The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in Manhattan, the place of enchanting dioramas and all things scientific, has just released its Digital Special Collections, an online image database of 7,000 photographs from the museum’s 145-year history.
From a camel caravan in 1925 Mongolia to anthropological images of Italian immigrants at Ellis Island, these photos reveal an era of expeditions and exploration, of anthropological discovery and of species documentation. The archive also includes engravings, maps, and sketches from the museum’s rare books collection, where you can see an illustration of the life cycle of a butterfly or the highly useful “scheme of colours from Harris’ Exposition of English insects.”
Most people, of course, will simply remember the dioramas. Kids in New York, along with scores of tourists, maintain a certain nostalgia for AMNH’s legendary dioramas of rare, unfamiliar, or ordinary animals–from majestic elks in mountain landscapes to bull-frogs in their watery habitats. These dioramas of creatures taxidermied and posing in regionally distinct topographies and in climates that seem unlivable–are often the closest visitors come to seeing the real thing.
This was especially true before the days of commercial safaris and Animal Planet. People have been gawking at these hand-fabricated dioramas since they were built in the early 20th century. So, in our happy tribute, we’ve rounded up some of the best photos from the museum’s newly released collection, including a shot of kids in (awesome) dorky striped knee-highs pointing at polar bears in 1927, a candid snap of the painter of the Congo Forest backdrop at work in 1932, and images of early clay models of wild boars from 1911.