The American Museum of Natural History, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, is one of the largest museums in the world. Four city blocks make up its 45 exhibition halls, which hold more than 30 million artifacts from the land, sea, and outer space, in addition to a planetarium and a library.
This museum held so many points of interest, and the collections were so extensive - after doing a quick round of what was on display, I had trouble choosing which to narrow my focus to for my blog. In the end I decided to write about David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth, because I felt it was a quintessential example of a typical exhibit you'd encounter at this particular museum.
The Hall of Planet Earth, located in the Rose Center for Earth and Space, displays an outstanding collection of geological specimens from around the world, whose prime purpose is to holistically in this exhibit dedicated to the understanding of our planet. The hall is organized around five major questions: How has the Earth evolved? Why are there ocean basins, continents, and mountains? How do we read rocks? What causes climate and climate change? Why is the Earth habitable? As you tour around the exhibit, engaging almost all your senses as you read, view and touch objects, you gradually accumulate information, and gain a better understanding about Planet Earth.
This exhibit is one of the most rich in historical artifacts. The hall features 168 rock specimens and 11 full-scale models of classic outcrops. Featured specimens come from nearly all corners of the globe and include pure sulfur formed in an Indonesian volcano, a fossil stromatolite from the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, and a rock from New York City’s Central Park. The hall’s oldest specimen is a zircon crystal from Australia that formed about 4.3 billion years ago, only 200 million years after Earth itself.
My experience at the Natural History Museum was unique in that it was the one most conducive to learning. Whereas the other exhibits, especially those displaying art collections, the goal of the experience is to make the viewer feel a certain way or to encourage them to think about the art and its greater conceptual meanings, this intention of this exhibit was purely educational.
One thing that I took note of was the interactive aspect of this exhibit. There are very few barricades or stanchions. The space is super kid-friendly, they allow you to roam about freely and engage with the different pieces on display. Interactive exhibits let visitors explore geologic time, peer into the planet’s depths, and understand the scientific methods used to study it. Each area of the exhibit also doesn't have an excessive amount of writing, and where there is writing it's accompanied by visual aids. Color and form come together in vivid infographics that come together to illustrate an important aspect of Earth’s dynamic story.