The history of Black people, people from indigenous cultures and the role of empire in museum natural history collections is largely ignored. This talk uses Manchester Museum’s mineral collection to take the first steps to uncover these stories, analyse the role of empire and expose racism. For the first time, archive photographs from the early 1900s are used in a new display, to tell the story of the people who mined the Museum’s South African gold ore specimens. Recent research and the Museum’s Sierra Leone diamond are used to tell the story of ‘Blood Diamonds’. Data analysis of the mineral collection reveals that 24% of the collection comes from colonial countries. 50% of the Museum’s minerals from the British Empire are Australian, of which 33% came from the Imperial Institute. This research has shown that Manchester Museum’s mineral collection is intimately connected to empire, but the history of Black and indigenous people is ignored or unknown. This is institutional racism and museums need to be proactive in addressing this. There are enormous opportunities to develop this research through fostering partnerships with source communities around the world. This paper is a call to action.
About this time last year, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery was successful in a bid to the Arts Council England Designation Development Fund, securing funding of £72,500 to catalogue and display its nationally significant geology collections. The Designation Development Fund provides funding for projects which ensures long-term care of Designated collections and maximises their public value.
In early March 2020, just days before the museum closed and the country sank into lockdown due to Covid-19, I contributed a summary of the project to the Geological Curators’ Group blog (you can read it here). It really does show how quickly everything changed – at the time of writing the original blog, we were expecting the project to kick off in June 2020, beginning with the recruitment of an Assistant Curator to carry out the documentation of geological specimens bequeathed to the museum by Ted Watkin. This collection, comprised of about 2,000 fossils mostly originating from around Staffordshire, is to form the basis of the project and the new displays, highlighting the history and importance of the Carboniferous coal fields under Stoke-on-Trent.