Interactive History Class Allows Students Hands-On Experience

Here at Wagner Free Institute of Science, Temple students are studying exhibits while doing their assignments. Professor Kenneth Finkel is teaching an American Studies class inside the old cavernous lecture hall on the first floor of the museum. Finkel says the Wagner Institute is a very special place and students should take advantage of it.

“I went to Temple as an undergraduate; I did not even know this place existed. If I had known it, it would enrich my experience at Temple,” says Kenneth Finkel, Professor of American Studies. “This idea was made to encourage students to not only wonder about the history of their neighborhood but also be part of this history. This building has not changed for more than 100 years, so this place has lot to say about the history of this area. Besides it is free, students can also interact with the real stuff.”

The upper gallery of the museum is crowded with a myriad of items ranging from pristinely preserved wild birds, to stuffed sloths and wombats, to coral from Japan and sulphur from Sicily, to the world’s first discovered saber-tooth tiger. William Wagner originally collected these items in the 1840s and 1850s so that he could use them to teach classes on natural history.

In 1855, William Wagner moved his collection of artifacts to its current location in a building designed by the same architect who would go on to construct Philadelphia’s City Hall. Less than three decades later, Temple was founded nearby. The museum and the university have not had any sort of connection, despite their close proximity.

Starting from this semester, students are able to work closely with historical artifacts rather than slides or photos. The Wagner building has not changed since the late 19th century, allowing a glimpse of Victorian era architecture. This amazing structure, located at 17th Street and Montgomery, might look at homes on Temple’s campus, but these two institutions have never collaborated with one another until this semester.

“I am really enjoying the class. As an art history major, I think it’s such a treat to actually be on a side at a museum each week and actually get outside of the most lecture halls and power points system, a great as in-depth experience to actually be in the collection itself and see first hand specimens,” says Lea Stephenson, a senior Art History major.

The Wagner Museum also speaks volumes not only about natural history, but about the evolution of urban cultures and museum studies.

For more information visit

1700 W Montgomery Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19121
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