While PJ and I were in Boston last month, I visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s attached to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, so I visited both museums while PJ was attending his conference, the American Literature Association.

Most of the museums I’ve visited in the past few years have been art or history museums. A few years ago I visited the Field Museum in Chicago, which was really impressive and interesting. I enjoyed that museum so much that I decided to check out these museums in Cambridge when I had a free morning to look around on my own.

The HMNH is similar to the Field Museum in that it has several rooms of taxidermied animals to look at. I generally feel a little weird about these displays. On the one hand, they offer a relatively up close look at animals we would otherwise never get to see. On the other hand, it feels like a lot of animals died for what amounts to little more than idle curiosity. Having two adorable cats has definitely changed my mind about the expendability of animal life.

The animals in this picture are hummingbirds. This case isn’t huge, but it’s the size of a large bookshelf. As you can see, there are rows and rows of hummingbirds of many different varieties. Being able to see these birds up close is really interesting. It’s hard to believe that there are this many species of hummingbirds in the world. One effect of a display like this is, ironically, to impress upon the viewer just how vast and diverse and full of life the world is. I left this museum feeling very small and insignificant in the vast scope of things.

The museum also has displays of fossils, dinosaurs, African animals, fish, other birds, South American animals, and whales.There is also a room devoted to evolution and one presenting exhibits about the “language of color” in the animal kingdom.

Two other rooms that impressed me were the exhibits on minerals, gems, and meteorites and the room containing glass flowers.

Here’s my picture of the minerals room:

It’s not a huge room, but I especially enjoyed the large sample of gypsum. Here’s a closer look:

This mineral is massive in size. It too impressed me with just how small and insignificant we humans are in the vastness of geologic time!

And finally, the single most impressive part of the museum is the Ware Collection of Glass Flowers. These models of plants were created in the nineteenth century to serve as teaching devices. It’s hard to believe that they are made out of glass when you see them on display. I didn’t get a good picture of the exhibit, so here are two postcards that I scanned.

They don’t really capture the beauty of these flowers; this exhibit alone is worth the price of admission to the museum. They’re amazing!

I enjoyed my visit to the HMNH and recommend it to others. It’s smaller than the Field Museum or similar museums in New York City and Washington, D.C. It’s perfect for families — several families with small children were there while I was there; they seemed to really enjoy it too.

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