‘Refloating the Ark’ detailed conference programme

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.

To attend

Please email David Gelsthorpe (david.gelsthorpe@manchester.ac.uk) 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
BREAK 11:00-11:30
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
BREAK 3:00-3:30pm
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?

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
BREAK 11:00-11:30
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
LUNCH 12:30-1:15
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
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
BREAK 3:20-3:50pm
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

Presentation outlines

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?

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