Hello- a team of researchers from the University of Sheffield visited the bird collections at the Manchester Museum (part of the University of Manchester) a few months ago. They are trying to understand how the world’s birds diversified over time, looking at the rate of evolution of different body structures. They took 3d scans of hundreds of our birds skins (we have about 15,000), and have now set up a web site where people (you?) can help them map the shape of bird’s beaks, so they can be analysed. The website can be found here and it’s well worth a look. The Sheffield team have a blog where you can find out about their progress.
Hello- There are less than two weeks to go until ‘Refloating the Ark’. I’ve attached a copy of the delegate list to this email so you know who to look out for. The presentations will take place in Lecture theatre B on the ground floor of the Roscoe Building, which is about 200 metres from the Museum on Brunswick Street, number 53 on the campus map (if you’re in front of the Museum, cross the road, turn right then left, and Roscoe is the 2nd building on the left, set back from the road):
The campus map also gives details of getting to the Museum and the University by car, train and various other means, and car parking. For those of you still needing accommodation, we are very close to the city centre so it is best to take advantage of any last minute deals with any of the city centre hotels. For those of you who are staying over, there are plenty of places to eat to whatever tastes you have.
Ahead of the conference, here is a tiny bit of homework. One of the sessions, at the end of the first day, is about ‘just what is it we’re here for?’ So, here’s the homework, just a couple of questions to think about, there’s no need to prepare anything:
- What roles and responsibilities do you think museums with natural history collections, and people who work in them, have in terms of connecting people with nature and environmental sustainability?
- Are we just ‘breathless zoos’ or are we something more, and if so what?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you do for nature and for natural history museums?
- And finally, what motivates you to do what you do?
Please just have a think about one or more of these if you get a minute before the conference. We’ll have a short discussion about this at the end of the first day.
For those of you who use social media, please use the hashtag #nature&museums.
Very best wishes, and I’ll see you in a week and a half,
Hello- I went to an excellent conference last week, ‘Nature Connections’, at the University of Derby. The conference brought together a wide range of people who are interested or working on the connections between people and nature. One of the main things I took from it was the ongoing problem of discussing people as separate from nature. Ralph Underhill from the Public Interest Research Centre spoke about this, in that the way we introduce and frame subjects sets the discussion down particular paths, and consequently drives or limits the options for discussion. One thing I was interested in from this how we can have conversations that help people define and understand what ways of thinking about nature are useful for them and in what circumstances. This builds on work we did some time ago on our Living Worlds gallery that sought to raise how people think about nature- it could be an interesting/useful next step to combine these two strands and go that one step further: to explore nature through Living Worlds with visitors, and then drill down a bit further on when, how and why people think about nature in particular ways (or they don’t) and their relationships/connections with these ‘different’ natures.
Another thing I took away from the conference was the importance of remembering that nature is not a place or an object, it is a process, a network of which we are part, an ebb and flow. Remembering this, and that we too are ebbing and flowing in response to various rhythms (breath, heartbeats, daylength, seasonality) is important in museums, which can seem, let’s face it, more static and fixed than messy, chaotic, beautiful nature.
The third thing I took away was that there was hardly anyone there from museums- either curators or educators. Museums, and relevant art galleries, have an enormous amount of potential to help people explore the wider world, so I hope more museum people will engage with this area of work.
Just a couple of thoughts,
Hello- here is the detailed conference programme. It is open to everyone, so if you’re interested, please do come along.
Refloating the Ark: Connecting the public and scientists with natural history museums
Manchester Museum 17–18 June 2015
One day: £25 Two days: £40 (includes refreshments and lunch)
A two-day meeting exploring how museums with natural history collections can maximise their contribution towards environmental sustainability, by engaging effectively with the public and the scientific research community. The meeting is aimed at museum workers, environmental educators, conservationists, scientific researchers, students, amateur naturalists, funders and the biological recording community.
Please email David Gelsthorpe (email@example.com) with your name, organisation (if any) and whether you want to attend Day 1, Day 2 or Both Days. Please also let us know if you have any dietary requirements (vegetarian, vegan).
Day 1: Engaging the public with environmental sustainability in natural history museums
How can natural history museums effectively connect audiences with nature and environmental issues, and what can they learn from other sectors? How can natural history museums promote pro-environmental behaviour and what responsibilities do they have to do so? What parts can art, science and literature play in museums to promote environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviour?
|Introduction||Henry McGhie, Manchester Museum||9:30-9:45|
|Common Cause for Nature: working with values and frames||Ralph Underhill, Public Interest Research Centre||9:45-10:30|
|The new Museum of Environmental Science, Guadalajara||Bob Bloomfield OBE||10:30-11:00|
|Investigating the routes to nature connectedness through natural history museums||Ryan Lumber, University of Derby||11:30-12:00|
|Engaging through exhibitions and public programmes: the NHM ‘Coral’ exhibition||Peronel Craddock, Temporary Exhibitions Programme Manager, NHM||12:00-12:30pm|
|LUNCH and tour of Manchester Museum||12:30-1:30pm|
|Communicating the environment||Ed Gillespie, co-founder, Futerra||1:30-2:30pm|
|Museums as spaces for growing young nature lovers||Elee Kirk, University of Leicester||2:30-3:00pm|
|Artistic interventions in natural history museums: a 2013 case study||Petra Tjitske Kalshoven, University of Manchester||3:30-4:00pm|
|Unwinding the Binding: interpreting taxidermy practice and making use of damaged mounts||Ebony Andrews, University of Leeds||4:00-4:30pm|
|Just what is it natural history museums are here for? Activists, campaigners and honest brokers||Short presentations and discussion||5:00-6:00pm|
Day 2: Connecting natural history collections with scientific research
How can museums increase the visibility of collections on a shoestring? How can museums benefit from research funding—and where is it? What future do collections have as scientific infrastructure? How can museums connect with biological recording and environmental monitoring initiatives? How can partnerships support museums to increase the use of their collections?
|RESEARCH & COLLECTIONS|
|The research agenda in relation to natural history collections||Paul Smith, Oxford University Museum of Natural History||9:30-10:00|
|Natural history museums as a basis of research||Imran Rahman, University of Bristol||10:00-10:30|
|The future of collecting and collections||Nick Merriman, Manchester Museum||10:30-11:00|
|CITIZEN SCIENCE & DATA|
|Where next for volunteering in museums?||Lucy Robinson, Citizen Science Programme Manager, NHM||11:30-12:00|
|The Biological Records Centre, museums and citizen science||Michael Pocock and Helen Roy, CEH/BRC||12:00-12:30pm|
|Zooniverse and biological data projects||Rob Simpson, Zooniverse||1:15-1:45pm|
|Blowing off the dust||Rachel Stroud, National Biodiversity Network||1:45-2:15pm|
|PARTNERSHIPS AND ADVOCACY|
|Rockband: linking fossils, fabric and folklore||Christine Taylor, Hampshire Arts and Museums Service||2:15-2:40pm|
|NHM–regional partnerships||Rob Huxley, NHM||2:40-3:00pm|
|Shout-outs for advocacy||Paolo Viscardi on behalf of NatSCA||3:00-3:20pm|
|NW Natural History partnership|
|Luanne Meehitiya, West Midlands Biological Collections Reviews|
|How Arts Council England support natural history in museums: PRISM and other initiatives||Paula Brikci and Penny Thompson, ACE||3:50-4:10pm|
|How the Museums Association can help natural history collections to thrive and survive||Sharon Heal, Director, Museums Association||4:10-4:30pm|
|Wrap-up and close||4:30-4:45pm|
Ralph Underhill, Public Interest Research Centre, Common Cause for Nature
This talk will explore the values that underpin concern, enjoyment and protection of nature. Ralph will discuss the results of the Common Cause for Nature report, produced in collaboration with 13 UK conservation organisations, and the implications of this research for influencing government, working with business, engaging with the media, building active membership and engaging with the public through values.
Bob Bloomfield OBE, The new Museum of Environmental Science, Guadalajara, Mexico
This talk will explore the development of a new Museum of Environmental Science, due to open in 2015. The talk will explore how the project has taken a radical approach to addressing questions of sustainability in Western Mexico.
Ryan Lumber, University of Derby, Investigating the routes to nature connectedness through natural history museums
Nature connectedness is a rapidly growing research field that seeks to evaluate and explore people’s connectedness to nature, and to identify routes to engagement. This talk will focus on how museum displays and experiences can contribute towards nature connectedness, for the wellbeing of visitors and for environmental benefits.
Peronel Craddock, Temporary Exhibitions Programme Manager, Natural History Museum, London, Engaging through exhibitions and related programmes
This presentation is based around the forthcoming exhibition on Corals at the NHM. It will explore how the development has been informed by audience research to understand how best to engage visitors with key environmental messages in the exhibition. It will also explore how the wider public programme has been developed to reach broader audiences, and how interpretive methods and the wider programme support different methods of engagement with collections and scientific research.
Ed Gillespie, Co-founder, Futerra, Communicating biodiversity
The public are forever having environmental messages stuffed down their throats, yet enduring behaviour change to more sustainable lifestyles that preserve our beautiful world eludes us. Might the beautifully stuffed and preserved specimens and exhibitions in Natural History Museums make a difference? By understanding people’s values better can exhibits, education and engagement be redesigned to touch people in new, more effective and emotional ways? Ed reimagines a better future for museum messaging, and the possibility of behavioural transformation beyond.
Futerra are a specialist sustainability strategy and communications agency, working with big multinational corporations, governments, and NGOs to make sustainability so desirable it becomes normal. They’ve been doing it for almost 14 years and offer a range of services that help organisations unlock the value from addressing sustainability challenges and creating meaningful connections with customers.
Elee Kirk, University of Leicester, Museums as spaces for growing young nature lovers
Do natural history museums really help young children to connect to nature? This talk is based on research carried out with four and five year old children on family visits to Oxford University Museum of Natural History, in which the children’s own digital photography was used as the basis for interviews about their museum experiences. Findings suggest that, while the children do not tend to learn new facts during their visits, the space of the museum does encourage strong affective responses from the children, in which they strengthen and build on their existing interests in animals and nature. This presentation will use the children’s own words and photographs to illustrate the ways in which the children emotionally, physically and intellectually connect with nature during their museum visits.
Petra Tjitske Kalshoven, University of Manchester, Artistic interventions in natural history museums: a 2013 case study
In 2013, as part of an anthropological inquiry into taxidermy, Petra collaborated with Kendal Museum and textile artist Anthea Walsh, commissioned to realise a small exhibition meant to resonate with Kendal Museum’s Victorian natural history collections. The resulting show, including a series of new artworks combining embroidery and taxidermy, worked as a provocation within a particular space with the potential to make museum visitors reconsider their conceptions of human relations with ‘nature’. In this presentation, Petra will reflect on her experience with this experiment against the backdrop of a marked rise in artistic interventions in natural history museums, highlighting the merits of a non-didactic approach.
Ebony Andrews, University of Leeds, Unwinding the Binding: Interpreting Taxidermy Practice and Making Use of Damaged Mounts
This paper investigates the idea of interpreting specimen preparation, particularly taxidermy practice, to enliven natural science collections for audiences in alternative ways. In addition, by dispelling common misconceptions attached to museum taxidermy collections, and indeed, of museum collecting more broadly, this approach seeks to realign the ethics of taxidermy production, use and display in order to situate and underscore the museum as an ambassador for the conservation of the natural world. Part of this paper will consider how damaged and/or poorly mounted specimens may be used to constructively contribute to public learning.
Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, The research agenda in relation to natural history museums
This presentation will look at the role of natural history collections in underpinning contemporary research programmes and what relevance they have to those endeavours, particularly in university museums. There is no doubt that the breadth of curatorial expertise has been eroded, or that few institutions now have active collecting programmes, and funding for alpha-taxonomic work is of course difficult to come by. Is this a UK issue or, perhaps, an anglophone one? It is probable that the answers to these questions will differ across disciplines, from botany to zoology to palaeobiology, but in areas where research is fading away should we attempt to intervene, or reorient ourselves to develop collections that are relevant to contemporary research questions?
Imran Rahman, University of Bristol, A researcher’s perspective
Visualizing fossils in three dimensions with the aid of modern computer techniques is becoming increasingly important in palaeontological research, and can reveal previously unknown details with major implications for our understanding of natural history and evolution. Such ‘virtual fossils’ also have great potential for science communication, allowing for diverse learning styles in a variety of topics. This talk will introduce the approaches that can be used to non-destructively visualize fossils (and other specimens) in 3D, and present case studies of how these models can be used to connect non-specialists with scientific research based on museum collections.
Nick Merriman, Manchester Museum, The future of collecting and collections
Natural history collections are part of a group of ‘disciplinary’ collections that were formed as part of the 19th century desire to systematise the world. Except for the very largest national institutions, most of these collections no longer can, or desire, to collect systematically. This paper looks at a new future, beyond disciplinary collecting, to one which is thematic and relational. It will be illustrated with examples from Manchester Museum’s thematic collecting programme.
Lucy Robinson, Citizen Science Programme Manager, NHM, Where next for volunteering in museums?
Volunteering in museums is evolving, and exciting new opportunities are arising to actively involve the public with natural history collections and scientific research. I will use three brief case studies include citizen science and ‘visiteering’ to explore the potential for novel, flexible, bite-sized and mutually beneficial volunteering opportunities in museums, in the great outdoors, and from the comfort of your own home. Together, these approaches can extend the engagement with collections and research before, during, and after a museum visit, whilst supporting real scientific endeavour.
Michael Pocock and Helen Roy, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology/Biological Records Centre, The Biological Records Centre, museums and citizen science
People have been making wildlife observations for centuries and these biological records contribute to our rich legacy of natural history. The Biological Records Centre (www.brc.ac.uk) was established in 2014 in recognition of the inspiring contributions made by volunteer recorders. We will explore the history of biological recording and the role natural historians have played in enhancing our understanding of biodiversity across the UK. It is widely recognised that our environment is changing at an unprecedented rate and so the need for collaborative approaches, generating “big data” to address the big questions in ecology, is critical.
Rob Simpson, Zooniverse, University of Oxford, The Zooniverse and citizen science
Zooniverse is the world’s largest citizen science platform, with more than a million registered volunteers. With projects from astronomy to zoology, the Zooniverse is building a platform that aims to make running an online citizen science project as easy as maintaining a blog. This talk will explore the Zooniverse and projects working with museums and in biological fields.
Rachel Stroud, Data Officer, National Biodiversity Network, Blowing off the dust
The National Biodiversity Network aims to be a single portal for biological records relating to the UK. Rachel will talk about discovering ‘hidden’ data, the power of data held in museums, and how we can work together as a community to blow the dust of these data. This presentation will explore how museum data can be given a new lease of life, with an aim of contributing effectively to the understanding and conservation of UK biodiversity.
Christine Taylor, Keeper of Natural Sciences, Hampshire Arts and Museums Service, Rockband—linking Fossils, Fabric and Folklore
Most museums have geology collections, but many lie unused through lack of geological knowledge and expertise. With this in mind, a partnership of five museums in South East England was set up to enable museum staff and volunteers who had little or no experience in working with geology collections to deliver geology sessions. Using funding provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund (Your Heritage Programme), the Rockband partnership was able to bring in expert advice to provide new ideas to help interpret and communicate about the geology collections in innovative and exciting ways, reaching new audiences as well as promoting partnership working.
Rob Huxley, Natural History Museum, London, The NHM–regional museums partnership
For the last 2 years the Natural History Museum has been engaging with partners in the UK to identify opportunities for collaboration and co-operation to address the issues facing our community. A consortium of institutions and societies has been formed and is focusing on tools for advocacy for NH collections. A Support and Networks Group has piloted a scheme for knowledge exchange placements in the mould of the successful Leonardo–Daubenton project in Europe. A web-based system for locating and promoting natural history collections by taxon and geography has been tested and a series of workshops have produced blogs and other resources aimed at non-specialist curators with responsibility for natural science collections. The links and connections have grown organically over this time and a sound basis is developing for joint ventures such as funding bids and training initiatives.
Paolo Viscardi, Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA), NatSCA’s progress with advocacy
Natural science collections around Britain [Scotland?] and Ireland can provide a rich resource for researchers, but many cannot fulfil their potential because they lack an effective mechanism for sharing information about the material they hold. NatSCA and partners have been working to improve this situation and provide a simple and sustainable mechanism for sharing basic collections information, to help improve accessibility for potential users.
Henry McGhie, Manchester Museum, North West natural history partnership
The North West has 30 museums with significant natural history collections. We have an informal partnership that has been working to increase awareness of our collections, and to increase people’s confidence in using them. We have been reviewing collections and have developed an advocacy campaign that connects our collections with wider regional agendas around people’s health and wellbeing, as well as nature conservation.
Luanne Meehitiya, Birmingham Museums, Supporting life sciences collections in the West Midlands
Between 2012 and 2015 the West Midlands Biological Collections Review, run by Birmingham Museums, aimed to help museums understand their biological collections and to form a snapshot of the region. It used a methodology adapted from the Significance 2.0 framework to create an overview of the significance, usage and collections care of each museum collection.
Paula Brikci and Penny Thompson, Arts Council England, ACE support for natural history collections and museums
This presentation will explore how ACE currently supports natural history museums and collections, with special reference to the PRISM grant scheme.
Sharon Heal, Director, Museums Association, How the Museums Association can help natural history collections to thrive and survive
“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” How can the Museums Association help natural history collections to thrive and survive?
This week we’ve been preparing for Romuald Hazoume’s ‘Dance of the Butterflies’, due to open on 14th February. Romuald is one of the leading African artists of today, with work that reflects his interest in inequalities in Africa, explored through a sometimes playful approach. ‘Dance of the Butterflies’ is a specially commissioned piece that chimes with the themes of the Living Worlds gallery that I worked on in 2011. The gallery explores nature and people’s differing relationships with it, both collectively and individually. Romuald has produced a piece of work that will be exhibited in the gallery as a series of interventions, consisting of swarms of fabric ‘butterflies’, representing various political types in operation in society today. Hazoume has taken inspiration from the butterfly effect, a feature of chaotic systems, where small changes can lead to unexpected, faraway and large scale impacts.
Manchester Museum: 17–18 June 2015
One day: £25 Two days: £40
(includes refreshments and lunch)
About this conference
How can museums with natural history collections support high-quality public engagement with nature? How can their collections support scientific research and environmental monitoring? This two-day conference will explore these questions through presentations from leading museum workers, ecologists, citizen science managers, data managers and academics from a variety of fields, with plenty of opportunities to share your views and take part in discussion.
The aim of the conference is to explore how museums can fulfil their potential to support environmental sustainability, and connect people with the natural world. It is aimed at museum workers of all kinds, environmental educators, conservationists, scientific researchers, artists, naturalists, teachers, funders and the biological recording community—and anyone else who is interested in exploring innovative ways to connect people with nature.
Day 1: Engaging the public with environmental sustainability in natural history museums
How can natural history museums effectively connect audiences with nature and environmental issues, and what can they learn from other sectors? How can natural history museums promote pro-environmental behaviour and what responsibilities do they have to do so? What parts can art and science play in museums, to promote environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviour?
With presentations from Ralph Underhill (Public Interest Research Centre); Bob Bloomfield OBE; Ryan Lumber (Dept. of Life Sciences, University of Derby); Peronel Craddock (Head of Content Development, NHM); Ed Gillespie (co-founder, Futerra); Elee Kirk (museologist, University of Leicester); Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (social anthropologist, University of Manchester), and Ebony Andrews (museologist, University of Leeds).
Day 2: Connecting natural history collections with scientific research
How can museums increase the visibility of collections on a shoestring? How can museums benefit from research funding—and where is it? What future do collections have as scientific infrastructure? How can museums connect with biological recording and environmental monitoring initiatives? How can citizen science approaches engage people with collections? These questions form the basis of the day’s presentations.
With presentations from Paul Smith (Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History); Imran Rahman (palaeontologist, University of Bristol); Nick Merriman (Director, Manchester Museum); Lucy Robinson (Citizen Science Programme Manager, NHM); Michael Pocock and Helen Roy (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology / Biological Records Centre); Rob Simpson (Zooniverse); Rachel Stroud (National Biodiversity Network); Rob Huxley (Principal Curator, NHM); Paolo Viscardi (Chair, Natural Sciences Collections Association); Paula Brikci and Penny Thompson (Arts Council England); Sharon Heal (Director, Museums Association).
Please email David Gelsthorpe (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your name, organisation (if any) and whether you want to attend Day 1, Day 2 or Both Days.
Hello- I’m off to the University of Oslo tomorrow, as part of a project exploring copies and replicas in museums. My project, along with a collaborator, is looking at specimens in museums, specifically a collection of goose specimens in Manchester Museum. Our project will explore how beautiful, untidy, chaotic nature is made comprehensible by standardised practices that help turn nature into numbers. The geese also contribute to a project we are working on in the Museum that seeks to kick start collecting in the museum. But I certainly won’t be going shooting geese- we’re interested in acquiring films, stories, building relationships to explore subjects. So, if you have any thoughts on migration, especially in geese, I’d very much like to hear from you. I can’t wait- it’ll be really interesting.
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.
- Art and Design
- National Curriculum
- Natural history
- Nature and Me
- Rocks and Minerals