Mo Koundje: How Gorilla Histories Can Help Decolonise Our Collections

Presented by Rebecca Machin, Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Abstract

Mo Koundje (‘Mok’) is a Western Lowland Gorilla in the collections of Leeds Museums and Galleries (LMG). His taxidermied skin is displayed at Leeds City Museum, while his skeleton is in the store at Leeds Discovery Centre. At present, his remains are used as an example of ‘gorilla’ in the Life on Earth gallery, but they have the potential to tell us so much more. Using archives from the Zoological Society of London, the Natural History Museum, and the Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer, as well as French and British press archives, I have found out more about Mok’s life. His story touches on domestic life in French colonies, the interaction between colonists and colonised communities, and the illegal hunting and trade in gorillas, which continues today. The remains of animals from once colonised countries have the potential to reveal stories not only of their own experiences, but of the people whose lives were affected by colonisation. By entering colonial homes, gorillas enable us to look at racial and gendered hierarchies imposed by European colonisers from a new perspective. We can, and should, use these stories to engage our audiences with a range of political and environmental issues still relevant today.

This presentation contains distressing images.

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Bill Pettit Memorial Award 2021

Written by David Gelsthorpe, Manchester Museum.

Do you have a great project in mind that supports the conservation, access and use of natural science collections? Well, NatSCA’s Bill Pettit memorial grant for up to £3000 is here to help!

We are looking for applications for exciting new projects for 2021. Terms and conditions and contact details to discuss your project can be found on our Awards and Bursaries page.

To apply please fill out the application form.

Projects previously supported:

2020/2021:

The Last Passenger: Conservation of the SS Great Britain Cormorant Skeleton (Awarded £1424)

Curating, Digitising and Displaying a Unique Historic Odontological Collection (Awarded £2100)

2019/2020:

University of Liverpool Zoology Redisplay Project (Awarded £1840)

Leo Conservation Project (Awarded £1105)

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Decolonising Manchester Museum’s Mineral Collection – A Call To Action

Presented by David Gelsthorpe, Manchester Museum.

Abstract

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.

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Top 10 Blogs of 2020

Written by Jennifer Gallichan, NatSCA Blog Editor; Curator (Vertebrates/Mollusca), National Museum Cardiff.

2020 – what a year! Well done on getting through it, and a heartfelt thanks from me for all of the fantastic blog contributions this year. We saw a marked increase in online engagement when the first lockdown hit, with more of you reading and engaging with our blog page than in any other year. I have very much enjoyed reading all of the articles, and I hope you have too.

To reflect on the year, here are your Top Ten most read NatSCA blog articles from 2020. Covid obviously features, as well as a strong focus on discussions surrounding decolonising collections. I am also pleased to see that there is a healthy dose of solid natural history conservation practice this year. I know I have taken great solace from the fact that no matter what was happening in the world, time seemed to stand still the minute I entered the stores. I hope that focusing on the practicalities of caring and conserving our collections has been a healthy and hopefully reassuring distraction from the craziness surrounding us all.

10. Frequently Asked Questions about Taxidermy

Written by Ella Berry amateur taxidermist & MSc Conservation Practice student, Cardiff University. Attempting to deal with some of those tricky taxidermy questions.

Photo of the taxidermy Gannet (Morus bassanus) waiting patiently(!) to go on display before the event. Photo by author.

9. Museums Beyond Covid

Written by Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, The Box, Plymouth. Exploring how our museum spaces and experiences might be very different in the future.

Beautiful taxidermy work of lions attacking a buffalo. I patiently waited 15 minutes until the case was clear of visitors for this photo. Photo by Jan Freedman.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Compiled by Jennifer Gallichan, NatSCA Blog Editor; Curator at Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd – National Museum Cardiff.

Welcome to the December edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

This month’s Digest dispenses with the usual format and focuses on all things Christmas. Apologies to all those Scrooges out there, but all things considered, this year needs as much sparkle and fairy lights as we can throw at it people!

There are some super virtual advent calendars going on. I am off course recommending my very own institutions @CardiffCurator account. This year our annual #MuseumAdvent calendar meets #NatureOnYourDoorstep. We launched our nature #WinterBingo challenge on the 1st December. Find all 24 things before Christmas, tag them in and they’ll retweet your finds.

Then there is the wonderful Leeds Discovery Centre Video Advent Calendar. Every day, open a door to see what object their curators and staff have found in the Store. Also an excellent opportunity for a virtual nose around their stores.

And this year, Manchester Museum are bringing you a #Caring Christmas advent calendar. Each day their gift to you is a little story of wonder, celebrating how we care for our world and each other.

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