NatSCA Digital Digest – November

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), 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.

News from the Sector 

Upcoming Conference: Decolonising Natural Science Collections
November 19th 2020
NatSCA will be holding a one-day online conference on November 19th 2020, 9:50am – 4.15pm GMT.

Miranda Lowe and Subhadra Das will be leading the proceedings as keynote speakers, presenting an update on their widely shared NatSCA paper – Nature Read in Black and White: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections

This event is free for members, with opportunity for live Q&A. The event will be recorded and made freely available afterwards. NatSCA members will receive a code to register via email – if you have not received this, please contact membership@natsca.org

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action is an international design and ideas competition launched on 18th May 2020 for International Museum Day. The competition, which closed on the 15th September, challenged designers, architects, academics, artists, poets, philosophers, museum professionals and the public at large to radically (re)imagine and (re)design the museum as an institution, to help bring about more equitable and sustainable futures in the climate change era. Find out more about the project and the eight winning proposals at www.museumsforclimateaction.org

Pest Odyssey UK Discussion Forum

The Pest Odyssey UK group is a non profit organisation, advocating for IPM within cultural heritage institutions. Its mission is to provide a trusted platform to communicate, advise and promote best practise in Integrated Pest Management for cultural heritage. If you have a question about pest management or advice to share, you can join the email group here.

Warwickshire Museum Collections Move

Warwickshire Museum has recently moved its extensive collections of geology, archaeology, natural history, social history and costume to new stores close to the county town of Warwick. Natural history, comprising a comprehensive herbarium, extensive taxidermy collection and an entomology collection, are now re-housed in secure pods within the new storage, using fixed and mobile racking (Ocean Design), recycled from our old store, which was kitted out in 2012-2013. Many months and probably years of unpacking and documentation lie ahead, but the collections should be accessible again, sometime in 2021.

Packing and mapping started in earnest in mid-2019, and the first collections were just starting to be moved in early 2020. Following announcement of Covid-19 lockdown the process was put on hold until June, when work recommenced.

Where to Visit

With a fresh UK lockdown underway in England, museums have once again been forced to close their doors. Be sure visit these exhibitions if you can when the country re-opens!

Portsmouth Museums – The World of Wonder

Portsmouth Museums have recently filled a shop window in the local Cascades Shopping Centre with over 150 natural history objects. The ‘World of Wonder’, designed by Athena Jane Churchill features some of the weird and wonderful objects that have been held in store for over a decade. The display aims to showcase Portsmouth’s natural history collections to new audiences and to engage with them through the use of QR codes to download more information and by inviting them to create butterflies and moths which will be added to the shop windows.

Gallery Oldham – Rain Drop to Corporation Pop!

This exhibition has a very watery feel, exploring water from the start of its journey in the clouds through all freshwater aquatic environments using objects chosen from across the Gallery’s collection.

Water is an essential element for all life that has ever lived on the planet and makes up important part of our local wildlife habitats. Come and see beautiful paintings portraying rivers, lakes and canals displayed alongside ancient fossil fish and an array of present-day aquatic creatures. A special attraction is the fossil skeleton of an Ichthyosaur, the largest fossil in their geological collections.

Oldham became the most important spinning town in the world because it is nestled high in the hills making the most of the damp climate so necessary to spin the best cotton yarn. Water collected in newly constructed reservoirs was important for an expanding human population to ensure good health and hygiene as well as textile processing.

Water has a special attraction to us for leisure activities, swimming, boating and fishing to name just a few. Amazing fish trophy mounts donated by Oldham Central Angling Club will be displayed together with swimming memorabilia.

Image © Gallery Oldham

The British Museum – Arctic: Culture and Climate

Home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years, the Arctic is far from the inhospitable hinterland it’s often imagined to be.

From ancient mammoth ivory sculpture to modern refitted snow mobiles, the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. Developed in collaboration with Arctic communities, the exhibition celebrates the ingenuity and resilience of Arctic Peoples throughout history. It tells the powerful story of respectful relationships with icy worlds and how Arctic Peoples have harnessed the weather and climate to thrive.

The dramatic loss of ice and erratic weather caused by climate change are putting unprecedented pressure on Arctic Peoples, testing their adaptive capacities and threatening their way of life.

What happens in the Arctic will affect us all and this exhibition is a timely reminder of what the world can learn from its people.

What to Read

We have two great new entries on the NatSCA blog this month. Trials From The Riverbank: Conserving a Taxidermy Otter by Jen Gossman details the assessment and plan for conservation work needed for a taxidermy otter. Telling the Truth About Who Really Collected the “Hero Collections” by Jack Ashby explores how museums can work to decolonise their collections by seeking out the real stories behind famous collections traditionally attributed to ‘dead white men’.

Over on the Geological Curators’ Group blog, John Cooke and Ros Westwood write about the Auction of a Thomas Woodruff Table and provide a great history of the table and its maker.

Job Vacancies

The Powell-Cotton Museum are seeking an Audience Development Consultant, to lead on building networks with the Museum’s local communities (both well represented and underrepresented) and to develop a series of workshops and focus group sessions that will bring those audiences into the ‘Colonial Critters’ project.

Tullie House Museum is inviting applications for a Biodiversity Curator, a unique and exciting opportunity to work in the most biodiverse county in England with both a nationally Designated museum collection and one of the largest and oldest biodiversity data centres in the UK.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

Museums Beyond Covid

Written by Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, The Box, Plymouth.

The sun was hot on my neck as I walked up the stone steps of the largest museum in America. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is on every natural curators museums to visit list, and I was full of youthful excitement!

Inside was cool, and I was met with a grand hall, with a beautiful taxidermy elephant in the centre. The space buzzes with the echoing chatter and the scuttling of excited little feet. I walk on to the stairs, past the large mass of people queuing for the lift, and head up the stairs, patiently waiting for people to pass, so I can meet my ancestors. Here in the Human Origins gallery, there are wonderful displays and interactives all about the evolution of our species. Children run from case to case. Prams block display panels. Interactives are bashed.

I move along to the mammal gallery, where it seems like twenty different schools have chosen to visit at the same time. The cases are two deep with visitors peering at mammals from continents away: children squashed at the front, adults squeezing and pushing to get a glimpse. Reminiscent of a Friday night at our student bar. The air is stale and dry. The noise of a thousand different conversations ring loud in my head. There’s a feeling of being moved along by an invisible force of hunger: not for food, but to ‘see’ the next thing.

Beautiful taxidermy work of lions attacking a buffalo. I patiently waited 15 minutes until the case was clear of visitors for this photo. Photo by Jan Freedman.

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Wild about Portsmouth – Life in Lockdown

Written by Christine Taylor (Curator of Natural History), Bradley Foster (Natural History Collections Assistant), Portsmouth Museums.

Until lockdown, the Wild about Portsmouth project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, had been a whirlwind of activity, working with volunteers to re-house, reorganise and catalogue the natural history collections, developing school sessions, putting on and attending events as well as setting up displays.

In the four weeks prior to lockdown, the curator, volunteers and the newly appointed (14 February 2020) Natural History Collections Assistant installed an exhibition, ‘D is for Dodo, E is for Extinct’; attended a work placement fair at the University of Portsmouth, a family fun day at Dinosaur Isle, a STEM fair and the HBIC Hampshire Recorders Forum. We also created a Pop-Up Museum one-day event and ran a trial school session on rocks and fossils at Cumberland House Natural History Museum.

One of the online activities created for Cumberland House Natural History Museum website © Portsmouth Museum

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#CyclaPeople In Lockdown

Written by Claire Smith, volunteer at the University of Reading Herbarium.

I don’t imagine that there’s an abundance of field work taking place during the unprecedented pandemic situation that we find ourselves in at the moment. However, if there was one piece of advice that I could offer to anybody taking down field notes, it would be to develop neat handwriting! Either that, or to transcribe your notes into digital form as soon as possible. Otherwise, some poor soul – who may not even be a botanist – may find themselves, a mere thirty-three years after your expedition, staring at a page of unfamiliar place names or Latin plant names, with confusion.

Some field notes are more legible than others…
© Claire Smith, 2019

That said, would anybody care to take a guess at what’s been happening with the Cyclamen Society collection during lockdown? Yes, I’m taking the opportunity to get to grips with as much of the data entry as I possibly can. As with so many other collections around the world, volunteers haven’t been into the Herbarium since the middle of March. This means that our usual tasks of mounting and photographing the collected cyclamen specimens are out of bounds. Aside from the physical though, there is always plenty of digital work to do.

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Virtual Fieldwork during Lockdown – Part 2

Travelling to Socotra with the British and Liverpool Museums Expedition (1898/99).

This is part two of a blog written by John-James Wilson, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool. See Part One here.

The journey continues…

Homhil proved a “successful and delightful sojourn, adding largely to both the flora and fauna [collected]”. The camp, surrounded by the iconic Dragon’s Blood Trees (see them yourself here), had an ideal climate, 26°C during the day, 18°C at night.

Sketch of the cucumber tree of Socotra by J. R. Wellsted, another unusual endemic tree, made during an earlier expedition to Socotra. The sketch is part of the Royle collection at LIV herbarium, World Museum. © National Museums Liverpool (World Museum).

Ten days later, after difficulties agreeing the onward route, the party retraced their steps to the Hadibu Plain. Turning southwards they pitched tents at Elhe and spent two days preparing fresh camels. On the second day, Forbes forgot to put one of his gaiters on and suffered a severe sunburn on his leg (having my own prominent sunburn scar, this is another field experience I can empathise with). While back on the plain, Ogilvie-Grant collected the endemic – Socotra Grosbeak, Socotra Starling, and Socotra Warbler – amongst other animals.

Socotra Grosbeak – Rhynchostruthus socotranus Sclater and Hartlaub, 1881 [accession number: 31.12.1900.164a] (top); Socotra Starling – Onychognathus fratus (Sclater and Hartlaub, 1881) [accession number: 31.12.1900.160e] (middle); and Socotra Warbler – Incana incana (Slater and Hartlaub, 1881) [accession number: 31.12.1900.175m] (bottom). © National Museums Liverpool (World Museum).

The party resumed their trek into the mountains, reaching an elevation with stunning sea views. They remained at Adho Dimellus (also spelt Adhoh di-Melhoh), the “roof of Sokotra”, until February 17th. Fieldwork often fuels friendships and an evening was spent entertaining an Austrian expedition party Forbes had met earlier in Aden.

Photograph of the camp at Adho Dimellus (H. O. Forbes from The Natural History of Sokotra and Abd-el-Kuri). Public Domain.

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