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Discover the life before you at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The Burke Museum

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture was founded in 1885. It is the oldest public museum in Washington and was designated the State Museum in 1899. Its administration resides with the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences.

The Burke Museum is a research- and collections-based museum with 16 million objects (and counting!) in our collections. The Burke serves many audiences and communities, including Washington state residents; visitors to Seattle; K-20 educators and students; Indigenous and Pacific communities; and researchers, scholars, and enthusiasts.

The Burke Museum collections are used in many ways, including:

  • Education: More than 35,000 Washington K-12 students visit the Burke every year. For students unable to visit the museum, Burke Boxes and the BurkeMobile are two popular traveling education programs. They bring real objects and educators directly to classrooms across the state for high quality, hands-on learning. From early learning to high school curriculum, teachers value the age-appropriate lessons that help them meet state learning standards. 
  • Research: The Burke is an active research museum. Not only are the collections used by University of Washington researchers, but by researchers around the globe who respect and rely on our collections. The collections are used in a variety of ways, ranging from medical research to the health of Puget Sound.  
  • Cultural Heritage: The beautiful art and cultural objects that we care for teach us about the past, but also inspire new works of art from contemporary artists. 


The New Burke

The Burke is engaged in a multi-year transformation project that will culminate in a new museum facility. The New Burke will be a flagship natural history museum that inspires wonder and pride about the Northwest and our place in the world.

Typically, museums display only a small percentage of their objects. The New Burke will break down barriers between public and “back-of-house” spaces, integrating collections and research labs with traditional galleries to create an experience that invites everyone—from curators to visitors, educators to students—to engage in the dynamic process of scientific and cultural discovery.

In partnership with the State of Washington and the University of Washington, the Burke will create a new model for a museum that cares for State collections and conducts interdisciplinary research. The new, larger building, designed by Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects, will be situated along 15th Ave NE between NE 43rd St. and NE 45th St., serving as a vital connection between the UW and the surrounding neighborhood. 

Design is expected to be complete in 2015. The museum is in the early stages of an outreach and fundraising campaign to make the vision for the New Burke a reality. Learn more about The New Burke. 



Updated May 2010

The Burke Museum creates a better understanding of the world and our place in it. The museum is responsible for Washington State collections of natural and cultural heritage and sharing the knowledge that makes them meaningful. The Burke welcomes a broad and diverse audience and provides a community gathering place that nurtures life-long learning and encourages respect, responsibility and reflection.



The Burke Museum inspires people to value their connection with all life—and act accordingly.



Integrity Being open and truthful; adhering to the highest ethical and professional standards
Respect Respecting each other and the objects and ideas with which we work; welcoming diverse communities and divergent points of view
Excellence Pursuing excellence in each of our endeavors; acting as leaders in our respective fields
Stewardship Protecting the collections and information we hold for future generations; conducting business in a sustainable way
Curiosity Encouraging curiosity in ourselves and our visitors; posing questions and seeking answers about the world and our place in it
Relevance Exploring critical issues involving nature, cultures, and their interconnections; being a valued resource for the communities we serve
Burke Museum's Director, Dr. Julie Stein
Burke Museum's Director, Dr. Julie Stein

Members of the Young Naturalists Society
The Young Naturalists Society Founders, April 30, 1882. UW Special Collections, Negative #UW21691, Accession #70-068.


The Burke Museum celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2010! View a slide show and read more about our history.

Members of the Young Naturalists Society founded the museum upon their own initiative and erected a museum building on the university campus to house their growing collection of natural history artifacts.

In 1899, the state legislature designated the museum as the Washington State Museum. In the following 100+ years, the museum continued to grow and flourish in collections and research, garnering worldwide recognition as a museum of natural history and culture.

The Burke acquired its current name and building in 1962, through a bequest from the Caroline McGilvra Burke estate in honor of her husband, Judge Thomas Burke.


Caroline McGilvra Burke
Caroline McGilvra Burke, philanthropist and collector of Native American materials.
Thomas Burke
Jurist and forward-looking pioneer Thomas Burke, in whose memory the museum was renamed.

2013-2014 Annual Report (PDF)