The big news for history and science museums this spring will be the reopening April 21 of the Penn Museum's fabled Middle Eastern Galleries, closed for six months to undergo a complete refurbishment and rethinking of their story line. The galleries will now explore life in the ancient land as part of a trajectory — increased settlement, increasingly complex social relations — that leads toward cities and urbanization.
Not to worry; exquisite artifacts, such as Ram Caught in a Thicket, the 5,000-year-old statuette from the royal city of Ur, will return. Over the next few years, the museum's Egyptian, African, and Mexican and Central American galleries will also be revamped, the entrance foyer and auditorium will be renovated, and other changes (air conditioning installed!) will transform the visiting experience.
Meanwhile, other museums are mounting eclectic explorations of ideas, historical moments, and stuff galore. A newly opened Academy of Natural Sciences exhibit brings in live crocodiles to explore the life and habits of this ancient reptile. In March, the Franklin Institute puts on a big show about video gaming. The National Museum of American Jewish History and the National Constitution Center have spring exhibitions on Leonard Bernstein and Alexander Hamilton, respectively.
Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World (through May 6, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University). This exhibit features numerous live species, including a Siamese crocodile and an Albino American alligator. Visitors can test their strength in a simulator against a croc's bite, view skulls, and create a 3D animation of a long-extinct croc. (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
The Diamond Eagle of the Society of the Cincinnati (through March 4, Museum of the American Revolution). A jewel-encrusted medal owned and worn by George Washington went on display at the museum in December, the first time it has been shown in the city since it was presented to Washington here 233 years ago. The eagle features 200 diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. Also on temporary display (through Feb. 19) is a seven-foot-long panoramic watercolor of Washington's army – and his fabled tent, now in the museum's collection – camped on the bank of the Hudson River. Painted in 1782, it is the only known wartime depiction of Washington's headquarters tent in the field. (215-253-6731, www.amrevmuseum.org)
Woven Strands: The Art of Human Hair Work (through Sept. 16, Mütter Museum). Hair and jewelry sit at the heart of this exhibition, mounted in conjunction with Morbid Anatomy blog and research library. This unusual domestic craft employs human hair in four distinctive art and jewelry techniques: palette work, gimp work, table work, and dissolved human hair work. (215-560-8564, muttermuseum.org)
#GiltyPleasures (through April 6, Library Company of Philadelphia). The Library Company has taken its popular social-media outreach and turned it into a pop-up exhibition out here in the 3D world. #GiltyPleasures will be a showcase of greatest hits and curators' faves. (215-546-3181, librarycompany.org)
Black Pulp! (African American Museum in Philadelphia, Feb. 2-April 29). This exhibit gives an overview of work exploring the black experience — from black and non-black artists and publishers. Historical material is set against contemporary art to explore the use of printed media to challenge racist narratives and preconceptions. (215-574-0380, www.aampmuseum.org)
Of Two Minds: Creative Couples in Art and History (Feb. 7-Oct. 7, Rosenbach). Ferdinand and Isabella; Olivier and Leigh William and Catherine Blake; Violette Oakley and Edith Emerson – all bound as artists, craftspeople, and lovers. The exhibition explores the art and achievements of romantic couples. (215-732-1600, rosenbach.org)
Philadelphia Eddie (Feb. 8-Jan. 1, 2019, Independence Seaport Museum). From Brooklyn's Coney Island to the counterculture of 1960s South Street, Eddie Funk fought to make a name for himself, protect the freedoms of tattoo artists, and share his legacy with the world. This exhibit features rare tattoo "flash" designs, personal mementos, and other memorabilia. (215-413-8655, phillyseaport.org)
Treading on Toxicity: The Science, History and Implications of Philadelphia's Lead Soil Contamination (6 p.m. Feb. 28, Wagner Free Institute of Science). Philadelphia has a lead problem — in its dirt. How did it happen? West Chester University geologist Cynthia Hall discusses the history of lead contamination in Philadelphia, the data that she and her students have collected, and the wider implications of this grave problem in the city. (215-763-6529, wagnerfreeinstitute.org)
Changing Death: A Panel Discussion on Ritual and Acceptance (1 p.m. March 3, Laurel Hill Cemetery). The discussion and walking tour of the cemetery is held as part of the One Book, One Philadelphia program. Jacqueline Woodson's novel Another Brooklyn is the taking-off point. (215-228-8200, thelaurelhillcemetery.org)
Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music (March 16-Sept. 2, National Museum of American Jewish History). On the occasion of the centennial of Bernstein's birth, NMAJH mounts the first large-scale museum exhibition to illustrate the conductor and composer's life, his Jewish identity, and his social activism. On view among the 100 historic artifacts: Bernstein's piano and conducting suit, family heirlooms, original films, and immersive sound installations. (215-923-3811, nmajh.org)
Hamilton: The Constitutional Clashes That Shaped a Nation (March 23-December, National Constitution Center). The center mounts an exhibition examining the personalities and constitutional rivalries that shaped the nation. Alexander Hamilton goes toe to toe with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Aaron Burr. (215-409-6600, constitutioncenter.org)
Game Masters: The Exhibition (March 31-Sept. 3, Franklin Institute). The Franklin Institute showcases the work of more than 30 game designers and presents more than 100 playable games – including the Sims, Angry Birds, Donkey Kong, and Minecraft. The exhibit takes visitors through the evolution of gaming from arcade classics to console-based games. Games galore. (215-448-1200, fi.edu)
In Our Nature: Flora and Fauna of the Americas (April 9-July 30, Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia Central Library). This exhibiti centers on six centuries of wildlife and landscape illustration in the Western Hemisphere, everything from a 17th-century Greenlandic walrus to Rockwell Kent's 20th-century woodcuts of Tierra del Fuego. (215-686-5322, freelibrary.org)
Sami Reindeer People of Alaska (April 14-Aug. 26, American Swedish Historical Museum). In 1894 and 1898, hundreds of Sami — the indigenous peoples of northern Scandinavia — traveled 10,000 miles to Alaska to teach reindeer herding to native Alaskan peoples. This unusual story is told in a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Sami Cultural Center of North America. (215-389-1776, www.americanswedish.org)
Walking with Reindeer (April 14-Aug. 26, American Swedish Historical Museum). National Geographic photographer Erika Larsen's photographs, taken over four years with the Sami people in Norway and Sweden. (215-389-1776, www.americanswedish.org)
Philadelphia Science Festival (April 20-April 28, Franklin Institute, Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and citywide). Eighth straight Philadelphia Science Festival, featuring more than 75 events. The finale, Science Carnival, returns in 2018 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (after two years at Penn's Landing) on April 28. (215-448-1200, fi.edu)
Middle Eastern Galleries (April 21, Penn Museum). The Penn Museum reopens its Middle Eastern Galleries after a six-month closure for a complete refurbishing and rethinking of the exhibition story line. The reopened galleries, a first step in the museum's major renovation, will feature a journey through time. The royal city of Ur, the ancient city of Nippur, and the Iranian plateau of Rayy Plain are some stops on the way. A reopening gala kicks things off April 14. (215-898-4000, penn.museum)
William Russell Birch (May 1-Oct. 19, Library Company of Philadelphia). This exhibit explores the story of William Birch, who documented early Philadelphia in a work now known as Birch's Views of Philadelphia. Birch, probably more than anyone else, fashioned our sense of what Federal Philadelphia looked like. (215-546-3181, librarycompany.org)