The history of Black people, people from indigenous cultures and the role of empire in museum natural history collections is largely ignored. This talk uses Manchester Museum’s mineral collection to take the first steps to uncover these stories, analyse the role of empire and expose racism. For the first time, archive photographs from the early 1900s are used in a new display, to tell the story of the people who mined the Museum’s South African gold ore specimens. Recent research and the Museum’s Sierra Leone diamond are used to tell the story of ‘Blood Diamonds’. Data analysis of the mineral collection reveals that 24% of the collection comes from colonial countries. 50% of the Museum’s minerals from the British Empire are Australian, of which 33% came from the Imperial Institute. This research has shown that Manchester Museum’s mineral collection is intimately connected to empire, but the history of Black and indigenous people is ignored or unknown. This is institutional racism and museums need to be proactive in addressing this. There are enormous opportunities to develop this research through fostering partnerships with source communities around the world. This paper is a call to action.
About the author
David Gelsthorpe has been Curator Earth Sciences at Manchester Museum for the last fourteen years and worked at the Yorkshire Museum, York, Sheffield and Scarborough and Whitby Museums before that. He has led the redevelopment of the Manchester’s Nature’s Library permanent gallery and the temporary exhibition ‘Object Lessons’, which showcased scientific models and illustrations. David was heavily involved in the ‘Climate Control’ exhibition which used natural history collections to inspire action on climate change. More recently, he has led the Museum’s citizen science project ‘Reading Nature’s Library’ documenting over 90,000 objects with online volunteers. His research interests include decolonisation and historical geology. He is a NatSCA committee member and sits on the Arts Council England Accreditation panel. firstname.lastname@example.org / @paleomanchester
Presented in the first session of the ‘Decolonising Natural Science Collections’ NatSCA online conference, 19 November 2020.