Cal Museums: The Public, the Cryptic, the Pioneering

April 20, 2018

This article was written by Zoe Adams, an undergraduate freshman in the College of Letters and Science. She is an intended Molecular & Cell Biology major and intended Comparative Literature minor.

You may be aware that UC Berkeley has an impressive number of libraries (32 to be exact), but did you know that there are 12 museums/collections associated with the university as well? Many of these museums have curators who are also faculty in the College of Letters & Science, and many of our students end up working or volunteering with these collections. Cal Day is tomorrow (April 21), so in preparation, let’s take a look at what some of these hidden gems have to offer!

 

 

TriceratopsMuseum of Paleontology

Location:
VLSB, First Floor (look out for the giant T-Rex!)

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
The UCMP is only open one day a year for the public, which means hands-on activities and lectures galore! Of course, there are fossils for the dinosaur lovers in your life, but there are also plenty of other preserved fossils varying from teeny tiny diatoms to mammoths.

Fun Fact:
UCMP was one of the first museums in the world to have its own website in the 1990s. In fact, that site was nominated for a Webby Award five times and received a medal from the Smithsonian Institute.

 

 

Lawrence Hall of Science

Lawrence Hall of Science

Location:
Hills above UC Berkeley, One Centennial Drive (on Cal Day, get there free via shuttle bus).

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Admission will be free! Perfect for people of all ages to enjoy a sampling of science or simply enjoy a great view overlooking the Bay.

Fun Fact:
The Lawrence Hall of Science was founded by a man called the “Atom Smasher” (or more formally, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, inventor of the prototype of the cyclotron). Spotlight!

 

 

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

Location:
VLSB, Third Floor (level with the Pterodon).

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Displays, displays, displays! According to Christina Fidler, archivist and curator for the MVZ, it’s around this time of the year that “all the staff get very excited.” After all every graduate student, faculty, staff member—everyone features their favorite specimen and has their own display space. The public gets just a smidgen of the diverse collections and interests within this enormous museum. Keep an eye out especially for the archives’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-inspired rare book display, featuring a book from 1658!

California Academy of SciencesWhat is a research museum?
When first picturing a “museum,” especially a natural history museum, one might think of public displays and tours of grade schoolers. While this is the case for many museums, the MVZ, along with several other museums on campus (including the Museum of Paleontology), provides a glimpse into another category of museum, the research museum, a learning and discovery powerhouse.

The MVZ opened its doors on campus more than 100 years ago in 1908, established by philanthropist, explorer, and naturalist Annie Alexander and guided by the vision of biologist and zoologist Joseph Grinnell. Why did they decide to make the museum closed to the public? Long story short, it came to spacing, facilities, and a philosophical debate on what the museum hoped to achieve. Ultimately, the MVZ was destined to be a place to catalog, store, and actively research in the field of zoology, an idea that has held steadfast for over a century.

Museum of Vertebrate ZoologyWithin the museum there are countless research projects occurring at any given time. Highlights including Grinnell Resurvey Project, which focuses understanding how whole habitats have changed over time, and AmphibiaWeb, an online resource for amphibia lovers around the world which includes species descriptions, conservation information, all written by UC Berkeley researchers and undergraduates!

Fun Fact:
The second director of the MVZ, Alden H. Miller, grew up in Berkeley and his father was also involved in the museum. Because of this he had a large portion of his life documented and preserved, including his field notes from as early as age seven!

Another interesting feature is that the MVZ collection’s only university rival in size lies at Harvard—we’re currently neck-and-neck! From year to year depending on collection size it’s sometimes the largest.

 

 

UC Botanical GardensUC Botanical Garden

Location:
Hills above Berkeley campus, 200 Centennial Drive (on Cal Day, get there free via shuttle bus).

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Free garden admission all day! Plus, this collection has some extremely rare plants in it, along with many California native species! With everything alive, it’s the only collection like it on campus.

Fun Fact:
This living museum is home to over 10,000 types of plants organized geographically, allowing you to take a tour of the world in one garden! It also holds the Plant Rescue Station where illegally important plants are taken in and properly conserved.

 

 

UC Berkeley Essig Museum of EntomologyEssig Museum of Entomology

Location:
VLSB, First Floor (on Cal Day look for their courtyard display!)

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Their “Oh-My” collection of insects and arthropods from around the world will be on display, plus live stick insects! Of course, can’t forget the opportunity to discuss entomology with various professors, staff, and students of Cal.

Fun Fact:
This museum is home to the largest collection of California insects in the world (which certainly weren’t collected on the fly), but also expands to include specimens from all over North America and the Pacific!

 

 

UC & Jepson HerbariaThe University and Jepson Herbaria

Location:
VLSB, First Floor (look out for plants!)

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Tours and interactive exhibits for all ages. Previous years have included wildflower displays and plant mounting activities.

Fun Fact:
The museum makes a special effort to climate-control their collections and maintain positive air pressure. Why positive air pressure? This helps reduce risk of specimens being damaged by museum pests such as dermestid beetles, a species which can consume almost anything on a carcass!

 

 

Phoebe Hearst Museum of AnthropologyPhoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Location:
102 Kroeber Hall.

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
In addition to the regular stunning exhibits, there will be 3D collections with immersive visualization as well as performances by the De Rompe y Raja Cultural Association and Nimely Pan African Dance Company.

Fun Fact:
The museum was renamed from “University of California Museum of Anthropology” to “PAHMA” in 1991 to recognize the contribution of Phoebe A. Hearst, the philanthropist, feminist, and suffragist founder of this museum (and first woman regent of UC Berkeley!).

 

 

Magnes MuseumMagnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life

Location:
One block west of campus, 2121 Allston Way.

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
Check out any of the numerous exhibits, including “The Invisible Museum: History and Memory of Morocco” and “High Holy Days at the Luna Park: Show-card Posters from the Firschein Press” (both of which will continue to be on display until June).

Fun Fact:
Though it was almost merged with the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco in the early 2000s, the collection remained independent until integrated into UC Berkeley in 2010. It is now the third largest collection of Judaica in the United States!

 

 

The Old BAMPFABerkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Location:
One street west of campus, 2155 Center Street.

What to look forward to on Cal Day:
The current works on display as well as panel discussions on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s book Dictee and Bay Area artist Carlos Villa.

Fun Fact:
27 years after its completion, the first BAMPFA building on Bancroft Way was deemed to be seismically unsafe, leading to the commission of the new, Art Deco-style BAMPFA that we see today which opened in 2016. The New BAMPFA

 

Can’t make Cal Day? No worries, though some museums may only be open once a year there are still numerous opportunities to get involved with them, from volunteering to enrolling in classes. Check out more at any of the links provided for events coming at each in the near future.

For additional reference, the following museums are open year-round:

  • UC Botanical Garden
  • BAMPFA
  • Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology
  • Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
  • Lawrence Hall of Science