This blog explores conservation work and public engagement activities focused on a natural history specimen found in an unlikely museum setting, made possible thanks to the Bill Pettit Memorial Award 2020.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is a museum and visitor attraction on the harbour side in Bristol. The site centres around the Steamship Great Britain, which sits within the drydock she was originally built in and launched from on the 19th July 1843. The famous Victorian Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, acted as her Chief Engineer. She returned to the same drydock on the 19th July, 1970 – a gap of 127 years during when she steamed or sailed to every continent in the world, excluding the Antarctic, and circumnavigated the globe 32 times. The site also includes two museums – the Dockyard Museum, which tells the story of the SS Great Britain from construction to her return to Bristol, and the Being Brunel Museum, which explored the life and works of IK Brunel. The Trusts Collections were Designated in 2014.
In March 2020 the SS Great Britain Trust applied for funding as part of the Bill Pettit Memorial Award.
Written by Dr Victoria Purewal ACR), Business founder and Director, Connect-Conserve/Cyswllt-Cadwraeth Cymru.
I own a natural science conservation company called ‘Pure Conservation’, however after Covid, I felt differently about working on my own and for myself. Covid has impacted so many people, it has made us revaluate our lifestyle and our relationships, and affected every aspect of our home and working lives. At the end of the last lockdown, I decided to change and improve my working life, to move in a different direction, and be more sustainable and inclusive.
I started seeking out fellow local conservators in Wales, meeting for coffee, and visiting each other’s workspaces. Being able to talk about our lives and businesses was invigorating, and a great relationship developed. However, I realised that when Covid fully retreated and normal working practice resumed, we could be in competition with each other. Every one of us had struggled in some way during lockdown and it would be better to work together, then we could be more supportive and stronger as a team.
These conversations also highlighted that collections had suffered during lockdown. Limited access to collections for staff meant that spaces and specimens had begun to moulder. For most institutions, finding the financial support or workforce to help remedy this is possible, but for many collection owning community groups, it just isn’t an option, and so that is what inspired me to set up this initiative.
Welcome to the August 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 email@example.com.
In case you missed it, the NatSCA 2021 Conference: Environmental Breakdown and Natural Science Collections, which took place in May, is now freely available to view online, through our website or YouTube channel. This year’s conference focussed on how we can address global issues such as climate change and habitat loss with our collections, and featured some amazing talks and fascinating tours from across the sector. All talks, tours and Q&A sessions have captions available.
As a Natural History conservator, I was thrilled to learn that the 2021 SPNHC conference would be a joint conference with the AIC. These two large US organizations have very different priorities and committees, but many collaborative interests. I had waited a long time for this collaboration! The theme of the conference was ‘Transformation’ seeking ideas to not only transform museums, but discuss how museums can transform the world for the better. A fitting theme for a year of massive upheaval and dramatic change.
The conference was originally due to be held in Jacksonville Florida, but the on-going pandemic meant it was moved online at the last minute. Though disappointed to not see colleagues physically, holding the conference online did allow for truly international participation and I could catch up on talks as and when I was able!
The majority of sessions were collaborative with talks from both members of AIC and the SPNHC. They were spread over 6 weeks, allowing for many more sessions than could normally be accommodated in a 5-day conference. The sessions were varied, covering not only the conservation of objects but digitization and data management, using Natural History as an educational tool, collaborating with stakeholder communities and storage and display.
Written by Becky Desjardins (Senior Museum Preparator & Conservator), Georgia Kay & Kim König (MSc students Museums & Collections – Leiden University; Naturalis Interns), Naturalis Biodiversity Center.
Back in 2013, Naturalis conducted a research project about arsenic in the museums’ specimens. The goal was to determine if arsenic was spreading from the collection areas into staff and or public areas of the museum. We tested many specimens with an XRF but also tested the elevators, door handles, floors, shelves, keyboards, etc. From this testing we developed protocols about handling specimens and how we use the spaces in the collection. You can read all about that project over here.
What didn’t get tested were the large mounted vertebrates. Back in 2013 the Naturalis collections were spread over a number of warehouses around Leiden. Because these external buildings were considered depots only (meaning no offices/canteens in these spaces) there was less concern about arsenic contamination in non-collection areas. The large vertebrates were considered to be high risk specimens (so very toxic), and were handled as such, they never had their moment with the XRF.