As one of the oldest and biggest museums of its kind worldwide, with more than 13 million objects, there’s a lot to love about the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. David K. Skelly, its director, fell in love with it at a very early age. He became the Peabody’s director in 2014, but his first memories of walking into the Whitney Avenue building date back to when he was preschool aged.
In addition to leading the museum, he is the Frank R. Oastler Professor of Ecology at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Prior to being named director at the Peabody, he was associate dean and director of doctoral studies at the forestry and environmental school, where he has been a faculty member since 1996. He’s also a field biologist who has authored more than 80 papers.
But long before the high-profile jobs at Yale, Skelly says, the path to his career began when he was a young “dinosaur kid,” fascinated by the world around him.
He recently took time out of a busy day to discuss what he loves about the Peabody and New Haven.
6/18/2018 – New Haven, CT – Biologist David Skelly director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, at the entrance to the Daily Life in Ancient Egypt exhibition. Photo by Stan Godlewski
Q: What’s your earliest memory of visiting a museum?
A: That goes way back. I’ve been coming to the [Peabody] museum since somewhere in the four- to five-years-old range. I can vividly remember walking into the Great Hall for the first time and seeing the dinosaurs, particularly the Brontosaurus, and just feeling that feeling when the hairs on the back of your next go up. Fast forward many years … and I had a job interview at Yale and they asked if there’s anything I wanted to see while I was in town and I said, “I want to go to the Peabody Museum.” And I still get that feeling.
Q: What was it about natural history that drew you to the field?
A: I don’t feel like I chose my profession; I just always was interested in the natural world. I was always interested in animals, in particular. I always wanted to be outdoors. And once I discovered dinosaurs, I became one of those dinosaur kids for many years. That led to a broader interest in ecology and the environment.