We’ve been working with ‘People United’ on looking at how arts and culture can promote kindness in society. Artists Daniel Bye, Boff Whalley and Sarah Punshon came up with the idea of having a mass singing in the Manchester Museum, with songs inspired by the wonder of objects in the museum collection. The first performance was yesterday but I couldn’t go to see it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the event today. There is a first performance at 11am, and a second at 1:30pm. Maybe see you there- it should be great. If you want more event details they’re on our website.
I’ve put some notes together as an introduction to strategic planning, targeted at natural history museums. Strategic planning might sound really boring, but it’s a great tool to help make significant changes. It is a secret to success. IIf you like sudoku or other puzzles, then strategic planning is almost certainly for you. I hope these notes are useful.
Let me know what you think of them,
Hello- I’ve put together some more tools on making use of natural history collections in museums. These ones are about using natural history collections and displays to teach the National Curriculum for Geography. I hope they’re useful. Just so they’re all together, here are links to other bits of this toolkit.
Feel free to share these, and also let me know if they’re useful or to make suggestions.
We have three mounted Wolves in Manchester Museum, but they couldn’t be more different. The oldest one dates from the early 20th century and came from Canada. We got it from Dundee Museum, who had got a number of Wolf and Polar Bear skins from whaling ships returning from Canada and Greenland. The Wolf was stuffed by a local taxidermist, Harry Brazenor, who also prepared our Polar Bear. This Wolf is straight from Little Red Riding Hood and has red paint on its teeth to look like blood. We have it on display in our Living Worlds gallery, in a section that explores the consequences of the stories we are told as children. Attitudes to many animals develop through childhood, and fears are passed from adults to children.
The second Wolf can be seen on display in the Living Worlds gallery, in a section about what kind of wildlife can we have in Britain: will people make space for large predatory animals, or, as has often happened, will intolerance, fear and ignorance win the day. Wolves were found in Britain from hundreds of thousands of years before being wiped out by people in the 17th century. Their former presence is still echoed by place-names.
The third Wolf we have was on display in the exhibition From the War of Nature. This Wolf is enormous and is a Canadian Timber Wolf. When it was being prepared, I asked the taxidermist to prepare it in a reasonably neutral pose- certainly not with fangs and red teeth. That way we can use it to explore what people think about Wolves. This Wolf was displayed on a plinth, not in a case, and was enormously popular with visitors: many visitors had their photo taken with the Wolf. It is very beautiful, and a good representation of an individual animal that was as wild and free as it was beautiful.
Museums have an important role in constructing and interpreting images of animals. We have to be careful that we don’t promote images that lead to fear and ignorance. The Wolf with the red fangs is interesting, but needs a bit of interpretation to explain why it looks the way it does.
Meanwhile, live Wolves are increasing in Europe after centuries of human persecution. If they are to return to Britain it will need human intervention, as we are separated from the mainland by the English channel. In America, the Wolf is still a symbol of a malevolent, threatening nature and Wolves are killed as they spread back into areas from which they were formerly extinguished.
Hello, I’ve put some more notes together to help people in museums make use of taxidermy specimens. These notes are about how taxidermy specimens can support teaching of the National Curriculum for Science for Key Stages 1-4. Please feel free to use these and pass them around. They aren’t supposed to be ‘the final word’, but are intended to help people find ways to use their collections. I hope they’re useful.
Originally posted on Finding Nature:
A brief post to invite submissions to Nature Connections 2015, an interdisciplinary conference to examine routes to nature connectedness. This will take place at the University of Derby, Thursday, 26 March 2015. As the benefits of a connection to nature become more apparent the timing is right for a focussed event to bring together practitioners, researchers and beyond. There will be several themes:
- Getting Connected to Nature – Moving beyond the barriers and identifying pathways to nature connection for both children and adults.
- Measuring and evaluating Nature Connection – evaluation practice and impact reporting.
- Nature Connection and wellbeing – Sharing the benefits of a connection to nature.
- Nature’s Beauty Discussion Panel – Reflecting on our relationship to nature through the arts.
More details on keynote speaker, submission formats, abstract deadline are available on the Nature Connections 2015 PDF.
Hello- I’ve put together some more notes for people working with natural history collections in museums. These ones are about how taxidermied animals (‘stuffed animals’) can be used to support teaching the National Curriculum subjects of English, History, Art and Design. These aren’t by any means exhaustive. but are just to help give people ideas about the many, many ways that taxidermy can be used to support learning, inspiration and creativity. Good luck – and let me know how you get on with them.
Hello- we have a great new exhibition about the people and wildlife of Siberia on at the moment. Of course, I was keen to get some of the amazing birds of Siberia featured. Siberia was of great interest to British and European ornithologists as long ago as the 19th century, as many of the birds that spend the winter here breed in northern Siberia.
Ross’s Gull has often been regarded as the rarest and most mysterious bird in the world. I’ve written about them before on this blog. This species breeds on the tundra in northern Siberia, with tiny numbers breeding (sometimes) on Greenland and in Canada. The bird was discovered (well, by westerners) during the search for the North West Passage (it’s name commemorates JC Ross, the man ‘whose soul was the first to stand on the north magnetic pole’). Even today the bird is mysterious: some are known to summer in the north Arctic Ocean during summer (possibly even at the North Pole), while its wintering grounds are still virtually unknown. The odd one turns up in Britain in winter. This one had been in a private collection in Europe since the mid 20th century; it is a first summer bird, with the black collar of an adult, but with some darker juvenile feathers in its wings.
The Manchurian Crane is one of the tallest cranes in the world. They breed in Manchuria, on the Russian/Chinese border regions, and in Japan. They are famous for their beautiful displays and courtship dances. This one isn’t quite adult, as its neck is not entirely black. This one had lived in a collection of live birds, but died of a broken leg.
This case combines one of the most tragic, and one of the most hopeful bird conservation stories. The lower specimens are a Slender-billed Curlew, shot in the 1860s on Malta. These birds were well-known to spend the winter around the Mediterranean. They were often shot, and many birds of many species are still killed on Malta. The bird was also quite mysterious as its breeding grounds were unknown for many years. Then, in the early 20th century, a Russian hunter, VE Ushakov, discovered them breeding in Siberia. He found a couple of nests and one egg was passed to an English collector named HE Dresser (I go on about him quite a lot I’m afraid). His collection was passed to the Manchester Museum, and the Slender-billed Curlew egg is the only one known (well, at least the only even semi-reliable one). Unfortunately the Slender-billed Curlew has not been seen for a number of years: it may already be extinct, a dreadful thing to have been allowed to happen in Europe in the 21st century.
The small bird on the upper shelf in the image is a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, a bird that breeds in a tiny area of North East Siberia and winters south to China, Korea, Burma and Bangladesh. The species is unique: although it looks like many other small waders (like a Dunlin or a small Sanderling), it has an extraordinary spoon-shaped beak. The bird went into steep decline even in the early 21st century, and people feared it was hurtling towards extinction. Eggs of the birds were collected and hatched out in England, where there is a captive-breeding population. Conservationists have been running an education programme to try to persuade people not to kill them on their wintering grounds. Hopefully the decline has been slowed- but will it ultimately be successful? Let’s hope so. If you’re interested in helping Spoon-billed Sandpipers, you can help support the RSPB campaign to save the species at the RSPB Spoon-billed Sandpiper Appeal page.
Hello- I’ve put together another instalment in a series of pieces to support staff in museums with natural history collections. The first two can be found in earlier posts in this blog, and cover general notes on advocacy, and effective nature messages. This latest instalment is about how to communicate effectively with council members and senior managers. It gives some advice on how to present information in ways that will help you make an impact. Good luck!
Here’s a link to the latest part of the toolkit:
Arthur Gordon has written about the ‘return to wonder’: that reawakening childlike joy and wonder at the everyday is a powerful tonic to apathy, disenchantment and powerlessness. Rachel Carson, one of the leading environmental thinkers of the 20th century, believed the same thing, explored in ‘The Sense of Wonder’. She wrote how “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
If museums can awaken a childlike joy and wonder, then surely natural history collections and displays have a role to play in this. Our museums are filled with amazing things and hundreds of thousands of people come to our museum to wonder at them each year. Some of the objects and specimens are hundreds of years old, and it’s great shame that we don’t know more about what people thought of each of them over time. How many millions of people must have looked at the skeleton of a Sperm Whale which has hung in the same place since 1898? The world doesn’t stand still, and just because specimens have had a long history, the way people think about them doesn’t necessarily do the same. That’s one of the reasons why we have to redevelop our exhibitions and galleries. Natural objects have a very powerful attraction for many people: they remind us that we are part of something bigger, something mysterious, and something that we barely understand. No matter how much we know about Walruses, for example (taking the example of the Walrus skull in the picture above), we can scarcely imagine what a Walrus’s world must be like: the internal forces that draw it to migrate, what it feels like under the Arctic sun hauled out in a herd on the edge of a remote island, how it communicates and understands the world of other Walruses through underground clicks and whistles, how it finds food and thrives in the cold Arctic waters.
The photo above shows the ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’, one of the displays in our Nature’s Library gallery. We are trying to find ways to connect people with nature through our collections. Promoting wonder and curiosity seem a good place to start. To quote Rachel Carson again:
I’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.
- Art and Design
- National Curriculum
- Natural history
- Nature and Me
- Rocks and Minerals