State history museum takes on new role

The brick building in between McMahon Residence Hall and the UConn Bookstore formerly housed the Connecticut State History Museum which was displaced after the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences moved it's dean's offices over the summer. The museum has been trying to figure out how to serve the public since it's removal. (Ruohan Li/The Daily Campus) 

Over the summer, the Connecticut State History Museum was displaced as offices for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences were set up in its exhibit space.

The museum was established in 1985 by an act of the Connecticut State Legislature, and moved to the University of Connecticut in the building located next to Brian McMahon Hall in 2000.

“We were made aware by CLAS that there were these discussions about eventually losing that building space happening last spring,” said Dr. Brian Jones, Connecticut’s State Archeologist, “It was in the planning stages and there was sort of a lot of wait-and-see until about mid-summer when we learned that by this day you guys are expected to be out of the offices.”

CLAS offices were previously located in buildings on Faculty Row that were slotted for demolition last year, as previously reported by the Daily Campus.

Prior to the move, the museum was used primarily by families and teachers Jones said.

“Sadly not enough students came to visit. It was used by a few faculty in anthropology and geosciences to have whole classes come through and they had projects they were supposed to do based on the exhibits,” Jones said.

Jones has worked at the museum since 2014 and said that the number of employees at the museum has dwindled in recent years.

“It was student staff basically, there was always a student who manned the front desk. We had visitors, I wouldn’t say it was crowded with people,” Jones said.

Following the loss of its exhibit space, the museum has taken on a new role within the University.

“One of the ideas is that the museum’s future exhibits are going to be focused on grant-funded programs that are going to be tied to research being done,” Jones said.

Jones said that, while it is unclear whether or not the museum will find a new exhibit space, it is still working to enable the public to access its collections.

“We’re not sure if it’s a permanent situation the loss of existing exhibits. It’s providing an opportunity to rethink the direction of how the museum should work within the university system and how to most effectively use the collections that we have, which are quite extensive,” Jones said.

The museum has even been discussing plans to digitalize its collections to make them more accessible to the general public, Jones said.

“I think the concept is that the University wants to see the State Museum of Natural History and its staff associate a little bit more directly with UConn, especially on larger NSF [National Science Foundation] funded projects and use their expertise to continue to produce exhibits under that format,” Jones said.

The Museum of Natural History is now working primarily through UConn’s Office of Public Engagement.

“The museum has maintained all of its foundation accounts so it’s going to continue as an entity, without the kind of exhibit space we had, it’s just shifting its role in the university,” Jones said.

Programs that the museum provided for the community such as weekend lectures, historic town tours, and interactive programs for children, will continue according to Jones.

“The exhibits were kind of underutilized, but the public programs were an important part of what it did with the community and that kind of activity is going to continue,” Jones said.

Jones said that he would like to take advantage of the Office of Public Engagement’s connections to communities like Hartford to set up an archeology program for urban youth in the area.

“We’re in a period of transition. We’re working out how this change can be used to promote the museum in a new and engaging way. I think most of us are trying to make the best of a challenging situation,” Jones said.

Anna Zarra Aldrich is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets @ZarraAnna