Meet The Committee – Laura Soul

Name

Laura Soul

What is your role on the NatSCA committee?

I am new to the committee, so I am helping out wherever I am useful, which to start off with has been assisting with planning training and our approach to diversity and inclusion.

Job Title and Institution

I’m the Manager of National Learning Programmes and Partnerships at the Natural History Museum, London.

Twitter Username

@soul_sci

Tell Us About Your Day Job

I work in partnership with museums and other organisations around the UK to design and deliver natural history learning experiences for lots of different audiences and share our collections nationally. We do this in several different ways, for example through things like Dippy on Tour when the NHMs famous Diplodocus travelled around the country, through public participation in science, or through Explore: Urban Nature where we’re helping young people in cities investigate the nature on their doorstep and participate in real scientific research.  I’m also a research associate at Smithsonian NMNH and do collections based paleobiological research with colleagues there, mainly focussed on how we use fossil record data to understand ecosystem change over time.

Most people have some kind of connection to nature, wherever they come from, and often that links back to childhood experiences or family. Many will have collected a shell, rock or pinecone and had it sitting on their windowsill at some point in their life! Natural history collections can feel very familiar for that reason, and most people are primed to appreciate beauty in the natural world. Natural history is the least abstract type of science so as well as that sense of awe and beauty I also think many people find it accessible in a way that other disciplines sometimes aren’t.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?

I think most natural science collections institutions are recognising the opportunity, and perhaps responsibility, that we have to engage people with our collections to help them make sense of some of the most important issues of our time, like climate change and the biodiversity crisis. How we digitise collections, conserve them and make them accessible to the widest possible audience are all important challenges that we are facing that tie in to how we can best connect people with these big global issues.

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of fieldwork and spend time in the outdoors for work, which has always been my favourite part of the job. There are so many compelling stories that help people understand science and to think critically about the world around them that can be told through nature, so without museums I’d probably still be talking to people about science but doing it out in nature.

What is your favourite museum, and why?

A biased answer because I helped develop it – but the Deep Time exhibition at Smithsonian NMNH is a beautiful example of how to put life into context, both humans in the context of the vast history of life on our planet, and all the life that has gone before us in the context of its environment. A less biased answer is the Tenement Museum in New York; it brings human histories to life and they also create a space for people to come together and have effective dialogue about contemporary issues.

Creating the River Otter Beaver

Written by Jazmine Miles Long, Ethical Taxidermist, Artist, Educator and Natural History Restorer, https://www.jazminemileslong.com, Twitter: @TaxidermyLondon; Instagram: @Jazmine_miles_long

Jazmine with the River Otter Beaver in process

In April 2019 Holly Morgenroth (Collections Officer at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum) gave me a call to say she had acquired a dead beaver that was in good condition for taxidermy. This was significant because this beaver was part of the River Otter Beaver Trial. All deceased beavers should now be sent to the Zoological Society of London for medical autopsies, which means they are usually not in good enough condition for taxidermy after the procedure. This particular beaver, originally from a population of beavers in Scotland, had been introduced to the River Otter in April 2019 to expand the gene pool of the population. Sadly she was found dead – it is possible she drowned in salt water as there were no visible injuries from conflict or a road traffic accident. Devon Wildlife Trust decided she did not need a post mortem and very kindly handed her over to Holly at the museum. Holly jumped at the opportunity and expertly packed her into a large plastic tub and placed her in the museum’s chest freezer and got to work obtaining funding to have her processed into taxidermy and a full skeleton.

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A Very Important Beaver

Written by Holly Morgenroth, Collections Officer / Natural Sciences Curator, RAMM.

A New Acquisition for RAMM

This blog post tells the story of a new and very important acquisition for the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) in Exeter. I grew up in a small Devon village called Otterton and spent many happy hours wandering the banks of the River Otter observing the rich wildlife it had to offer. So when in 2013 news broke that a family of beavers (a species extinct in the wild in Britain for over 400 years) had made the river their home I watched with great interest.

Their arrival divided opinions. The Government planned to remove them from the river. But the beavers captured the hearts of the public and Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) saw a unique opportunity for research. The beavers became part of a five year scientific trial run by DWT to assess their impact on local geography, ecology and people. The results of the trial were overwhelmingly positive.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – November

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, NatSCA Committee Member, Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the November edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about museum re-openings, exhibition launches, virtual conferences and webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

SPNHC / BHL / NatSCA Conference 2022

Next summer will see the return of the physical NatSCA Conference – a triple whammy partnership with the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Abstract submission opens November 12th, so keep an eye on the conference site if you’ve got a great idea or project to share with the community.

GCG Virtual Winter Seminar

The Geological Curators Group are delighted to announce that the call for speakers for the Virtual Winter Seminar event is now open. In this unprecedented 18 months, GCG has seen a wonderful increase in engagement from international members, and with this seminar, they would like to celebrate this. GCG are looking for submissions for talks of around 10-15 minutes sharing innovations in, relationships with, and stories from, geological collections around the world. These can be surrounding the topic of Covid and how your organisation coped, or anything else you would like to share!

Please e-mail abstracts to events@geocurator.org. The closing date for submissions is November 5th at 5p.m. BST. The maximum word count should be 250 words plus one image. 

Registration will open shortly with tickets at £5 with the AGM following the seminar and a fun event to end the day. 

More details will land soon at https://www.geocurator.org/agm2021.

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Setting Natural Science Collections Data Free

Written by Jan Freedman (Freelance Museum Consultant).

Fossils. Rocks. Minerals. Invertebrates. Vertebrates. Plants. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 150 million natural science specimens spread across the country. These are a rich, unmatched record of biodiversity on our planet. Like a vast library, only the books are preserved specimens, and the information they contain is irreplaceable and unique to each one.

Every specimen is a record of that species, at that time, in that geographical place. And museums hold unfathomable amounts of data which can be used by researchers across the globe. We hold vast amounts of information with our specimens that can be used for research into climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity loss, pollution, food security and much more. But there is a conundrum, this data is currently locked up inside museums’ collections, how do we set them free?

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