Skeleton Exhibit Display, 1892

  • Whale Skeleton Exhibit Display, 1892

  • MCZ Laboratory, 1892

  • MCZ Laboratory, 1892

  • Paleobotany Department, 1892

  • Paleobotany Department, 1892

  • South American Fauna Exhibit, 1892