Our Perspective

The Past

For more than 137 years, the Museum has played a major role in the community, and, in essence, the Museum's history parallels that of San Diego. Amateur naturalists settling into the growing city of San Diego in the last quarter of the 19th century were eager to study and learn about the land in which they were living. Practical information, specimen collection, and scientific discussion were major goals of the founders of the San Diego Society of Natural History in 1874. Researchers and curators over the last 137 years have documented the biologic and geologic history of the San Diego region, and have shaped the cultural history of San Diego through the establishment of major institutions and parks.

Historically, the Natural History Museum has promoted the appreciation of our unique environment, and has acted as a catalyst in nature preservation. The San Diego Zoo, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Anza-Borrego State Park, and the Torrey Pines Reserve were all founded with participation of Natural History Society members. Museum researchers and Museum publications have played a crucial role in the conservation of natural resources in the past. The protection of the California pinnipeds and of the gray whales, to give only two examples, owe a lot to Museum researchers such as Joseph W. Sefton, Clinton Abbott, and Raymond Gilmore. The natural history expeditions of George Lindsay, Reid Moran, and many others, led to the development of awareness of the need to protect the islands of the Sea of Cortés and the Pacific Islands of Mexico and California. The field station in Bahía de Los Ángeles and papers published by our Museum have been critically important in drawing the attention of conservationists towards many fragile natural areas that are now protected. The Museum has proved in the past that natural history research is vital to understand and protect our changing environments; this historic legacy marks the way for our research into the future.

The Present

Our collections house more than 7.2 million specimens dating from the 1870s. These collections provide a 137-year database of available biological and geological information of the area, and are valuable to members of the systematics community worldwide. National Science Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services grants for collections improvements in recent years testify to the national and international significance of our research collections.

In addition to supporting basic research, the collections are of documented value for applications by biologists, paleontologists, archeologists, and planners with environmental firms and governmental agencies. Our collections are also the basis for international collaborations with research institutions and universities in Mexico, and especially in Baja California.

Our library contains over 55,000 volumes and serves Museum staff and research associates, Museum members and visitors, and visiting scholars and students. The Museum's website of over 22,000 pages features increasing amounts of information about the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias (BRCC) and our regional natural history.

Like other natural history museums, the San Diego Natural History Museum struggled in the 1970s and 1980s to understand the role we might play, in light of the growing environmental and conservation movements, to best serve our community's changing needs. Like other museums around the world, the Museum underwent a self-examination process to ensure relevance for the 21st-century citizenry.

In addition to identifying the current and future needs of the community, this exercise also enumerated the existing and potential strengths of the Museum. The process led to a comprehensive Strategic Plan which the Museum Board adopted in 1992. The ten-year plan gave new direction to the Museum, refocused the institution on its regional mission, and created a vision that will help build a natural history museum for the next century.

Our strategic plan has provided us a blueprint with which to carry out the Museum's mission and a vision of a museum that offers programs that are timely, user-friendly, and relevant to the real-life needs of the diverse populations of our region. In carrying out our mission, we seek to emphasize our unique and diverse region within a global perspective, while striving to provide leadership in natural history research relevant to our region.

The Future

BRCC strives to become a cutting-edge research institution, positioning the Natural History Museum among those organizations that publish high-quality scientific research on southern California and Baja California. Through collections-based research we will strive to promote the understanding of the evolution and diversity of southern California and the peninsula of Baja California. Our research and our publications will be fundamentally region-oriented, collection-based, and driven by evolutionary hypotheses. BRCC will also work to develop active binational cooperative agreements on research and collection management. We will endeavor to link our research with education and conservation within our region, as well as to facilitate and promote cross-border dialogue and collaboration for the preservation of biodiversity and natural resources in Baja California and southern California.

For more than 137 years, the Museum has served as a leader for the preservation and interpretation of scientific specimens that document the biodiversity of our area. With its scientific knowledge and extensive specimen collection, its educational expertise and its exhibition capabilities, the Museum is well situated to be a driving force in natural history research by capitalizing on the potential of its outstanding collections and by continuing to develop a deep field expertise no other regional institution can duplicate. We recognize the need to make our population aware of the biological and geological uniqueness of our region, and to help develop informed opinion and decision-making about environmental issues.