Written by Verity Burke, John Pollard Newman Fellow of Climate Change and the Arts, University College Dublin.
We’re at a crucial historical moment, in which the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List has announced a catastrophic decline in global biodiversity, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported on the devastating trajectory of the climate crisis. Museums have an important role to play in communicating the value of nature. Yet nature is, necessarily, mediated in museums, through taxidermy dioramas and skeletal mounts; virtual tours and digital databases; image, text and film. While the natural world has always been mediated in the museum space, what does this mediation mean now for natural history museums and collections, and the natures they present?
These are some of the questions which drive my research into museum representations of the natural world, and was the inspiration behind putting together an event series called ‘The Unnatural History Museum: Mediating Nature in the Sixth Mass Extinction’ (part of the Irish Research Council-funded project ‘Still Lives: Organic and Digital Animals in the Natural History Museum’ at Trinity College Dublin). I was keen to make a space to have these conversations across disciplines and sectors (something which we get surprisingly few opportunities to do, despite often working on similar topics or issues), to allow us to share what we were doing and discuss why. This blog is a short overview of the topics that the first season of the Unnatural History Museum engaged with from September 2022 to April 2023, with some excitement about what arose in the first season, and in anticipation of continuing these conversations in a planned second season.Continue reading