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Harvard Museum of Natural History Commemorates 150th Anniversary of Founding of Museum of Comparative Zoology: Renovated Great Mammal Hall Reopens October 16, 2009

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard Museum of Natural History unveils Phase I of the renovation of the historic Great Mammal Hall, which reopens to the public on October 16, 2009. In addition, the museum will present a series of free public lectures focusing on the past, present, and future of natural history museums.

Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology was founded by the Swiss geologist and ichthyologist Louis Agassiz, then a professor at Harvard, in November 1859, the same month that Charles Darwin published his famed On the Origin of Species. The extensive collections and exhibition halls of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University embody Louis Agassiz’s dream of creating a museum in Cambridge to rival the leading institutions in Europe. The museum displays more than 12,000 specimens, including about 500 mammals, most all acquired in the 19th century, as well as dinosaurs, birds, reptiles, and a dazzling array of invertebrates, all drawn from the University’s vast research collections. 

The Great Mammal Hall, a two-story gallery, some 60 feet long by 40 feet wide, is the oldest and most dramatic gallery in the museum, with a 19th century arrangement of specimens that includes a full-sized giraffe, a bison, a narwhal, and three whale skeletons suspended from the rafters. Some creatures on display here, such as the Tasmanian tiger and the Steller’s sea cow, have now become extinct. On the balcony, visitors can find specimens from Harvard's extensive collection of North American birds and can examine close-up the impressive toothed jaw of the Sperm Whale and the baleen of the Right Whale.

“In some ways, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is a museum of the history of museums”, said Elisabeth Werby, Executive Director. “Visitors can view historic specimens in the context of modern, interactive exhibitions such as the new EVOLUTION or Language of Color exhibits, and also experience the older galleries, which except for 20th century climate-control, are much as they have been for decades. We are excited to reopen the Great Mammal Hall, renovated to its 19th century appearance, with updated signage and lighting. We think this gallery will be even more awe-inspiring today than it was when it first opened.”

150th Anniversary of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) Lecture Series
A series of three lectures by prominent museum scientists and professionals will commemorate both the MCZ’s proud, and sometimes notorious, past and its promising future. Lectures are free and open to the public.

Thursday, October 15, 6:00 pm  
The Brick Ark: Celebrating the MCZ’s First 150 Years and the Beginning of the Next 150
Lecture by James Hanken

Tuesday, October 27, 6:00 pm
Natural History Museums and Society
Lecture by Cristián Samper

Thursday, November 5, 6:00 pm  
Natural History Museums in the Environmental Century
Lecture by Michael Novacek


Harvard Museum of Natural History
With a mission to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the human place in it, the Harvard Museum of Natural History draws on the University’s collections and research to present a historic and interdisciplinary exploration of science and nature. More than 175,000 visitors annually make it the University’s most-visited museum.

Open daily, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford Street, a short walk from the MBTA Red Line Harvard Square station. For information, please call 617.495.3045 or see the Plan your visit page

The press release is available for download in pdf format
Take a virtual of the renovated Great Mammal Hall.