Through collections-based research, teaching, and outreach, our Museum shares its knowledge and collections with local, national, and international audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Research: Our curatorial staff and their students, faculty and students throughout the University of Alaska, state and federal agencies, and national and international researchers all use and improve the museum's collections through ongoing research projects ranging from short-term high school Science Symposium investigations to large-scale, multi-national, multi-institutional collaborations.
Teaching and Outreach: Our faculty curators and collections not only provide resources for academic training at undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels, but we are also heavily involved in community outreach, including school visits, public presentations, and workshops. We also mentor researchers at many levels, from high school to undergraduate and graduate students to postdoctoral researchers.
Collections: The museum's collections include more than 1.4 million artifacts and specimens representing millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the North. Many of these are rare and unique, but there are also long series of specimens representing all aspects of regional natural history. Such series, often accumulated over decades, are a crucial resource for research. The collections are organized into 10 research disciplines.
The archaeology collection contains the material remains of prehistoric and historic cultures from throughout Alaska, as well as comparative collections from cultures outside the state. The collection consists of more than 750,000 artifacts representing sites dating from as much as 13,000 years ago, and has special strength in material from Interior Alaska, St. Lawrence Island, and the Bering Sea region. It provides an internationally recognized resource for studying the human occupation of the Arctic.
The Earth Science collection contains more than 60,000 specimens in two sub-collections: paleontology and geology. The paleontology collection includes Quaternary mammals, fossil invertebrates, plants and microfossil samples as well as the world’s largest collection of polar dinosaurs. The geology collection includes minerals and gems from Alaska and the Pacific Rim, ore samples from Alaska and arctic Canada, and meteorites.
The museum’s entomology collection contains more than 223,000 specimens from Alaska and other regions, incuding Canada, eastern Russia and the contiguous United States. There are an estimated 8,000 species of insects in Alaska, many of them poorly documented, so the museum’s collection serves as a valuable resource for insect-related work in Alaska.
Ethnology & History
The ethnology collection contains more than 13,000 objects made and used by Alaska Natives from the mid-1800s to the present, including exceptional examples of basketry, beadwork, ivory carvings, masks, dolls, clothing, tools used in subsistence activities and items made as souvenirs. The history collection contains more than 3,000 objects of Western manufacture representing Alaska’s history from the Nome gold rush through the present, including goods, folk art, tools, firearms, Russian-American material, aviation equipment and other memorabilia.
The Alaska Center for Documentary Film has been documenting the changing cultures and issues of Northern peoples since the early 1970s. The collection now contains more than 400 hours of historic and irreplaceable visual and audio material. Award-winning films and videos produced by the Film Center detail the relationship of Alaska Native and other Northern peoples to the land, sea and natural environment, as well as to their rapidly changing social, educational and political environments.
The fine arts collection includes more than 3,700 works of art and represents an invaluable record of Alaska’s cultural richness and aesthetic diversity. The collection focuses on Alaskan art – historic through contemporary – and is composed of all major mediums of visual expression. The collection serves as an important tool for scholarly research in the art history of Alaska and for classroom support in the study of drawing, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture.
The herbarium maintains a permanent physical record of Alaska’s flora with its systematic collection of pressed dried plants – more than 223,000 vascular and non-vascular specimens from Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Specimens are labeled with information about their locality, date, habitat and collector. Now the largest single collection of Alaskan plants, the herbarium attracts researchers worldwide who study the northern flora.
Ichthyology and Aquatics
A fish collection of about 5,000 lots has been housed at the Museum since the 1970s. James Morrow, Ron Smith, and several other University of Alaska researchers established and built the nucleus of the collection. The collection contains both fresh and saltwater fish specimens and is a source of data for marine ecologists and resource managers.
The mammal collection is the 10th largest in North America, with more than 100,000 specimens primarily from Alaska and adjacent regions of Canada and Russia. Most specimens include skulls, study skins, postcranial skeletons and frozen tissues. There are world-class holdings of several marine mammal species, including ribbon seals, spotted seals, walruses and sea otters, as well as strong holdings from Southeast Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago. Tissue samples from more than 70,000 specimens are archived in Genetic Resources.
The bird collection has the world’s largest collection of Alaska birds and includes the longest modern series for many species of birds from northwestern North America and eastern Asia. It has become the definitive collection for genetic studies of birds from this region. Preserved as skins, skeletons, and tissue samples, approximately 28,500 specimens in the bird collection represent almost all bird species and subspecies known in Alaska, including species from six continents that breed in Alaska.
Museum Research Apprenticeship program (MRAP)
Opportunities to participate in collections-based activities are available for volunteers, and students can take credits through the Museum Research Apprenticeship program.
The University of Alaska Museum of the North recognizes the need to support research on our collections by interested students and scholars. The museum offers a small number of grants and fellowships to students for research related to our collections.
Click here to learn more about fellowship opportunities offered by the museum.