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Retrospect

Museum with seven lives

A pioneer in the Amazon, the Emílio Goeldi has been reborn several times in its 138 years

Besides the well-known studies on fauna, flora, and minerals, all those foreign naturalists who traveled over Brazil in the 19th century left an important contribution for science in the country the motivation for the creation of a natural history museum in the Amazon, which could act as a support for the expeditions, and even train researchers. This is how the pioneering and erratic trajectory began of the first scientific institution in the region, and the second oldest science museum in the country (the first is the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro).

In 1861, an additional article was proposed for the Provincial Budget Law, to create an institution of this kind in Belém in the then province of Pará , which was only to become reality in 1866, under the name of the Paraense Museum. The moment was propitious: rubber was hot, and there was an emergent class interested in sciences, publications, and in the visits of foreign naturalists and artists to the Amazon.

This attention and support from the government and from society for the museum did not last long. Extremely dependent on its first director, Domingos Soares Ferreira Penna, the institution was closed soon after his death, in 1888. Three years later, the museum was reborn the first of several rebirths.

In 1894, its management was taken over by the swiss zoologist Emílio Goeldi (1859-1917), who was later to give it his name and to transform the center into a real scientific institution, with a structure packed with highly productive scientists and technicians. The Zoobotanical Park and the Meteorological Service were created. Goeldi started the publication of scientific bulletins, excursions all over the Amazonian region, and the gathering specimens to form the first zoological, botanical, geological, and ethnographic collections.

The Swiss scientist joined the fight against yellow fever, by publishing, from 1902 onwards, several articles about the classification and the biology of the mosquitoes that transmit the disease and hence simultaneously with the work of Oswaldo Cruz in Rio de Janeiro. The museum became a pioneer amongst public institutions in Pará, when, in 1905, it hired a woman, German zoologist Emília Snethlage, the last researcher to leave, before the economic crisis of the 20’s.

By 1930, the museum had been totally abandoned. From then on, it began to rise gain, earning its definitive name as the Emílio Goeldi Museum of Pará. Other grave crises came, but the institute remained active, creating new programs, intensifying its studies into ethnology, and investing in systematic archeological research. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the museum received public investment, but it also sought to expand by means of international aid, and, in 2003, for the second year running, extra-budgetary funds (R$ 6.7 million) exceeded those passed on by the Treasury (R$ 4.4 million).

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