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Expanded natural history museum reopens April 29

by David Colberg - April 23, 2007

The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History will celebrate its recent expansion with a reopening event together with the new Connecticut Archaeology Center on April 29.

This public open house will feature a “first look” at the Museum’s new permanent exhibit, Humans’ Nature: Looking Closer at the Relationships between People and the Environment.

The exhibit explores how the natural history of Southern New England has shaped the lives of the people who live here – and how people have, in turn, shaped the environment.

“The Humans’ Nature exhibit is interdisciplinary, and introduces visitors to a group of fascinating scholars and their work here in New England,” says Leanne Kennedy Harty, director of the Museum.

The exhibit is composed of four different story-stations that look closer at the complex connections between the environment and the people of Southern New England over time.

“We know that the ways people live and work are reflected throughout history in the changing landscape and environment,” she says.

“At the same time, human lives have continually been influenced by the region’s climate, geology, hydrology, and plant and animal life. Taking the long view on natural processes and the dynamic relationship between nature and human activity can give us important insights relevant to our lives today.”

Using a technique called “object theater,” museum exhibits planner Collin Harty weaves together original video, historic images and documents, artifacts, and biological specimens to help reveal what scientific and historical research explains about the changing landscape in this region.

Robert Thorson, professor of geology, contributed to The Natural History of Work component of the exhibit and helps visitors explore the far-reaching impact Connecticut’s geology has had on the state’s history and its people.

State Historian Walter Woodward, an assistant professor of history, is featured in the Natural History of Comfort component.

He explores the role that climate and natural resources have played in peoples daily lives.

David Wagner, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-director of the Center for Conservation and Biodiversity at UConn, helps explore The Natural History of Shopping, and how biodiversity and the evolutionary and adaptive strategies of animals have had an enormous impact on the products people buy.

Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, executive director for cultural and community programs for the Mohegan Tribe, joins visitors to discuss The Natural History of Health.

She provides an introduction to the life of Mohegan Medicine Woman Gladys Tantaquidgeon, exploring intimate connections between the natural environment and human health.

Throughout the exhibit, Connecticut State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni helps visitors explore archeological perspectives on these topics. He also serves as the exhibit’s primary narrator.

Along with the new exhibit, the Museum’s fully renovated second floor includes two classrooms for multidisciplinary educational programs.

Field learning activities, labs and workshops, guest lecturers, and camps are some examples of the Museum’s programs for children and adults.

“For the first time ever, the Museum will be running classes and workshops in its own building,” says Cheri Collins, the Museum’s programs and collections manager.

After years of moving to various locations on the Storrs campus, in 2000 the Museum was approved to relocate to its permanent building on Hillside Road.

The building, constructed in 1923, is still remembered by some as the “Apple Sales Room,” as it was used for apple storage and sales when orchards occupied the land on the hill above.

Last summer, the second phase of construction began as the result of a successful funding partnership between the Museum’s private donors and the 21st Century UConn program, with each accounting for about half of the million-dollar project budget.

The museum raised additional funds for the new permanent exhibit, Humans’ Nature.

“The expansion of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and its new exhibits will help people of all ages improve their understanding of cultural and natural history,” said Bill Morlock, chairman of the Museum’s Board.

“With continuing support from members, and its connection to the University, the Museum and Archaeology Center will continue to grow,” said Bellantoni, “not only as an exceptional museum but as an important resource for the citizens of Connecticut and for students and faculty at UConn.”

The reopening event, which is open to the public, will take place on Sunday, April 29, from noon to 4 p.m.

The Museum’s regular hours of 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, will resume on May 1.

The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center are part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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