Thematic Collecting

Recently, the Manchester Museum has acquired specimens of two interesting species of subterranean fishes from our Honorary Academic Curator, Dr Graham Proudlove. Specimens of both species originated from captive-bred populations that are kept in research labs in Germany in order to study their biology and genetics. Graham kindly shared some information about both fish species with the readers of our blog, see below.

Garra andruzzii (Vinciguerra, 1924)

Fig_01_Phreatichthys Kopie Fig. 1. Garra andruzzi (Vinciguerra 1924). Photo by Jorg Freyhof, Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin.

They are entirely subterranean and live, not in caves as such, but in a groundwater aquifer which is accessed only via wells. This species is one of the most cave adapted in the world (the technical term is troglomorphic) and has is entirely without eyes or body pigment (Fig. 1). It has been studies extensively and there is at least one breeding captive population…

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Posted by: henrymcghie | December 18, 2017

The UK and the Global Goals: how are they to be achieved?

E_2016_SDG_Poster_all_sizes_without_UN_emblem_A4 copyI’ve written before about the Global Goals – the internationally agreed programme to ‘transform our world’ by 2030, reducing inequality, securing a safe and healthy natural environment and ensuring prosperity for all, or, put better by Ban Ki Moon in September 2015 ‘It is an agenda for people, to end poverty in all its forms. An agenda for the planet, our common home. An agenda for shared prosperity, peace and partnership.’

I thought I’d give some background on how this is to be implemented in the UK. The House of Commons International Development Committee reported on UK Implementation of the SDGs (published 18 May 2016), that, following the agreement of the Goals by 193 members of the UN, the programme came into force on 1 January 2016, and that the UK ‘must now move forward with implementing the Goals at home and supporting other countries to achieve them overseas’.

The report emphasised the importance of a Global Partnership, of nations, civil society organisations, business and finance, to achieve the bold ambition of the Global Goals. The Department for International Development was encouraged to set out how it works with civil society organisations (public-led groups and charities), and noted ‘innovation and collaboration to achieve the SDGs is encouraged, and civil society is able to undertake the important task of communicating the SDGs to citizens across the world so that governments are held to account on progress’. This is worth dwelling on: ‘civil society’ can be a nebulous term, and the relationship between it and institutions (such as museums, galleries and universities) is not always clearly understood. Museums and galleries are part of ‘civic society’, also known as the ‘local state’, but they are not ‘just’ mouthpieces of government: they facilitate and provoke debate and dialogue (well, they can if they step into connecting with contemporary issues) that helps contextualise contemporary issues, whether locally or globally, and can support and promote positive public action, both by individuals and by groups and communities.

The report continued: ‘the Government’s response to domestic implementation of the SDGs has so far been insufficient. We remain to be convinced that responsibility for domestic implementation should lie with the Secretary of State for International Development, who already faces a substantial challenge in working to support international implementation of the Goals.’

To cut a long story short, the report argued that not enough attention was being paid to the Global Goals in the UK, both at home and internationally.

The importance of civil society organisations in supporting the Global Goals was recognised, but noted that in many parts of the world, the freedom of such organisations was diminishing. In the UK, an independent network, the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development ‘creates a space to mobilise people, communities and organisations in the UK so they can play their part to create decent work in a prosperous economy and a fair and just society – all within the Earth’s limits.’ USSD aims to create a national plan for the delivery of the Global Goals, led from the bottom up.

Local authorities are also acknowledged as playing an important role in the Global Goals.  The Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments has produced a resource for local governments, (The Sustainable Development Goals: what local governments need to know) showing how each of the Global Goals relates to local government in practice, and how they might practically support them.

This report was written nearly a year and a half ago. In subsequent posts, I’ll look at what has been happening (and what hasn’t). Communicating the Global Goals is the only way that we can help them happen. This is my start.


Have you heard of the sustainable development goals? Wondered what they are? Who they are aimed at? The Global Goals (as they are also known) are the follow-up agenda from the Millennium Development Goals. The difference is that the SDGs relate to all countries, not just developing countries. They can be summarised as ‘transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development’, or, more succinctly, ‘the future we want’. ‘We’ means all of us, and there is a principle that ‘no-one is left behind’. So, if you look around and see injustice, intolerance, inequality, unsustainable use of resources, environmental damage, that is what the SDGs are concerned with addressing. The SDGs were agreed by the United Nations’ 193 member states in 2015, with the aim of achieving them by 2030.


E_2016_SDG_Poster_all_sizes_without_UN_emblem_A4 copy

Now 17 is an unusual number: it suggests that a great deal of care went into working out what the goals are (17 isn’t exactly a round number, in fact it’s a prime number). The final goals and the accompanying targets were agreed in September 2015 in New York. Communicating the goals was part of ‘Project Everyone’, and resulted in a series of icons representing the goals. The goals are a terrific thing in that they relate to everyone, and everyone can play a part in achieving them, both locally and globally. The can’t be delivered by the UN on its own, and are an invitation to everyone to get involved.

If 17 is a lot to remember, the goals can be thought of more simply as falling into five groups. The goals can be approached separately, as can the actions, but should all be considered together too as action for one may have a negative impact on another.


I am super-interested in these as they are a terrific agenda for museums to connect with, and there will be a lot more to follow on this. Watch this space, and get in touch if you’re interested. How will the goals be delivered? Talking about them would be a good start.

Posted by: henrymcghie | November 24, 2017

Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology

Stories from the Museum Floor

The Museum is filled with many stories – of people and places, objects and animals… and today’s Story from the Museum Floor is filled with all of these. In advance of the launch of the new book, Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology, authored by Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at Manchester Museum, it gives us great pleasure to be able to post here a glimpse of the history of bird collecting, and an all but forgotten collector, and key figure of early ornithology.

To celebrate the launch of Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology, the John Rylands Library will be hosting a short talk by Henry McGhie, exploring the life and times of Henry Dresser. This is a free event, from 6pm, in the Historic Reading Room – everyone is welcome!

The building blocks of ornithology

Museum collections are dominated by vast…

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Posted by: henrymcghie | October 30, 2017

From Outputs to Outcomes – Are You Making the Shift?

Source: From Outputs to Outcomes – Are You Making the Shift?

Source: Museums & Sustainable Communities – Six Things Our Working Group Learned

Posted by: henrymcghie | October 23, 2017

Arthur Cains 50+ year old collection of Cepaea nemoralis

Source: Arthur Cains 50+ year old collection of Cepaea nemoralis


We are organising a conference, to be held in Manchester from 11-13 April 2018, in conjunction with Prof. Walter Leal of Manchester Metropolitan University. This follows on from a conference we held in Manchester in February on climate change communication. The conference focuses on ‘Climate Change and Museums: critical approaches to engagement and management’. We are inviting submissions for presentations (talks, workshops and exhibition stands).

Anthropogenic climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. Extending far beyond the scientific sphere, climate change influences, and is influenced by, politics, economics, culture and the wider environment. Museums and other cultural institutions can play a crucial role in engaging and empowering people and communities, both locally and globally, as we face the climate challenge. The importance of this role is recognized in the Paris Agreement of 2015 and in a raft of local and national policies and strategies. Museums can play an important role in engaging people with climate change, going far beyond merely presenting information, but inspiring, empowering and enabling people to meet the climate challenge.

This conference is aimed at those working in, or concerned with, museums and climate change. It aims to provide and encourage critical perspectives upon a range of museum activities, in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation, collections management and development, climate change communication, public and civic engagement. It also aims to showcase projects and approaches that have explored these topics, across all scales, from the hyper-local to the global.

The conference aims to catalyse and enable cross-sectoral action, to support the development of partnerships, and generally to provide support to those working to meet the climate challenge through museums.

The Symposium will explore the following interconnected themes:

1. The role that museums have to play in enabling climate action and adaptation.

2. Interpreting and exhibiting climate change to promote engagement: information, inspiration, action.

3. Collecting climate change and its impacts.

4. Collections management and climate change: reducing impacts for positive environmental outcomes.

5. The future of museums and museum practice in a changing climate.

6. Partnerships between museums and others towards climate change action

The Call for Papers is now open. The deadline for the submission of abstracts is 30th October 2017.

Further details can be found at: call for papers


I had a fantastic experience last week, talking at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 5th Dialogue on Action for Climate Empowerment, in Bonn, last Monday. The presentation was done jointly with Jonny Sadler of Manchester Climate Change Agency. The talk was about ‘Cities and Museums Fostering Climate Change Education and Empowerment’. I focussed on the great potential that museums offer: they reach large numbers of people, who come with a curiosity about the world and their place in it; their collections span human and environmental history, and they can promote critical thinking and reflection.


Me, Adriana Valenzuela Jimenez (UNFCCC) and Jonny Sadler (Manchester Climate Change Agency) at the World Conference Centre in Bonn

I wanted to emphasise that museums can choose to do things differently, and use their venues, exhibitions and events as sites for people to express what matters to them, find out what matters to other people and to promote collective action. I spoke about our Climate Control exhibition, which we held in 2016, as an example of how museums can focus on inspiration and empowerment rather than simply conveying information (which can just be depressing). With a starting point that ‘we can’t change the past but we can change our future’, we provided lots of opportunities for people to take part, described in earlier posts. Reaching nearly 100,000 visitors in our months, and with 73% of people telling us, and one another, that they care that the climate is changing, and giving people lots of opportunities to find out what actions they could take towards climate action, I hope we managed to demonstrate that civic institutions such as museums can play a really important role in encouraging and empowering people that they can do something about climate change, if only on a personal level. By creating opportunities that bring exhibitions, policy/strategy, and the latest research together, we hope that this is how we can truly play a role in society.

5th dialogueParticipants in the 5th Dialogue on Action for Climate Empowerment


Last year, we held a series of exhibitions called Climate Control. As part of this, we had a number of simple interactives that asked visitors to add plastic tokens to large jars. The jars were marked with labels containing statements about climate change; visitors were asked ‘what do you think?’. Jars were set out in pairs, with some pairs marked with labels with opposing statements (e.g. ‘I care about nature’ and ‘I don’t care about nature’ were located next to one another). Visitors were completely free to vote as they wanted; the voting jars were in a large ‘booth’ so that people could vote without others seeing how they had voted, to try to remove any peer group pressure effect. The results were fascinating. Numbers can’t be taken to represent a number of ‘votes’ with one per person, as some people (although possibly not many) added more than one token to jars. Tokens were counted approximately once a fortnight.


The highest numbers of votes were (in order) for the statements ‘I care about nature’, ‘I care that the climate is changing’, ‘things I do have an effect on the world’ and ‘I will be affected by climate change’

The lowest numbers of votes were (in order) for the statements ‘I don’t care about nature’, ‘I won’t be affected by climate change’, ‘I don’t care that the climate is changing’ and ‘things I do don’t have an effect on the world’.

Average number of tokens Total number of tokens
‘I care that the climate is changing’ 141 6921
‘I don’t care that the climate is changing’ 51 2483
‘I will be affected by climate change’ 94 4621
‘I won’t be affected by climate change’ 41 2017
‘I care about nature’ 189 9288
‘I don’t care about nature’ 40 1973
‘Things I do have an effect on the world’ 115 5645
‘Things I do don’t have an effect on the world’ 51 2492
‘If I knew what to do about climate change I’d do more of it’ 80 3944
‘I don’t think what I do has much effect but it’s important to try’ 57 2794


Another way to look at this is to look at the ratio of votes for each pair of opposing statements. Nearly three times (2.7) as many votes were cast for the statement ‘I care that the climate is changing’ than the statement ‘I don’t care that the climate is changing’. Twice as many (2.29) votes were cast for the statement ‘I will be affected by climate change’ as the statement ‘I won’t be affected by climate change’. Nearly five times (4.7) as many votes were cast for the statement ‘I care about nature’ compared with the statement ‘I don’t care about nature’. More than twice the number of votes were cast for the statement ‘things I do have an effect on the world’ as compared with ‘things I do don’t have an effect on the world’.

Overall, this gives us a broad picture of what people think about climate change and what they can do about it. It showed that we can use the Museum not just as a place where curators exhibit their work and ideas, but that we can use the Museum as a place where people are encouraged to express their own ideas, and to share their views with one another. What do you think?

Special thanks to Laura Bennett and Catherine Tyldesley who did all the counting of the tokens.

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