From a Victorian cabinet of curiosities, the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium has grown into an extensive natural history museum containing more than 175,000 specimens and historical and cultural items. In addition to exhibiting the treasures of the natural world, the museum was established as a teaching institution. When it was constructed in 1891, the building included a dedicated classroom space. In the 1990s, through NEH challenge grants that helped it raise an additional $750,000, the Fairbanks Museum expanded its educational offerings, creating a rigorous curriculum for school groups and other visitors that combined the humanities with the sciences; these educational programs are still in place today.
The Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium now welcomes as many as seven student groups per day from schools in Vermont and New Hampshire. The Fairbanks staff develops two new curricula each year and offers dozens of courses from which teachers may choose. For many schools in the region, a trip to the museum is an annual event; for homeschooled children, the museum offers a monthly Homeschool Day. Museum educators teach courses that use Abenaki folk stories to help students think about historic weather patterns; they discuss werewolf, vampire, and zombie narratives to help students consider the history of disease; and, in the planetarium, they use the patterns of the stars to help students reflect on worldwide mythologies. The courses, which serve 15,000 students annually, take place in classrooms, in the surrounding countryside, and in the museum exhibits themselves, several of which have been restored with NEH preservation grants. These include twelve habitat dioramas created between 1890 and 1919 and the strange and beautiful insect mosaics created by John Hampson between 1880 and 1923—all of which are perennial favorites of the museum’s visitors