Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/45

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NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS

like much reading of books, a poor substitute for the activities of life. Again, universities often undertake work that might be much better left to museums. Thus if there is a museum conveniently near it seems to be a waste for a university to plan large taxonomic collections or even to give courses of taxonomic nature. For if a student wishes to learn species and their distinctions, he can gain this knowledge far better in the reference museum than in the laboratory; and to change a laboratory into a museum is to injure its proper use. Taxonomic collections and courses may well be omitted from universities, and students wishing these subjects should be directed to museums. A herbarium or a collection of shells is as much out of place in a laboratory as a bull in a china shop, for the university laboratory is for experimental work.

This idea may be pushed still further. When a museum has already large reference collections, not only there is no need of universities trying to duplicate these, but also the university should leave to museums the teaching of subjects for which such collections are the basis. This is the kind of teaching that would bring most results to the museums. Thus nature-study courses of all kinds could be best presented by museums, with their large local collections and their curators trained in knowledge of species and habitudes. Systematic courses in entomology might also be most profitably given in a museum; and these are growing in importance, now that insects are receiving so much attention by agriculturalists, and by physicians in their relation to disease. Practically all of our best entomologists, mammalogists, ornithologists and systematic botanists, whose work is of the greatest practical importance, have grown up in museums. But at the present time their training consists in becoming assistants in museums, helping in the arrangements of collections with no training whatsoever in the broader sides of the subject, and taking many years to learn what they might otherwise gain in a much shorter time, provided their work was directed from the start. A man told to label a certain collection will in time learn how to do so, but if he is to do more than merely determine species he must follow a plan of work. Such a course might be worked out in some such way as the following. The curator of entomology might each year direct a course in general systematic entomology or on injurious insects. The teaching need not be done by lectures, but with specified work on the object to be carried out by the student, assigned reading and practical examinations. Not much of the curator's time need be consumed, he would simply have to outline the work and to occasionally oversee it. The student would then begin with the advantage of the help of the judgment of a trained specialist. It stands to reason that such a course under a competent entomologist could be done better in most museums than in most universities. Such an initial