Written by David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections, The Manchester Museum and Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, The Box, Plymouth (formerly Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery).
Museums are most powerful when they connect real objects and research with real people. Natural science objects elicit deep emotional responses to the climate emergency; they help people to care and when done right, empower action.
This message is central to the NatSCA conference this year:
Changing the World: Environmental Breakdown, Decolonisation and Natural Science Collections
We’d love to hear your experience in a talk at the conference, the deadline for submissions is the 7th February.
Natural science collections are unique records of past biodiversity and climate across Britain, and the world, and are essential for climate change research taking place in museums every day. They allow access to historical information about millions of different species, providing an incredible amount of detail. They show how plants and animals have responded to past climate change, they show long-term population trends, and they show what we have lost.
These are all stories essential to bring clear factual science to an emotionally-charged debate. Research on these collections has directly shaped conservation work and climate change mitigation. In short, natural science collections are a powerful way to help save the world and give people hope for a better future.
For example, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery recently covered rare, endangered, and extinct animals on display in a black veil to highlight species under threat. The new natural history gallery soon to open at The Box, Plymouth (formerly Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery), focuses on climate change, extinction, biodiversity and habitat loss through the natural science collections. Manchester Museum’s Climate Control exhibition used their arctic animals to highlight rapid climate change and empower visitors to take action.
Awe-inspiring footage of incredible plants and animals seems to be everywhere these days, but there is something special about being face to face with the real thing. Museum natural science collections are the only place most people can see real extinct animals or plants. We have a unique and powerful position.
Climate change is a global complex issue, and natural science collections can show people the real effects it is causing to life on our planet. These collections can inspire, educate, and encourage small actions with a big impact. As Museum’s let’s play to our strengths and maximise impact. The stakes are high and time is short.
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