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Erwin H. Barbour, Museum Director Papers

Identifier: RG-32-01-01

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of correspondence and photographic materials. The materials in the photograph series relate to Barbour's research in paleontology and geology, his work as director of the State Museum, his civic involvement in Lincoln, Nebraska, and his personal life. The images of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils are primarily from Nebraska. They include scenes of excavations, fossil preparation, and museum displays in addition to photographs illustrating fossils from various angles against plain backgrounds. There are also negatives showing fossil leaves and Barbour's sketches of fossils and animals. Images of fieldwork show aspects of daily life for paleontologists in the field. The photographs show landscapes, landforms, bodies of water, and towns throughout Nebraska, particularly in the sandhills and badlands regions. Photographs of natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and ice jams are included. Many of the photographs relate to the economic geology of Nebraska and show industries in various communities, including photographs illustrating the construction and operations of the Nebraska Portland Cement Company in Superior, Nebraska. Also of note are photographic prints taken by geologist Nelson Horatio Darton that show lands in South Dakota and Nebraska. Images from the University of Nebraska show activities and buildings on campus. Particularly interesting are photographs documenting the construction of Morrill Hall, from the plot of land before construction to the mounting of exhibits inside. The interiors and displays from earlier museums and group portraits of staff in the geology department are also included. Photographs related to Barbour's personal life and family include scenes from his Yale University class reunion and group and individual family pictures. Among those related to his civic activities are images of Wyuka Cemetery, parks, a school garden project in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a Boy Scout camp. Street scenes and buildings in Lincoln, Nebraska, are also included. Photographs taken on travels include images of college campuses, buildings, parks, cemeteries, and geological features. Displays and buildings from the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition and Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition are shown as well. Images related to Charles Henry Morrill include interiors of his home in Stromsburg, Nebraska.


  • Creation: 1889-2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1889-1968


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with the University of Nebraska. Copyrights are retained by the creators of the papers/records or their designees. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections. 

Biographical / Historical

Erwin H. Barbour was born in Springfield, Indiana, on April 5, 1856. He received both his A.B. in 1882 and Ph.D. in 1887 from Yale University. He worked for the United States Paleontological Survey from 1882 to 1888 before becoming professor of natural history and geology at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. In July 1891, he accepted the position of professor of geology and zoology at the University of Nebraska and became director of the State Museum. He remained a vital member of the university, community, and state for more than fifty years.

In 1891, Barbour made his first expedition to western Nebraska where he collected fossil and geological specimens and studied geological formations. This was the first of yearly expeditions to build the museum collection and to increase his knowledge of the state's natural resources. The author of more than 350 publications, Barbour wrote about such topics as paleontology, geology, and economic geology of Nebraska. He organized and served as the director of the Nebraska Geological Survey beginning in 1891 until 1921 when it became the Conservation and Survey Division of the University.

Barbour was responsible for preparing University of Nebraska exhibits for the 1896 Trans-Mississippi Exposition and award-winning exhibits related to education and natural resources in Nebraska for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. He received numerous additional honors, including a medal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the best designed homemade windmill in 1904 and the Lincoln Kiwanis Club medal for distinguished service as a teacher, scientist, and citizen in 1935.

Active in his fields of research and in his community, Barbour was a member of several scholarly and civic organizations. He belonged to the Geological Society of America, the Association of American Museums, the Paleontological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Nebraska Ornithologists Union, the Seismological Society, and the Nebraska Academy of Science. Barbour served on the school board, city park board, cemetery board, and city planning commission for Lincoln, Nebraska, and was chairman of the court of honor for the city's Boy Scouts. An artist who illustrated his own publications, Barbour designed mosaics for the Nebraska state capitol building and was a director of the Nebraska Art Association.

He was married to Margaret Roxanna Lamson in 1887 and they had one daughter, Eleanor Barbour. He died in 1947.


69.7 Linear Feet (132 boxes)

Language of Materials


Finding aid updated by Sarah Glover and Jaiden Schilke, 2023.
(cc) 2023
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Repository

Archives & Special Collections
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
P.O. Box 884100
Lincoln NE 68588-4100 United States