History of Collections

The University Collections Facility grew out of geology department collections documented to 1873. From that modest beginning, the collections burgeoned to more than seven million objects encapsulating the natural history of the state, with representations from the nation and the world. It is an administrative unit of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and seeks to serve the campus, the community, and research scholars. 

Our collections of objects in archeology, ethnology, history, geology, and zoology are at the University of Arkansas Collections Facility located at the University of Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. 

Natural history collections are a time machine we use to see into the past. If the proper care is taken, a specimen, which represents a unique organism or an artifact from a past time and place, will be preserved for long periods of time: for example, plants and animals collected by Darwin in his epic voyage on the Beagle and by Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase Territory are still revealing their secrets. 

Ways in which natural history collections have been used: 

  • to plot the distribution of rare and endangered plants and animals through time
  • to compare pollen to help identify the sources of plant-borne allergies
  • to document invasive species moving into an area
  • to use fossils to plot continental drift
  • to determine relationships of extinct animals, such as the thylacine (Tasmanian wolf) and the quagga (zebra) with living specimens using DNA comparisons

Examples of uses of the University Collections: 

  • In the classroom: University classes in ornithology, ecology, herpetology, mammalogy, and classics borrow specimens for class use or visit the University Collections Facility to view fragile specimens.
  • In exhibits: Loans of specimens to other units, including departments on campus and museums; the Art Institute of Chicago featured several artifacts from the exhibit Hero, Hawk and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South.
  • For artists: Wood carvers authenticate their bird sculptures and artists authenticate their sitters’ costumes.
  • For after school activities: Girl Scouts working toward a unique museum badge sponsored by the Northwest Arkansas Museum Consortium (one of two or three such badges in the country).
  • For career models: University Days teachers bringing their best and brightest elementary and high school children to campus and Vital Link career days students learn about how their community works.
  • For research: A retired Environmental Protection Agency scientist doing independent research on the land snails of Arkansas for an upcoming book and a faculty member determining distributions of Bewick’s wrens.
  • For future generations: University faculty and students deposit their collections after they have completed their research, or citizens donate valued family items of historical significance.