History of UMMZ
In 1837, during the initial session of the legislature just after Michigan achieved statehood, a Cabinet of Natural History was authorized, the first such authorization in a U.S. public university. Thereafter, collections accumulated rapidly to such size that they were organized into a formal museum in 1882 and assembled together in a new building.
At first the collections were principally from Michigan, a result of the State Geological Survey. However, they quickly became national and international in scope as results of a gift of the important Trowbridge Collection from the Smithsonian Institution and large collections from the Beal and Steere expedition of 1870 - 1875 to South America and the Philippines. By 1895 the natural history collections had grown large enough to require the appointment of a Director and a Curator, Jacob Reighard and Dean C. Worcester, respectively. However, the modern history of the Museum can be said to have begun with the appointment of the ecologist C. C. Adams as Director in 1903, and particularly with the appointment of his student Alexander G. Ruthven as Curator in 1906.
In 1922, Professor Ruthven became Director of the Museum of Zoology (the name was changed from Museum of Natural History by the University Regents in 1913), a post he held until becoming President of the University of Michigan in 1929, just one year after the new building housing the present Museum of Zoology was completed. Alexander Ruthven was a visionary scientist and administrator who stressed that museums should push in new directions reflecting changes in the field of systematic biology. During its early years, the Museum of Zoology was fortunate to attract many avocational naturalists, some of whom became quite well known for their studies of various groups of organisms and also became significant benefactors of the Museum of Zoology. This group included Bryant Walker, Calvin Goodrich, E. B. Williamson, Bradford H. Swales, William G. Fargo, William W. Newcomb, William P. Harris, and, more recently, Frank E. Ammermann. Besides contributing to the intellectual life of the Museum, these men were responsible for starting the publications series, financing expeditions, and purchasing some important collections.
Present-day University Museums Building
The organization of the Museum of Zoology into its present format of six divisions occurred during the appointment of A. G. Ruthven as Curator. In the 75 years since Ruthven's appointment, there have been ten directors of the Museum of Zoology: Frederick M. Gaige, J. Speed Rogers, Theodore H. Hubbell, Nelson G. Hairston, Donald W. Tinkle, Robert W. Storer, William R. Dawson, Richard D. Alexander, Gerald R. Smith, David Mindell , and William L. Fink (current).
The "new" wing of the Museum was obtained largely through the efforts of T. H. Hubbell and with the support of the National Science Foundation. This wing, opened in 1963, significantly increased the size of the Museum, and provided exceptional space and equipment for broadening systematic studies. Until 1956, the Museum of Zoology, through either its director or a museums operating committee, reported directly to either the Board of Regents or the President of the University.
In 1956, the Museum of Zoology, along with the Museums of Paleontology and Anthropology, the Herbarium, and the Exhibit Museum, was designated as a department of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Curators, in addition to retaining their research and curatorial functions in the Museum, entered into a greatly expanded role in the undergraduate and graduate teaching program of academic departments in the biological sciences. Starting at this time, half of the academic-year (9-month) appointments of the curators, evaluations of teaching effort, and the designation of tenure were transferred to the Department of Biology. Summer appointments continued to facilitate the important field and research efforts of systematic biology, and the intellectual independence of the Museum was ensured by the retention of a separate budget and director. The 47 years following this change have been a period of prolific and outstanding research and have led to the production of an unprecedentedly large number of nationally and internationally known graduates in systematics and evolutionary biology. In 1967, the Museum of Zoology hosted a large international symposium on Systematic Biology, sponsored by the National Research Council. The results were published in a 1969 volume by the National Academy of Sciences. In October of 1978, the Museum of Zoology celebrated its 50th year in the present building by convening a symposium on Natural Selection and Social Behavior, areas to which staff and students had made important contributions. About 700 individuals from all over the United States attended, and 31 formal papers were presented. The results were published in 1981 in a commemorative volume.
In this new century, the UMMZ has embraced the visions of Ruthven, who felt that museums should push in new directions reflecting changes in the field of systematic biology. The most obvious change has been in the area of molecular systematics. Several curators have major research programs utilizing the tools of molecular research. In addition, the long-standing integration of ecology and behavior into various areas of research has created a real multi-disciplinary approach to systematics and evolution studies here at the UMMZ.
Role of the UMMZ
The Museum of Zoology of The University of Michigan is one of the premier institutions of the world involved in research and teaching in systematics and other museum-related fields. It is known for its research contributions, and for being a principal educator and supplier to the world of evolutionary biologists, a phrase that encompasses a large collection of fields, labeled overall as evolutionary biology, but actually employing people in "subfields" such as: systematics, evolutionary and behavioral ecology, animal behavior and social biology, ecological and evolutionary genetics, and others. These fields are all allied to systematics: 25% of doctoral students with curators as thesis committee chairs are employed in systematics per se, 75% in other aspects of evolutionary biology.
The Museum of Zoology includes six divisions, each with two curators: mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, fishes, insects and other arthropods, and mollusks. World-wide, these groups include several million species. The divisional collections include some 15 million specimens: 4-6 million insects; 5.5 million mollusks, 3.5 million fishes, 355,988 amphibians and reptiles, 200,000 birds, and 130,000 mammals. All of the divisional collections are ranked among the most extensive and important in the world. The Museum also operates multi-user laboratories in cytogenetics and molecular systematics.
No biological study of any kind is repeatable, therefore scientific and reliable, unless the living material upon which it is based can be vouchered with respect to species identity, and eventually with respect to locality or special variant as well.
This is true partly because the multiplicity of similar but genetically distinct species introduces a potential for grave error into every aspect of repeatability in biological research including the practical treatment of parasites, hosts of human diseases, and other economically, environmentally, and medically important organisms. Moreover, because of the complex and particular history of life, which is unlike that so far understood for the physical universe, no biological study can be completed or interpreted with confidence in the absence of phylogenetic information. In the broadest sense -- which means including all of the systematic and evolutionary work that derives from the collections as contributing to these aspects of vouchering -- the establishment of scientific status for all biological research is the basic function of the database represented by the museum collections of the world. Evolution, the central business of museum biologists, is also the central theory of all of biology. Understanding evolution in depth is an essential element in the explanation of all functions of life, including human behavior.