Posted by: henrymcghie | September 10, 2016

Dear Diary- exhibitions, talks and projects

A lot of this week was spent thinking about the exhibitions programme for our expanded temporary exhibitions gallery, due to open in 2020, and how to break that down into components: what success would look like for our various target audiences, how far people will travel to see particular exhibitions (and how to find that out), what the strengths (and weaknesses) of our current exhibitions are and so on. Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany, and I went to National Museums Scotland on Friday to visit the brilliant Celts exhibition, developed in partnership with the British Museum, to see what we could garner that would help with our own redevelopment project.

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Wolf from ‘From the War of Nature’, one of our recent temporary exhibitions (2014)

I also spent a bit of time preparing (or at least thinking about) various talks I’ve got coming up. Next week is the Tyndall Assembly and I’m the pre-dinner speaker, on communicating climate change, and bridging policy/strategy and people’s lived experience. The week after that I’ve got another conference at the University of Reading on Object Lessons and Nature Tables.  My own offering is about how history can be used flexibly in museums, drawing on examples at Manchester Museum (I’ll write more on this after the conference), and how curators, historians of science, artists can and have approached history. This conference follows on from the University Museums Group annual conference, also at Reading, on the subject of partnerships and international working.

We had a planning meeting for a project I’m involved in, ‘Encountering the Unexpected’, with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester. This is a great project, which explores how natural heritage collections can/could help promote active ageing, by helping people connect with nature. This is very timely, as there’s plenty of movement regarding the recognition of the value of nature for promoting people’s wellness; this is also important for nature, as support for and valuing nature is linked with positive attitudes towards the sustainable use of nature, which is something I’m especially interested in. The project is based around three Exchanges (we’ve already had the first one), then museum partners set up their own experiments/activities to test and evaluate different approaches to using their collections. The project has funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund and runs for the next 18 months.


I spoke with a broadcaster about Belle Vue Zoo, and some of the famous animals that once lived in the zoo but which are now preserved in the Museum. These include Maharajah, an Asian Elephant who walked with his keeper from Edinburgh to Manchester in 1872. A local artist recreated this journey last year, and we had an exhibition of his work around Maharajah’s skeleton this year. Maude, the wonderful and very beautiful Tigon from Belle Vue Zoo, and which we had mounted by a taxidermist last year, is another ‘celebrity’ from the Zoo.

A highlight of the week was a day’s Carbon Literacy training, along with a group of other staff, delivered by our own Carbon Literacy accredited trainers Michael Whitworth and Lynsey Jones. This is part of our commitment towards connecting with climate change activity and action, and all staff are to receive this training. This will enable us to become an accredited Carbon Literate Organisation, and we believe we’ll be the first carbon literate museum in the world. It was really well delivered, showed the enormity of the challenge and the need for action, and then we all looked at how we can be more environmentally sustainable through personal and group action. The timing of this was terrific, as our Climate Control exhibition ended last Sunday (although we’re going to leave up a lot of the materials from the exhibition to promote further action).


Climate Control exhibition (c G Gardiner)- people added black stickers to represent their carbon footprint.


Posted by: henrymcghie | September 3, 2016

Dear diary- climate change conference

I spent the last two days as a conference organised by Prof Walter Leal of Manchester Met. The theme was ‘universities and climate change: the role of higher education institutions in addressing the mitigation and adaptation challenges’, with an international audience. We had a packed programme of presentations exploring the adaptation and mitigation challenges in different parts of the world. The far-reaching implications of climate change were reflected by the diversity of presentations, from academics working with urban planning in Germany, universities as living laboratories for testing, adapting and educating on climate change mitigation, implementing sustainability initiatives across the university curriculum in Chile, combining history and environmental sciences approaches to understanding environmental change in coastal Portugal, going fossil fuel free, the implications of the Paris climate change agreement for research agendas, using theatre to communicate climate change issues to researchers, climate change experiences at the hyper-local level in the Philippines, the history of attributing extreme weather events to human-induced climate change, escaping the ‘economists’ straitjacket’ to promote social, environmental and economic sustainability. One of the challenges that came up again and again was the challenge of working or speaking across disciplines, and how universities are not necessarily structured in ways that promote this kind of working. Encouragingly, some universities were investing in cross-disciplinary structures to help move this kind of work forward, but there is a long way to go. I was happy to have the chance to show delegates our Climate Control exhibitions. The main exhibition closes to the public tomorrow, but we’ll leave the ’10 Ways to Make a Difference’ on the Living Worlds gallery, along with the beautiful sculpture of moths.Museum visit.jpg

Natural heritage collections are packed with millions of wonders that can intrigue, surprise, and fascinate. How might these treasures be unlocked to support older people to age successfully, re-connect them with the natural world and encourage them to have a stake in the present and future? How can natural history curators be supported to find ambitious new uses, meaning and relevance for their collections?

Encountering the Unexpected 1Encountering the Unexpected is a two-year project that will initiate a series of bold museum experiments to develop a framework, or set of principles, that will activate and interrogate the potential of natural heritage collections to support successful ageing and achieve social change. The project is led by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester, with Manchester Museum, and in partnership with other museums in the North West Natural History Museums Partnership, along with The Eden ProjectRSPBWildlife Trusts and Public Interest Research Centre, and active ageing specialists Age UK, Age Friendly Museum Network and Equal Arts. The project will explore how natural history collections can be used to stimulate older people, support successful ageing and re-connect them with the natural world, producing simultaneous benefits for people and the environment.

Encountering the Unexpected combines RCMG’s interests in active ageing and the potential to use collections in new ways and the need of the NW Museums’ Partnership to better understand how they can use their natural heritage collections to enrich lives, and ensure that staff working with these collections have the skills and confidence to use them effectively. At the heart of the project will be rich, stimulating and meaningful encounters with natural heritage collections.

Hands holding a pine cone  Kestrel specimen Group out in nature

How might (for example) engaging with natural history specimens stimulate concern for, and action to protect, the natural world? Nature and wellbeing are inextricably linked – evidence suggests that connecting with nature can help restore physical energy, reduce stress, generate a positive mood and improve general outlook on life. However, older people are often disconnected from the natural world and less likely to have regular contact with nature (Natural England 2015). Natural heritage collections are strongly associated with children and their families, making it difficult for museums to raise awareness of the importance of these collections across the whole of the life course. Museums in the North West are keen to use their collections in new and imaginative ways, and Encountering the Unexpected will provide a lens through which to explore and revitalise natural heritage collections for a new audience.

Woman drawing from a book

Encountering the Unexpected is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, run by the Museums Association.

Find out more about the North West Natural History Museums Partnership in their publication, 7 Million Wonders (2015).

Transforming the way in which museums use their natural heritage collections to support active ageing

Source: Encountering the Unexpected — University of Leicester

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 31, 2016

On Embracing it All — Discover

“Essay: to attempt. It never fails to move me when I watch people trying to make sense of their lives, sense of this world. They don’t have to.” Bestselling author Dani Shapiro encourages us to embrace everything in life — the beauty, the terror — and to live.

via On Embracing it All — Discover

There is plenty of evidence that nature is good for us, but how does being in nature impact on our emotions, body and wellbeing? Our latest paper, just published open access in Evolutionary Psychological Science, presents a model and supporting evidence to show that nature regulates emotions and the heart. Bringing balance to our feelings […]

via How Nature Regulates Emotions and the Heart for Wellbeing — Finding Nature

“Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.” Israel has more water than it needs.

via How a new source of water is helping reduce conflict in the Middle East — Discover

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 25, 2016

Design and Choice — Discover

“If more and more of us engage with design, where will this leave designers?” Designer and writer Alice Rawsthorn ponders the future of design in a world where our products and experiences are increasingly customized.

via Design and Choice — Discover

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 25, 2016

The Nature of Smartphones Users — Finding Nature

Technology is often cited as a reason for our disconnection from the natural world, but there’s not a great deal of research in this area. Recently smartphone technology has become common and a colleague (Dr Zaheer Hussain) and I have just completed a study looking at phone use and connection with nature.

via The Nature of Smartphones Users — Finding Nature

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 25, 2016

Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature — Finding Nature

Nature Connection has kept me really busy over recent months, the growing interest is great, but I’m understanding the restorative effects of nature more and more! So far in 2016 i’ve written, and had accepted, five research papers and the Nature Connections 2016 conference took place last month – see the story here. Next up […]

via Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature — Finding Nature

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 5, 2016

Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemoration, tomorrow




Hello, tomorrow we have the annual commemoration for the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, which is also dedicated to all victims of war and terror. Everyone is welcome. After the commemoration, people can take part in an origami workshop folding paper cranes, an international symbol of peace. We are very privileged to take part in this event, in partnership with Manchester City Council and the Mayors for Peace network.

 Old Quadrangle (behind Whitworth Building) and Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, the University of Manchester, M13 9PL

Saturday, 6th August 2016, 10.00am – 11.00am

Assemble in the Old Quadrangle behind the main Whitworth Building (headquarters of the university), off Oxford Road.

10.00am               Official welcome from Dr Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum, Manchester University and an explanation of the event by Sean Morris, Manchester City Council.

10.05am               Why are we here today? A reading on what happened on August 6th 1945 by Julie Ward MEP.

10.10am               The Hiroshima Peace Declaration 2016 read by Afzal Khan MEP.

10.15am              Laying of memorial wreath by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Manchester and two minutes silence for all innocent civilian victims of war and terrorism.

10.17am               Reading of the rebirth of the Hiroshima trees by the Deputy Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Eddy Newman.

10.25am               Readings of Hiroshima poetry from the ‘hibakuska’ (A-bomb survivors) by the Bishop of Manchester, the Vice Chair of GM CND and a member of the Friends of the Manchester Peace Garden group.

10.32am               The work of the Japan Society in the North West.

10.35am               All read the UN Peace Affirmation.

10.40am               Transfer into Manchester Museum to see the ‘Peace’ exhibit in the Museum, with an opportunity to fold paper cranes and write messages of peace which will be sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Museum will encourage families and all who visit it on the 6th August to fold paper cranes, the symbol of peace from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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