Vibrant, wax-printed cotton fabrics like the one pictured above have been displayed and sold in the markets of West and Central Africa for generations. Highly sought-after as luxury goods, the textiles may seem quintessentially African to Western eyes, but in fact these dizzyingly intricate double-sided patterns reflect a complex history of cultural, colonial, and commercial interactions.
The market for these spectacular fabrics got its start in the 19th century, when beautifully patterned Javanese batik textiles made their way to Africa, brought first through Christian missionaries and later by West African soldiers who carried batik home as gifts from the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.
Read the full story on the Museum blog.
Today’s peek into the archives might take you a moment to figure out what you’re looking at.
"Mr. Bell working on devil fish manta" was photographed by Julius Kirschner in 1917. For many more archival images of the Museum’s exhibition preparation, head to the online Digital Special Collections.
Travel back in time and explore the Museum archives on October 5th!
Celebrate New York Archives Week by coming to the Museum Library to discover the Museum’s rich history of scientific exploration from around the world. Rarely seen collections of field notes, films, photography, artwork, and memorabilia will be on display to tell the hidden stories behind the Museum’s world-famous dioramas and exhibitions.
Watch early moving-image footage from historic Central Asiatic Expeditions to Mongolia, in which a team led by Roy Chapman Andrews discovers the first dinosaur eggs, or browse the original landscape studies painted in the field during Carl Akeley’s perilous expeditions to Africa. The Library staff will explain how these one-of-a-kind objects are cared for and give hands-on demonstrations of the new Digital Special Collections, an online endeavor to make the Library’s extensive image collection available for research and reference.
This event is part of the New York Archives Week, which runs October 5-11, 2014, an annual celebration aimed at informing the general public about the diverse array of archival materials available in the metropolitan New York region.
The tours, which run between 12 pm - 5 pm are free with Museum admission.
Today’s peek into the archives is headed back to school! “Public school class on guided tour" was taken by Robert Elwood Logan in 1947.
Did you ever come to the Museum as part of a school group? The American Museum of Natural History receives 500,000 visitors annually in school and camp groups. To plan your own group visit, check out our website.
Today’s peek into the archives takes us back to the Museum in 1910. “Sigurd Neandross painting figure in Haida ceremonial canoe, North Pacific Hall” was photographed by Thomas Lunt.
The Great Canoe has since been moved to the Museum’s Grand Gallery. At 63 feet long, the seaworthy Great Canoe is one of the Museum’s most popular artifacts. It was carved in the 1870s from the trunk of a single cedar tree, and features design elements from different Native American peoples of the Northwest Coast, notably Haida and Heiltsuk.
Learn more about the history of the Great Canoe.
Today’s peek into the archives shows us “Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Horsfall working on background of Wild Turkey Habitat Group, North American Bird Hall.” Photographed by Otis J. Wheelock in 1907.
For more images of diorama construction and more than 7,000 other archival images, head to our new online database Digital Special Collections.
Henry Fairfield Osborn, paleontologist and former president of the American Museum of Natural History, was born on this day in 1857.
When he arrived at the Museum in 1891, the Paleontology collections began their first period of substantial growth. Osborn was responsible for hiring several outstanding vertebrate paleontologists, including William Diller Matthew, William K. Gregory, Walter Granger, Jacob Wortman, and Barnum Brown.
Osborne became president of the Museum in 1908, and was the first Museum president trained as a scientist. Under the guidance of H. F. Osborn, the vertebrate paleontology collections grew through many expeditions. Notable among these were the dinosaur specimens collected in the Rockies and Alberta by Barnum Brown; the 1901 expedition to Egypt’s Fayum Basin; and the Central Asiatic Expeditions of the 1920s. Osborne served as the Museum president for 25 years.
See pictures of Henry Fairfield Osborn in the Digital Special Collections.
From the archives: “Visitor viewing ocean sunfish, Hall of Fishes” photographed by Thane L. Bierwert in 1948.
Find this and more than 7,000 other archival images on our new online database Digital Special Collections.
Laura Watson Benedict (1861–1932) was the first anthropologist to travel to the Philippines in 1906 to study the Bagobo people. In 1910, the Museum purchased Benedict’s collection of 2,534 Bagobo artifacts for $4,000 and she was hired to accession it.
Four years later, Benedict became the first woman to earn a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University, publishing her thesis, Bagobo Ceremonial Magic and Myth, in 1916. According to anthropologist Jay H. Bernstein in a 1985 article on Benedict, her study of the Bagobo “remains a forgotten treasure of 20th-century anthropology.”
Learn more about this pioneering anthropologist.
Are you going camping this summer? Check out images from our Digital Special Collections for some classic tent inspiration, from Museum expeditions, to indigenous campsites.
"Fish jumping, Turners River, Florida"
This beautiful photo was taken by Julian A. Dimock in 1908. Dimock, who donated over 3,400 photographic negatives to the Museum in 1920, traveled the Southern states over many years during Museum funded trips to Southern locations like The Everglades. Carrying heavy and cumbersome photographic equipment over challenging terrain, Dimock trained his lens on the people and landscape of the South.
See more of the Julian Dimock Collection in our Digital Special Collections.
In 1869, the year the Museum was incorporated, the Trustees turned to the critical task of building its collections. Within a few months, they sent Daniel Giraud Elliot, a noted ornithologist and naturalist, and Museum Trustee William T. Blodgett to negotiate the purchase of “certain collections of specimens in Natural History” in Europe.
Elliot and Blodgett ultimately purchased the collection of Prince Maximilian zu Wied (1782–1867), an explorer from the German principality of Wied-Neuwied. Prince Maximilian’s collection “is regarded as one of the most important private collections in Europe, and has long been consulted by the scientific world,” wrote Blodgett in his report. It was a fantastic opportunity for the nascent Museum to acquire specimens that would form the nucleus of its holdings.
The value of the Maximilian collection lay largely in its diversity and the rarity of its specimens, containing 4,000 mounted birds, 600 mounted mammals, and about 2,000 fishes and reptiles, either mounted or in alcohol. Researchers at the Museum still study these today.
Read the full story on the Museum’s blog.
The opening of the Akeley Hall of African Mammals in 1936 marked the birth of the golden age of the diorama. Named for Carl Akeley—the naturalist, explorer, and Museum taxidermist—the hall showcases large mammals of Africa.
At the center is a freestanding group of eight elephants, poised as if to charge, surrounded by 28 vivid habitat dioramas. These provide a glimpse of the diverse topography of Africa and its wildlife, from the Serengeti Plain to the waters of the Upper Nile to the volcanic mountains of what was once the Belgian Congo.
Learn more about the Akeley Hall of African Mammals.