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Home > Research & Collections > News > Step into the Archives

Step into the Archives

The Museum collection all about the Museum itself

The NHMLA Archives house many important Museum documents, including scientific illustrations like this one by C. W. Dammers.


If you want to see handwritten field notes from the 1930s, the cover of the Museum magazine from the 60s, or perhaps a 100-year-old photo from the La Brea Tar Pits, head on over to the NHMLA Archives, the collection that holds the history of the Museum itself.

a photo of Yolanda Bustos in the NHMLA archives, holding a photograph up to the light to better see it
Archivist Yolanda Bustos examines a cellulose acetate negative photo from the Archives.

While individual collections house the objects, many of them have supplementary information in the Archives. For instance, a beetle in the Entomology Collections will tell you the species and where and when it was collected, but the Archives may have the field notes the researcher jotted down that day about the weather, the environment, or just how he or she was feeling that day.

Yolanda Bustos, the Museum’s new archivist, is in the process of digitizing parts of this vast collection so staff, historians, and other researchers can tap into the long history of the Museum. “The mission of the Museum Archives of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is to collect, preserve, and curate archival and artifactual items that document the history of the institution and to create a permanent repository for the Museum’s institutional memory.”

This diverse collection includes everything from building blueprints, artwork from past exhibits, architectural plans of proposed projects, souvenirs given at long-past Museum events, and field notes from researchers — not to mention the tens of thousands of photos and reels of videos of all sorts of past Museum happenings. When you’re as old as NHMLA, you accumulate a lot of stories.

Here is just a small sample of the types of treasures kept in the Museum Archives.

a scientific illustration of different butterflies
C. W. Dammers was a commander in the Royal Navy and an entomologist and scientific illustrator. He was an associate of John Adams Comstock, the NHMLA curator of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) from 1927 to 1948. This page contains illustrations Dammers did in 1936 of the variation found in the black and red Euphydryas chalcedona mentioned in the journal entry below.
This page is from Dammers’ first volume of Illustrations. It is the first page of a field journal description of the circumstances under which the specimens illustrated were collected. Field notes include details like weather, why a collecting locality was selected, and general observations that may further elucidate a specimen.
the cover of an NHMLA publication from the 60s. the background color is in pink, and it says 'science art and history' on it, but with art is separate from science and history
In 1962, artist Frank Page took a lighthearted view of the separation of Art from Science and History on the cover of the Museum Association Quarterly, Los Angeles County Museum, volume 18, number 2.
a black and white photo of the la brea tar pits from 1914
In this 1914 photo from the La Brea Tar Pits, you’re looking into Pit 4 from the south as two excavators work. A wooden ramp going down into the pit with a wheelbarrow is visible, along with a few shovels and box with various tools. The strings stretched across the top of the pit are used for measuring the progress of the excavation and the location of finds. Piles of dirt are seen above the pit along the edges, and there are oil derricks and trees in the background.



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