In the heart of Seattle’s U-District lives the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. It began as a club of young naturalists with a passion for collecting all types of specimens; over time it became a tangible catalog of natural history, a conglomerate of objects that help us see Earth and its creatures over a timeline much longer than our own. Today the Burke is a hub of research and public education.
Before my visit I didn’t realize just how important museums are for preserving natural history and contributing to scientific discovery. What we see in the displays as we browse the aisles is only a tiny percentage of what the museum actually holds. The Burke has one of the largest tissue sample collections in the world, specifically avian tissue samples. With so many specimens at hand, scientists are able to understand how the tissue of, say, a modern Pileated Woodpecker differs from that of a 100 year old woodpecker, and so on. Beyond public education, museums are vital in preserving history so that we might study it and understand how our world and the creatures on it change over time.