San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias

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Our Vision | Our Region | Mission and Purpose

The Past

For almost 125 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 125 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.

A passion for discovery, a profound understanding of natural history, a commitment to evolutionary theory, a sense of place and a dedication to our natural region have been the distinguishing traits of the Natural History Museum in the past, the outstanding elements of our view of life. It is now our responsibility to project this vision into the 21st Century.

The Present

Our collections house more than 8.2 million specimens dating from the 1870s. These collections provide a 125-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 92,000 volumes and serves Museum staff and research associates, Museum members and visitors, and visiting scholars and students. The Museum's website of over 400 pages features increasing amounts of information about 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 has given new direction to the Museum, has refocused the institution on its regional mission, and has 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.

Three major initiatives emerged from the strategic plan to provide the strong backbone upon which the three programmatic limbs - research, education, exhibitions - can continue to thrive and grow. Now eight years into that process, and right on schedule, these three efforts have been developed and are in various stages of implementation:

  • A Capital Campaign was initiated in 1994 to expand and renovate the Museum building for the display of permanent and traveling exhibitions, to sustain the care and conservation of the scientific specimens, to enhance the research and education divisions, and to nurture the growth of the endowment to ensure permanence of these programs. This addition will effectively double exhibition, education and research space.

  • The Environmental Science Education Center (ESEC) is a reinvention and expansion of our traditional natural history programs into a non-traditional, leading-edge format that will be a comprehensive source for programs that promote environmental literacy.

  • In 1996, the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias (BRCC) was created to support through scientific research the mission of the Museum. BRCC is dedicated to the study of biology and geology in the Baja California/Southern California region, which ranges from Point Conception near Santa Barbara to the southern tip of the Cape Region in Baja California, Mexico.

By early in the next decade, the Museum will have a renovated building, filled with redesigned state-of-the-art permanent displays and exciting national-quality traveling exhibitions, improved collections facilities, timely scientific research endeavors and expanded educational programs. As the Museum prepares to create a strategic plan for the next ten years, the establishment of BRCC as a critical research facility for the 21st century is a crucial component of the Museum's future growth and development.

The Future

Within the exciting perspective of our new building, BRCC will strive 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.

The San Diego Natural History Museum is well-positioned to fulfill the mandate to meet the needs of residents of our region as we approach the 21st century. For 125 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.