University of São Paulo: At USP, museums are a source of teaching, research and extension

The first few weeks walking through the corridors, classrooms and open spaces of USP are enough for freshmen and freshmen to realize that the University’s universe of knowledge goes far beyond their own faculty. There are plays, lectures, concerts, film screenings and all sorts of cultural activities that make academic knowledge more plural and also more accessible to the general population.

Among these spaces are museums. Perhaps some newcomers have already visited with their families or on school trips this constellation made up of USP’s museums, collections and spaces for scientific and cultural dissemination. For some, on the other hand, it may be the first time.

Currently, the University has 45 collection spaces, distributed in seven cities in the State of São Paulo: Itu, Piracicaba, Ribeirão Preto, Santos, São Carlos, São Paulo and São Sebastião. There are 36 million pieces that, before the covid-19 pandemic, received an annual audience estimated at 3.5 million people. They are places like the Geosciences Museum, the Museum of Human Anatomy, the Oceanographic Museum and the Cientec Park.

Among these spaces, four of them, located in the capital, have special characteristics: the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (MAE), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), the Museu Paulista (MP) and the Museum of Zoology (MZ). These are USP’s statutory museums, units that concentrate teaching, research and extension and enjoy a status similar to that of the other teaching units at the University. As all USP museums are important, these, however, are by far the most robust.



All of them are open to receive both students and the general population (after almost a decade closed for renovations, the Museu Paulista is preparing its reopening for September this year, within the framework of the celebrations of the bicentennial of Independence ), offering exhibitions of its collections and educational activities linked to its areas of activity. But, in addition, they are all teaching and research centers that bring learning opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students, carrying out research and producing knowledge from their collections.

A bit of museums

The only statutory museum located in Cidade Universitária, the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (MAE) emerged in 1989, as a result of the merger of part of the collections of the Museu Paulista with the collections of the former MAE, the Institute of Prehistory and the Museum of Ethnography of Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP. Since then, it has concentrated all of the University’s archaeological and ethnographic material culture. There are about 1.5 million items, organized in archeology collections from Brazil, the Americas, Africa, the Mediterranean and the Near East.

In addition to offering exhibitions from its collection to the general public, MAE has elective courses for undergraduate students. It also has a postgraduate program in Archeology and participates in the Museology Interunits Program, which brings together professors from the four statutory museums.

The Contemporary Art Museum (MAC), in turn, is located opposite Ibirapuera Park, in a building designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Its origin dates back to 1963 and is linked to the collection of the former Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in São Paulo, which had the collections of the patrons Yolanda Penteado and Ciccillo Matarazzo, collections of works acquired or received as donations during the former MAM, and works from the São Paulo Biennial awards until 1961. These inaugural collections included, among others, works by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Wassily Kandinsky, Tarsila do Amaral, Anita Malfatti, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Alfredo Volpi and Lygia Clark, as well as an expressive collection of Italian art from the beginning of the 20th century.


Today, the museum has approximately 10 thousand works, bringing together paintings, engravings, sculptures, photographs, objects and installations. MAC also participates in two inter-unit postgraduate programs at USP, in Aesthetics and History of Art and Museology.

“On the verge of turning 60, MAC is one of the most solid and prestigious institutions in Brazil, with international recognition”, highlights its director, Professor Ana Magalhães. “Since its creation, MAC has been a reference in research into the history, theory and criticism of art and in collecting new forms of artistic expression. It was the first museum in the country to collect photography, video art and, more recently, digital art. In addition to its artistic collection, MAC has a reference library for 20th and 21st century art and a historical archive with important documentation of national artistic memory.”

Going to the south of the city, we find the Museu Paulista (MP), the oldest museum in the State of São Paulo, opened in 1895. Located in a historic building in Parque da Independência, the Museu Paulista, also known as the Museu do Ipiranga , underwent several dismemberments throughout the 20th century, transforming it from a museum of natural history to a museum specializing in the history of material culture. In the current configuration, three lines of research guide the institution’s work: Daily life and Society, Universe of Work and History of the Imaginary.

Its collection comprises 380,000 textual documents, 72,000 iconographic items and 30,000 objects. Despite not having an exclusive postgraduate program, the MP is also part of the Museology Program and its professors work in postgraduate programs at the FFLCH, the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) and the Polytechnic School (EP), in addition to provide undergraduate electives. The MP also has the Museu Republicano de Itu, located in the interior of the state .

“Even with the closing to public visitation in recent years, the Museu Paulista has always counted on the participation of undergraduate and graduate students in the projects developed by its teams and, as a result, has complemented the training of students from different areas of knowledge. from USP”, comments the director of the museum, Professor Rosaria Ono. “Now, with its reopening, in September this year, the Museu Paulista invites all students to discover part of its historical collection, as well as the research developed and the knowledge generated through its exhibitions.”



Next to the Museu Paulista, also in the Ipiranga district, is the Museum of Zoology (MZ), inaugurated in 1941 and fully integrated into USP in 1969. It has a collection of 11 million copies, with some of the largest collections in the world, such as the of molluscs, with 1 million specimens, which makes it the largest in Latin America. The MZ also has the largest collection of South American reptiles and amphibians on the planet, with 120,000 reptiles and 140,000 amphibians. The museum also has the largest and most complete collection of Brazilian birds in the world, with 105,000 specimens, 20,000 tissue samples, 3,500 skeletons, 2,000 nests and 3,000 eggs.

Since 2011, the MZ maintains a postgraduate program in Systematics, Animal Taxonomy and Biodiversity, in addition to integrating the inter-unit postgraduate program in Museology.

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