The Rutgers Geology Museum: America’s first geology museum and the past 200 years of geoscience education
Lauren Neitzke-Adamo*, A.J. Blandford, Julia Criscione, Richard K. Olsson, Erika Gorder, 2018. "The Rutgers Geology Museum: America’s first geology museum and the past 200 years of geoscience education", Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making, Gary D. Rosenberg, Renee M. Clary, III
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The Rutgers Geology Museum is America’s first geology museum. Rocks, fossils, and minerals had been collected into “cabinets of curiosities” since first contact between Europeans and Native Americans, and beginning in the late eighteenth century, many of these small personal cabinets were expanded, organized, and made available to the public at natural history and philosophical societies in Philadelphia and Boston. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, geology was widely recognized as an important new science that influenced the organization of collections on display at the growing number of colleges, academies, societies, lyceums, and museums that began popping up all over the United States, but it was not until 1872 that the first museum dedicated specifically to geology was built at Rutgers College. Rutgers University, known as Rutgers College until 1924, is itself one of the oldest colleges in America. Originally chartered as Queens College in the British colony of New Jersey in 1766, Rutgers, along with Harvard (1636), William and Mary (1693), Yale (1701), University of Pennsylvania (1740), Columbia (1754), Princeton (1755), Brown (1764), and Dartmouth College (1769), was among the nine colonial colleges founded before the American Revolution.
Since its inception, the Rutgers Geology Museum’s primary mission has been to educate the public on natural history–related topics. How this was accomplished has varied greatly through the years and originated with the “cabinet” of minerals that was displayed to students, alumni, and professors in the days of Dr. Lewis Beck, the first geology professor at Rutgers College. Through the efforts of Dr. George Cook, professor and vice president of Rutgers College, Geology Hall was erected in 1872 as the permanent home for the collections, and the museum and its collections became the focal point of the natural history courses taught at the time. The many professors and curators who tended to the museum and its collections over the next half century helped shape and dictate the future of science and geology education at the university, and with the creation of the Department of Geology in 1931, the museum became a center of leading geologic research and the outlet to present the results to the community. Today, the museum strives to connect with the local K–12 and university communities to inspire the next generation of geoscientists to continue building upon the legacy that the many Rutgers University geologists worked so hard to build.
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Museums at the Forefront of the History and Philosophy of Geology: History Made, History in the Making
Natural history museums have evolved over the past 500 years to become vanguards of science literacy and thus institutions of democracy. Curiosity about nature and distant cultures has proven to be a powerful lure, and museums have progressively improved public engagement through increasingly immersive exhibits, participation in field expeditions, and research using museum holdings, all facilitated by new technology. Natural history museums have dispersed across the globe and demonstrated that public fascination with ancient life, vanished environments, exotic animals in remote habitats, cultural diversity, and our place in the cosmos is universal. This volume samples the story of museum development and illustrates that the historical successes of natural history museums have positioned them to be preeminent facilitators of science literacy well into the future.