Paper No. 335-6
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM
THE JOE WEBB PEOPLES MUSEUM PROJECT AT WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY (MIDDLETOWN, CT)
Wesleyan University (1831) sought to put natural sciences on an equal footing to the classics. In 1871 the Wesleyan Museum of Natural History opened in Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences, with archaeological, ethnographic, geological and paleontological collections. Samuel Ward Loper, curator in the museum’s heydays (1893-1910), contributed Triassic-Jurassic Connecticut fossils (dinosaur footprints, fish, insects, plants), many collected by himself. He also brought fossils from Lagerstätte in the US West, such as Florissant (Eocene), the Green River Formation (Eocene), Mazon Creek (Carboniferous), Crawfordsville (Carboniferous) and the Harding Sandstone (Ordovicium). He traded Connecticut fossils with European colleagues, obtaining specimens from Solnhofen limestone (Jurassic) and Oeningen (Miocene). In 1957 the museum was thought to be no longer relevant, and thousands of specimens were disposed, sent to other museums, or temporarily stored. Minerals and fossils were moved to the Exley Science Center in 1970, in part placed in the Joe Webb Peoples Museum, in part in storage space, classrooms, and underground tunnels. In 2017, we started to catalog and inventory the fossils and plaster casts, recovering objects of which it had not been known they were present. We put information in spread sheets, recovering data from hand written accession books and card catalogs. There are 1000s of unique specimens, collected in the late 1800s-early 1900s, but the museum is little known; only a small part of the collection is used in teaching. The whereabouts of specimens is not known to the paleontological community: e.g., type material of the Connecticut ichnofossil Otozoum longicaudatus was thought to have been lost, and the location of Ward Loper’s collection of the problematicum Dictyorhabdus priscus was unknown. We intend to put all specimen information in a publicly available database (Specify), digitize the collections, and renew and innovate exhibits. We set up a museum blog and twitter feed to advertise the museum broadly, and plan to integrate the invaluable collections into interdisciplinary teaching and education/outreach programs. In a liberal arts setting, historical collections can become a focus of student investigation, combining paleontology, history of science, archaeology and arts.