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Museum History

The Georgia Museum of Natural History

For many decades, the University of Georgia has maintained a number of natural history collections under the aegis of various academic departments. In 1978, the University formerly recognized these collections as the Museum of Natural History, and in 1999, the Georgia General Assembly recognized it as the official state museum of natural history. The Georgia Museum of Natural History is the repository for the preservation and study of the tangible evidence of history, culture and natural heritage of the state of Georgia and its people. 

The history of the museum stretches far beyond the late 20th century, however. In fact, the museum’s first collections date back to the early 1800s. Since the founding of UGA in 1785, both professors and students collected natural history specimens to aid in understanding the natural world around them. UGA’s first professor, Josiah Meigs, began a small collections of specimens between 1801-1810. Over time, the collections continued to grow as interest increased, moving across campus multiple times. The collections were also closely associated with the University’s library and botanical garden. Click here or on the image below to learn more about the development of the museum in the 1800s.

Recent research by GMNH Intern Megan McPherson has contributed to our knowledge of the early history of the museum.
Recent research by GMNH Intern Megan McPherson has contributed to our knowledge of the early history of the museum.

Museums and their collections are the scientific basis for our understanding of not only the past and present, but also the future. The collections are inventories of our cultural, biological and geological heritage. Many of the collections contain unique historical records of locations and species, some of which are now destroyed, extinct, rare or endangered. Collections in archaeology, entomology, botany, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrates, mammalogy, mycology, ornithology, and zooarchaeology exceed five million objects. 

Teaching is a primary mission of the Georgia Museum of Natural History. Specimens are used by University of Georgia instructors and students in numerous disciplines, ranging from scientific illustration to wildlife management. The Museum offers a number of exploration kits as resources for educators. The kits include specimens such as skeletons and skins as well as thematic books, posters and videos. A teacher's guide contains materials, lesson plans and suggested activities. Teacher workshops, internships, collections and museum management courses are also offered through the Museum. 

The Museum's collections support research in disciplines from A to Z-anthropology to zooarchaeology. Specimens in the collections serve as data points, providing information about fungi, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, rocks, minerals, fossils, pottery and other archaeological artifacts-reference points for study and measurement of change. Research supported by the Museum aids students, faculty, state and federal agencies in understanding and conserving our natural resources, describing and preserving native species diversity and abundance, as well as providing important clues about past peoples and cultures in Georgia. 

At the beginning of the 21st century, less than two million species had been identified and described. Recent studies in the rain forests have indicated there may be more than 30 million species of insects alone! While we don't know the number of species on Earth, we do know that hundreds, perhaps thousands of species, are becoming extinct each year. Public service and outreach programs, activities, services, tours and special events help citizens learn, understand and appreciate Georgia's natural history. In a broader sense, they serve as a conduit and platform for environmental education, conservation, biodiversity, habitat protection and related global issues. 

Inquiries about tours, programs, membership and volunteer opportunities are welcome. For additional information please write, call, e-mail or visit or web site. 

The Georgia Museum of Natural History

Corner of Cedar Street and East Campus Road

The University of Georgia

Athens, GA 30602-1882



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