NatSCA Digital Digest – December 2022

Compiled by Milo Phillips, Assistant Curator of Entomology for National Museums Scotland.

Welcome to the December 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 keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Sector News

Catch up: Museum Action for Climate Empowerment Webinars

The most recent webinar from the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) is now available to watch online if you were unable to make it to the live webinar in November. Henry McGhie or Curating Tomorrow, and NEMO Policy Officer Elizabeth Wilde dig into sustainability insights for the sector, key ways that museums can meaningfully contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and explores a new guide for how museums can measure and report greenhouse gas emissions. All previous webinars can also be found over on the NEMO YouTube channel.

Link to latest webinar: https://www.ne-mo.org/training/nemo-webinars.html

Link to NEMO YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@nemo-networkofeuropeanmuse7452

Registration Open for Field Studied Council January Courses

You can now register for upcoming natural history courses hosted by the Field Studies Council. January workshops include: an introduction to bee conservation, an exploration of botanical folklore, and courses on marine mammal and marine invertebrate biology and ecology. Many are hosted online with FSC Virtual, and costs vary.

Link to upcoming courses: https://www.field-studies-council.org/courses-and-experiences/natural-history-courses/

NatSCA Lunchtime Chats

The new lunchtime chats are for members only and run on the last Thursday of every month.

This series is supposed to be informal; no fancy equipment is needed; it will be put out over the NatSCA Zoom platform and there is no fixed format. There will be shaky walks through stores by mobile, demos, plain pieces to camera or traditional PowerPoints if that’s the best way to share images and info. For those who want to take part please email training@natsca.org to put forward your idea; if a stable internet connection for what you want to achieve is tricky, we can put up a pre-recorded video and then speakers can jump in at the end for the discussion.

Bring your sandwiches and a cuppa and we hope to see you on the day! All members will have received a link to join via Zoom (the same link works for all sessions) – if you haven’t, get in touch with membership@natsca.org

Where to Visit

Deck the Dinos

The Natural History Museum is getting festive! Drop by before January 3rd 2023 to see their T-Rex dressed up for the holidays in probably one of the largest Christmas jumpers we’ve ever seen.

Link to T-Rex article: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/natural-history-museum-t-rex-christmas-jumper/

Register for Alfred Russel Wallace’s Birthday Symposium

Oxford University Museum of Natural History will be celebrating the 200th birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace with a symposium exploring his contributions to science. The event is on January 9th and will be held both online and in person. Registration is now open, with details of timings and locations on their website.

Link to OUMNH event page: https://talks.ox.ac.uk/talks/id/0cd00bc2-2a47-49d3-a297-da1e96bff7be/

What to Read

A new species of extinct lizard has been described from the collection at the Natural History Museum. Read about how a 200-million-year-old fossil is changing our understanding of how modern lizards and other reptiles evolved.

Link: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2022/december/gloucestershire-fossil-suggests-modern-lizards-could-have-triassic-origins.html

A new book from Samuel Alberti, director of collections at National Museums Scotland explores how science museums can use their power to foster a greater sense of collaboration and community through sparking curiosity and boosting scientific literacy.

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03795-1

Forest & Bird announced their Bird of the Year winner for 2022. Bird of the Year is a nationwide campaign to raise awareness for endangered birds throughout Aotearoa, with spirited and often hilarious efforts by all to promote various birds as the favourite. The Pīwauwau Rock Wren, New Zealand’s only true alpine bird, is this year’s champion! Read more about the Pīwauwau and 2022’s so-called ‘underbirds’ on their website.

Link: https://www.birdoftheyear.org.nz/

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.

A Collection of Sri Lankan Bird Skins.

Written by Eimear Ashe, Documentation Officer, National Museum of Ireland – Natural History.

The Temporary Number

During the course of my work in the Natural History Division of the National Museum of Ireland, (NMI) I came across a couple of boxes of bird skins that were in the wrong place. By deciding to move them to their correct place, I opened a metaphorical can of worms. It turned out that these 200 bird skins had been assigned modern numbers during a volunteer project 16 years ago. In the intervening period, the original accession number had been discovered. Never one to leave a wrong number in place, I took on the challenge to renumber this collection before rehousing them.

The Donor

First, I read the acquisition register and found the donor to be a gentleman named Colonel James Grove White, a career British Army officer. Upon retirement, Grove White came to live in Co. Cork in the south of Ireland, and like many British men in Ireland at that time, he came to hold high office during various periods, and was very active in the local community. It was during his time in Ireland, almost 100 years ago, that he donated his collection of “Ceylonese” bird skins. Presumably these were collected by him while on duty in Sri Lanka, although there is no documentation in the NMI to contribute the field collection details, other than the labels on the birds themselves.

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Exploring Materials in Natural History Dioramas

Written by Claire Dean, Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, and MA Preventive Conservation student at Northumbria University.

The wildlife dome at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
The wildlife dome at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Carlisle, C. Dean

In many old dioramas, material mysteries abound. As a Curatorial Assistant at Tullie House, I’ve encountered a tree trunk made from a Robinson’s fruit juice box, a fake roof that contained fibrous signs of asbestos, and a hodgepodge of unidentifiable paints and old plastics. The museum’s new-in-post Biodiversity Curator discovered pests thriving amongst the real vegetation and a 30-year-old slice of bread in a garden scene.

Dioramas aim to create the illusion of real habitats for their taxidermy inhabitants, and they use a huge range of materials to do so. After decades of neglect and destruction there is now wider recognition that habitat dioramas can instil a sense of wonder in visitors that no amount of digital wizardry can replace. Through my dissertation research for an MA in Preventive Conservation at Northumbria University, I wanted to find out more about what materials have been used in dioramas over time, how these might impact the preservation of specimens, and what we can do to better protect the dioramas that remain. I put a call out to ask, ‘What’s in your dioramas?’ through an online survey and received 30 responses from people with experience in a range of different sized institutions and private practice.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – November 2022

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.

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

Sector News

Museum Association Conference 2022 & The Wild Escape

Last week, the Museum Association held their Annual Conference from 3rd – 5th November in Edinburgh. The conference was online and in person for those that could attend.

One of the projects mentioned, that may be of interest to some, was The Wild Escape project led by Art Fund – ‘a major participatory project for museums and schools inspired by the wildlife found in museum and gallery collections’. The project was previously called the Great Escape but aims to connect nature and biodiversity particularly for children aged 7-11 but is relevant for all ages. The project runs from January to June 2023 but can be shortened/lengthened to your museum’s specific needs. Resources are currently online and more are still to come. Grants are still available in Scotland and Wales.

Visit their website to find out more about how to get involved in The Wild Escape project.

Online Symposium: Uniting Earth Science Collections

The Geological Curators Group (GCG) and The Society of Mineral Museum Professionals (SMMP)have scheduled a meeting and seminar: Uniting Earth Science Collections. The one-day, online symposium takes place via Zoom on December 1st 2022. The 49th AGM of the Geological Curators Group will follow the first session of the seminar. Find out more and register here.

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Museo Giovanni Capellini – Wunderkammer or Modern Museum?

Written by Michela Contessi, Conservator, Museum University Network, Collezione di Geologia “Museo Giovanni Capellini”, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna.

The Geological Collection “Museo Giovanni Capellini” is part of the University Museum Network in Bologna (SMA – Sistema Museale di Ateneo). The museum is in an 18th-century building and includes a core of 16th-century geological and paleontological collections dating back to one of the oldest natural history museums in the world, created by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1556. Most of the two million specimens now hosted in the museum though, were acquired by Professor Giovanni Capellini (1833-1922), holder of the first chair of geology established in Italy and rector of the University of Bologna. The museum holds important (both historically and scientifically) collections of rocks, fossils and documents from all around the world (Europe, Africa, North and South America), including the 1909 cast of Diplodocus carnegii, which is a popular touristic attraction in Bologna.

Facade of The Geological Collection "Museo Giovanni Capellini"
Figure 1 – Museum facade. © @Sistema Museale di Ateneo – University of Bologna

However, and here comes the problem…

After Capellini’s death in 1922 little was done for the museum, in the early 1960s, when the new-born Institute of Geology and Paleontology was built, the museum building was literally cut in half and the collections crowded into half the original space.

Figure 2 – Museum plan in 1911, shown in red is the current available space.
Figure 2 – Museum plan in 1911, shown in red is the current available space. © @Sistema Museale di Ateneo – University of Bologna

Structural issues arose due to this move, and the museum was closed to the public for almost 30 years. After a major renovation, funded for the ninth centenary anniversary of the University in 1988, the museum was given a new lighting and heating system, reopened to the public and it welcomes several thousand visitors a year since then. The building is now solid (as an old 500-year-old lady can be), but again nothing has been done since, and what looked like a good compromise in the eighties is now obsolete.

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