by Deborah Paul (iDigBio) and Isla Gladstone (Senior Curator of Natural Sciences, Bristol Culture)
The heroes. Our natural sciences collections, collections staff, the planet and all the players worldwide (thanks Shakespeare).
Some of the heroes’ dilemmas. Need for online access to collection specimen data for research, dwindling habitat, damaged planet resources, one-of-a-kind objects, minimal staff, need for financial support and expertise, and an urgent need to reach and engage a broader audience if we are to succeed in addressing these dilemmas. Some actors know their roles, others don’t even know they are part of the story.
I help promote information sharing and collaboration between NatSCA and closely allied subject specialist network the Geological Curators’ Group. These groups share core aims and, increasingly with loss of specialist curatorial posts, a membership. It’s exciting to explore how we can capitalise their individual strengths for the benefit of natural sciences collections and the people who work with them.
I work with a small team (Biology Curator Rhian Rowson and Geology Curator Deborah Hutchinson) to curate over one million natural sciences specimens of all shapes and sizes. As many a curator will recognise, this varies from high level strategic work to lifting, shifting, labelling and cleaning – a medley of activities to enable diverse access to and preserve these astonishing collections.
Medicinal plant on a page from Bristol’s earliest natural sciences collection – the Broughton herbarium, Bristol & Jamaica, 1779-90. (C) Bristol Culture.
Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Digital Digest of 2018. We have lots of news, conferences, and jobs to keep you entertained for the rest of the ‘working week’. Read on…
What Should I Read?
Palaeontologists have made public the discovery of a new giant bat found in New Zealand, and the media has gone mad for it. Its scientific name (Vulcanops jennyworthyae) was chosen to commemorate the Roman god of fire (specifically including that of volcanoes, making him rather relevant to New Zealand), as well as the hotel in the village in which it was found (also named after Vulcan – that is the Roman god, not Spock’s home planet), and the scientist who found the first fossils; Jenny Worthy.
If you’d like to know all about the Chair of the Geological Curators’ Group, Matthew Parkes, then a perusal of the new blog Six questions for a geological curator would be a good place to start.
The third blog article I’d like to recommend actually came out mid December but it has a lot of interesting points that are important for those working with natural history collections to consider, and so is worth another mention; Four ways natural history museums skew reality.
I have been the Secretary for the Society since 2014 and on the committee, since 2011. NatSCA and its membership have contributed significantly to my development as a curator and collection manager, so I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the society in this capacity now.
Job title and institution
I am the Senior Curator in Charge for the Mammal Section at the Natural History Museum, London.
The Museum collection contains an estimated 500,000 mammal specimens and over 8,000 of those are type specimens. This makes it one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world.
The 2017 GCG Conference in Dublin was a resounding success. Our resident blogger Emma-Louise Nicholls has been co-opted onto the GCG committee – well done Emma!. I was unfortunately unable to attend the conference but I’m hoping that someone who did will volunteer a write-up for us.
Museums everywhere have been going all spooky for Hallowe’en. The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill turned their monthly lates event into the Bloody Late, a tour-de-force of spooky music and blood-curdling tours.
The Tetrapod Zoology Convention doubled the turn-out of previous years – made possible in part due to the venue change from the London Wetland Centre (near Hammersmith) to The Venue (near Holborn). NatSCA member Heather’s talk on the History of Zoos was great, as was our patron Ben Garrod’s account of working with David Attenborough and other windows into the world of TV science communication. There were lots of other great talks besides, which we will mention as we go along. The palaeoart workshop this year was mural-themed and presented an interesting challenge to create multiple species to scale across geologic time. My animal was a Microraptor, which I drew in the foreground because it was so small. Other people had sauropods in the background and they were still so big they were escaping the paper in places. Several write-ups of this event have been made – you and find some of them here and here. If you want to be kept informed about next year’s TetZooCon, I encourage you to join the Facebook group – they already have all the speakers lined up for next year if it remains a one-day event. They might stretch it to two if there’s enough interest.
If you like a good nose, the second part of TetZoo’s Elephant Seal article has just been published, which you can read here. And here is a thoughtfully placed link to the first part in case you missed it and wanted to catch up.
For a fun bit of ‘history of natural history’, this article is all about the secret that the Natural History Museum’s blue whale has been hiding since the 1930s, unknown to anyone until it’s recent clean prior to the big unveiling next week. Those naughty conservators… chuckle.
Whilst some of this article raised my quizzical-shark-scientist’s-eyebrow, such as the scale bar for instance, researchers believe they have uncovered a big clue as to why the Megalodon went extinct. Definitely worth a read if, like everyone, you like sharks. Although this article came out in January, it is receiving media attention at the moment so I thought I’d treat you to it.