Introducing Dr. Matthew R. Halley

DMNH is excited to introduce evolutionary biologist and historian Matthew R. Halley, Ph.D. as Collections Manager of Birds and Mammals in our Collections & Research Division. He is looking forward to incorporating his passion for history, science, and the arts in his work here at the Museum.

Some of the nightingale-thrushes in the Museum’s scientific collections

Dr. Halley’s love for science and history began at a young age and carried into his adulthood. His academic journey began at Pennsylvania State University, where he received his B.A. in Sociology. He credits his early education in Sociology, which provided him a better understanding of cultural and human diversity, as the foundation of his wide-ranging research program. His interest in various cultures has benefited Dr. Halley in his many travels around the world, including fieldwork in countries such as Panama, Israel, Venezuela, India, Nicaragua, and many more. He says, “The more you learn about different ways of life, the easier it is to identify your own bias.” He approaches his research by anticipating and eliminating said biases in order to expand his and others’ understanding of history and science.

As a scientist, Dr. Halley’s primary focus is the social evolution and behavior of American birds. He completed his Ph.D. in Environmental Science at Drexel University and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, where he studied the evolution of seasonal migration in his favorite group of birds, the nightingale-thrushes (genus Catharus). His research utilizes many different technologies including genetics, video cameras, tracking devices, and analysis of audio recordings, and museum specimens.

Portrait of Audubon by John Syme, 1826

Dr. Halley’s historical research primarily focuses on the history of American scientists from the 18th and 19th centuries. For more than a decade, he has studied the life, art, and science of John James Audubon, a well-known American ornithologist. He was a former caretaker at the Wyck Historic House and Garden (Philadelphia, PA) from 2010-2011 and 2017-2018, where he rediscovered numerous lost specimens, letters, and documents, including several unknown letters of Audubon. By searching for lost manuscripts and artifacts, he hopes to shed light on the past of ornithology and transform the way we think of history and science.

Additionally, Dr. Halley is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. He has been featured on numerous albums, including his own self-titled album Matthew Halley (2020). When not working on music, Dr. Halley is an avid birdwatcher and nature enthusiast. He enjoys finding inspiration in a variety of subjects and contributing to multiple fields of knowledge through original research.