Note from the editor: Following on from the NatSCA AGM 2021, we now have two new members on the committee. So let’s introduce the first of them.
What is your role on the NatSCA committee?
As I’ve benefitted from so much training with NatSCA I’d really like to give something back and support this role, but I’m happy to get stuck in and help where needed.
Job title and institution
Curator of Natural History for Manx National Heritage.
Tell us about your day job
I live and work on the Isle of Man, a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea, about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide with a population just shy of 85,000. As the Isle of Man is independent from the UK, we have our own central Government and part of my role includes sitting on committees discussing Government policy development, partnership working with environmental NGOs, land management, ecology and conservation. For the most part though I manage the natural sciences collections at the Manx Museum, including (the other) conservation, preparation, IPM, exhibitions, education and outreach, loans, enquiries, etc. As I work for an organisation that encompasses the role of a national trust and national museum, the job is varied and I work with a great team of people who all support each other. One day I may be working with an intern on reboxing and relocating the Geology collection, the next I’ll be learning how to traditionally thatch a cottage using locally grown materials, and when an unusual cetacean washes up on our shores I get to attend the beach autopsies recorded by the local Wildlife Trust (pro tip: strandings in winter tend to be a LOT less smelly…).
Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?
It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you are from, amateur or expert, natural science collections have something you can connect to, whether it’s a familiar bird you see every day, experiencing a sense of awe at something magnificent or learning a new cool fact. I enjoy the ability that natural sciences collections have to connect with so many different subjects, like art, engineering, global history, materials science, archaeology, to name but a few, and this can be a starter for great conversations and discoveries.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?
In short, money, but this can rear its head in many forms. Directly it might be lack of jobs with a knock on effect in loss of specialisms and expertise, lack of funding for running training courses, inability to afford appropriate collections storage, no resources for conservation or redisplay, the list goes on. It is our job as museum professionals to advocate the importance of what we care for, but I think in some ways this issue can be linked to the climate and biodiversity crisis. The natural world has not got the attention and funding it deserves for a very long time, often feeling like it is viewed as a nice to have rather than essential for our future existence, including preserving the collections which have taught us and will teach us so much. There are a number of texts, like Common Cause for Nature (2013), which advocate using psychology in a more savvy way, much like advertising, to get people to fully buy into valuing the natural world; perhaps we have to fight for our ‘cause’ in a different way?
What do you love most about working with natural science collections?
The variety, no two days are the same. I get to meet lots of interesting people, learn something new every day and it has given me a sense of perspective about the world which I really appreciate. I have been given insight to so many subjects through the eyes of natural history, working in this sector is truly the gift that just keeps on giving.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
Perhaps a chef as I love cooking and learning about food, but maybe even a masseuse. I guess that’s an odd combo, but my mum was a masseuse and later on a house keeper and cook for an estate and I take great inspiration from her. I like jobs which combine knowledge with practical application.
What is your favourite museum, and why?
The Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Compare (Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy) in Paris, it was like walking into a wonderland! I’m also fond of Wollaton Hall, they have excellent quality taxidermy thanks to the work of Don Sharp and I was very impressed by their Dinosaurs of China exhibition in 2017 curated by Dr. Adam Smith. Special shout-outs also go to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, the Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret and Barts Pathology Museum. There’s so many to choose from, it’s hard to pick.