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University Natural History Museums: Portals of Discovery in the Anthropocene

October 24, 2017 @ 6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

A conversation between:

James Hanken – Director, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Diarmaid O Foighil –¬†Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, U-M


Many of the world’s great universities have natural history museums founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Faculty curators are often called upon to justify the considerable expense associated with the maintenance of enormous collections under their care. The research and educational value of these collections resides in their wealth of identified biological specimens, collected from natural populations at known times and locations. That value compounds with time because they increasingly represent populations, species, biological communities and ecosystems that no longer exist. Using museum collections, modern scientists can in effect time travel by accessing otherwise unavailable genomic and ecological information from collection specimens that allow us to track change through time.


This ability has never been more needed: our impact on the planet’s biota, climate and ecosystems is such that profound ecological change, AKA the Anthropocene, is upon us.¬†University natural history museums can play a key role in documenting that change, determining its scope and, via online outreach, communicating results to a global audience. The value and potency of university-based natural history museums may be greater now than ever before.


James Hanken is Director of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University. After earning A.B. and Ph.D. degrees in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley, he did postdoctoral work in developmental biology at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, and then assumed a faculty position at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Professor Hanken moved to Harvard in 1999, where he is also a professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and a member of the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine Program. A member of the Executive Committee of the Encyclopedia of Life and a recognized teacher, he has authored more than 130 scientific publications and edited four books, and is also an accomplished nature and scientific photographer.


Diarmaid O’Foighil is Director of the Museum of Zoology and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. Professor O’Foighil obtained a B.Sc. in zoology from NUI Galway, Ireland, in 1981 and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Victoria, Canada, in 1987. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1995, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington, and Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, and a research scientist at the University of South Carolina. He has served as the president of the American Malacological Society and on the editorial boards of Evolution and Malacologia.


*Note, this event will be held at the Rackham Graduate School building (on the 4th floor, West Conference Room)


Co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Bicentennial


Hanken and O’Foighil announcement


October 24, 2017
6:30 pm - 7:30 pm
Event Category:


Rackham Graduate School
915 E. Washington Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 United States
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