History View the Collections | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

The collections highlight the influence of California and the West on the rest of the nation; the national collections set the regional materials within the American experience.
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What is "Material Culture"?

Need more info about history terminology, our artifacts, or donation procedures? The History Department has answers to a number of frequently asked questions.
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Becoming Los Angeles

NHM's new, permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, is open!
The exhibition chronicles how people and the land affected each other over 500 years and transformed a remote pueblo into the L.A. we know today.
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History Collections

The History Department assembles, conserves, and interprets collections that focus primarily on the history of California and the West, but also treat the broader history of the United States. The collections highlight the influence of California and the West on the rest of the nation; the national collections set the regional materials within the American experience.

A number of extraordinary collections in the department date back to the founding of the Museum in 1913. These were donated by pioneering Los Angeles families and organizations, such as the Del Valle family and the Historical Society of Southern California; and are comprised of artifacts, photographs, and rare documents reflecting the Spanish, Mexican, and early American periods of California history. Other collection areas of particular depth include those reflecting the emerging motion-picture industry, early Los Angeles governmental records, automotive and aviation history, and photography documenting the landscapes and communities of eastern and Southern California in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Material Culture

The Material Culture section contains approximately 500,000 objects, one of the largest of its kind. It is unique in its diversity of artifacts from the American past as well as its focus on California and the West. It includes everything from jewelry to aircraft to early Hollywood motion pictures. The collection documents and supports the permanent exhibitions Becoming Los Angeles.

Seaver Center for Western History Research

The purpose of the Seaver Center for Western History Research is to collect, preserve, and make available to the general public research materials documenting the history of the trans-Mississippi West with special emphasis on Southern California and Los Angeles. Historic records include approximately 275 Photo Collections, 340 General Collections, and other manuscript materials, books, serials, pamphlets, broadsides, maps, posters, prints, and photographs.

Automotive Collection

The collection of 64 cars and 11 motorcycles includes: a 1900 steam car built by a high school student in his family's downtown Los Angeles blacksmith shop; a 1929 Ford Model A Roadstar; a 1931 Twin Coach Helms Bakery van; and a 1917 Woods Dual Power Coupe, an early gas/electric hybrid. Six cars are currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum also located in Los Angeles.

William S. Hart Museum Collection

Material Culture and Anthropology jointly supervise and maintain this historic house museum which contains the most extensive and significant collection of historical artifacts and objects anywhere that deal with William S. Hart. The collection documents California's fledgling cinematic industry, especially western films. Though photographs and manuscripts from the William S. Hart collection are managed by the Seaver Center for Western History Research, the original furniture, artwork, interior decoration, Native American artifacts, and other personal belongings of Mr. Hart are the purview of Material Culture and Anthropology. Visit the William S. Hart Park and Museum at www.hartmuseum.org, a family member of the Natural History Museum.