Mineral Collection

Bryn Mawr College's excellent collection of more than 100,000 rock and mineral specimens supports teaching and research in the Geology department.


Hearth photo of inside mineral collection storage space

Established by Florence Bascom, founder of the Geology Department, from specimens she collected herself, the Bryn Mawr College Rock & Mineral Collection has grown through significant donations by Theodore D. Rand in 1903 and George Vaux, Jr. in 1958, among others. The three core collections (Bascom, Rand, and Vaux) comprise specimens that were collected in the late 1800s to early 1900s, with the remainder representing specimens collected from approximately 1970-1990. The collection spans more than 90 countries, all 50 U.S. states, and more than 1,000 individual mineral species. For context, more than 90% of Earth’s crust is composed of just 50 mineral species; the Bryn Mawr Collection houses an astonishing diversity of mineral specimens. 

Beyond their usefulness in teaching mineralogy, these objects are also specimens of human history. Minerals intersect with almost every aspect of human life and embody the political and social conditions of their extraction. The mining of minerals, for example, is often intertwined with violence according to class, race, gender, and colonialism. Of the oldest specimens in Bryn Mawr's collection, approximately 80% were taken from lands that were experiencing colonial conflict at the time of sample acquisition. Often, those conflicts were directly related to the minerals in our collection. 

Believing that these histories must be centered rather than ignored, the Geology department is partnering with Special Collections/ Museum Studies to develop displays that address the human histories of mineral collection. Such efforts to illuminate the ties between human culture and the physical world, over and above describing a mineral's chemical or physical characteristics, are relatively novel in the display of scientific material. But they aim to improve a sense of inclusion for non-specialists, by addressing potentially alienating contexts of mineral acquisition and connecting science to everyday experiences. 

Overview and tour of the collections
Find resources on Geology and Colonialism
Learn more about opportunities to research and develop displays of the mineral collections

Contact: Selby Hearth in Geology or Carrie Robbins in Special Collections


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