Our Museums

What is unique about the Berkeley Natural History Museums?

The BNHM provide a uniquely unified approach to the study and dissemination of all aspects of cultural/human and biological diversity, from molecular evolution to human prehistory.


The BNHM collections are valued as the most complete holdings anywhere of living and extinct California flora and fauna. This is especially significant to biologists because California is ecologically one of the most diverse regions on the globe, and it is home to a disproportionately large number of species. In addition, California is the most diverse area of Native North America. The anthropology holdings reflect this regional strength, containing the largest and best-documented collection of California Indian pre- and post-contact materials in the world. The museums also have major collections from adjacent regions of western North America, Mexico, and parts of Central America and South America, as well as from many other parts of the world. Their collection strengths reflect the research focus of its curators and students. For example, the systematic anthropology collections of ancient Peruvian and Egyptian materials have established the chronologies for their disciplines.


Robert Stebbins’ field notebook excerpt- study of Ensatina eschscholtzii

Berkeley acquisitions are unusually well documented. Joseph Grinnell, MVZ’s founding director, set the tone that journal writings on natural history observations was a serious responsibility of the field biologists. Research can be linked not only to the organisms or artifacts themselves, but also to tissue samples for molecular studies of evolution, field notes, maps, photographs, and exhibits. Work in many of the collections is the product of graduate and faculty study; this generates even more well-documented data adding value and possibilities for novel uses in the future.

Research and Curation

Berkeley’s anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and systematists have published thousands of research papers over the last 100 years based on the collections, and have educated hundreds of graduate students who have in turn become leading scholars in their fields. Undergraduates participate in almost all aspects of museum curation and field work, either as research apprentices or assistants. Besides advancing new theory, affiliated scientists have pioneered new approaches in curation, plant propagation, and public education. Our collections are used daily by the broader scientific community and historians of science.

University Setting

Sather Gate and Campanile, UC Berkeley

The location of six world-class collections at the nation’s leading public university creates an intellectual climate conducive to new insights across traditional disciplinary boundaries, and provides undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students with an unparalleled richness of opportunities to explore and experiment. And UC’s premier standing enables researchers and their students to stay abreast of new developments, methods and technologies available in related fields including biochemistry, genetics, forensics, geophysics, and computer science.