NatSCA Digital Digest – November

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the November 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 blog@natsca.org.

News from the Sector 

Upcoming Conference: Decolonising Natural Science Collections
November 19th 2020
NatSCA will be holding a one-day online conference on November 19th 2020, 9:50am – 4.15pm GMT.

Miranda Lowe and Subhadra Das will be leading the proceedings as keynote speakers, presenting an update on their widely shared NatSCA paper – Nature Read in Black and White: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections

This event is free for members, with opportunity for live Q&A. The event will be recorded and made freely available afterwards. NatSCA members will receive a code to register via email – if you have not received this, please contact membership@natsca.org

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action

Reimagining Museums for Climate Action is an international design and ideas competition launched on 18th May 2020 for International Museum Day. The competition, which closed on the 15th September, challenged designers, architects, academics, artists, poets, philosophers, museum professionals and the public at large to radically (re)imagine and (re)design the museum as an institution, to help bring about more equitable and sustainable futures in the climate change era. Find out more about the project and the eight winning proposals at www.museumsforclimateaction.org

Pest Odyssey UK Discussion Forum

The Pest Odyssey UK group is a non profit organisation, advocating for IPM within cultural heritage institutions. Its mission is to provide a trusted platform to communicate, advise and promote best practise in Integrated Pest Management for cultural heritage. If you have a question about pest management or advice to share, you can join the email group here.

Warwickshire Museum Collections Move

Warwickshire Museum has recently moved its extensive collections of geology, archaeology, natural history, social history and costume to new stores close to the county town of Warwick. Natural history, comprising a comprehensive herbarium, extensive taxidermy collection and an entomology collection, are now re-housed in secure pods within the new storage, using fixed and mobile racking (Ocean Design), recycled from our old store, which was kitted out in 2012-2013. Many months and probably years of unpacking and documentation lie ahead, but the collections should be accessible again, sometime in 2021.

Packing and mapping started in earnest in mid-2019, and the first collections were just starting to be moved in early 2020. Following announcement of Covid-19 lockdown the process was put on hold until June, when work recommenced.

Where to Visit

With a fresh UK lockdown underway in England, museums have once again been forced to close their doors. Be sure visit these exhibitions if you can when the country re-opens!

Portsmouth Museums – The World of Wonder

Portsmouth Museums have recently filled a shop window in the local Cascades Shopping Centre with over 150 natural history objects. The ‘World of Wonder’, designed by Athena Jane Churchill features some of the weird and wonderful objects that have been held in store for over a decade. The display aims to showcase Portsmouth’s natural history collections to new audiences and to engage with them through the use of QR codes to download more information and by inviting them to create butterflies and moths which will be added to the shop windows.

Gallery Oldham – Rain Drop to Corporation Pop!

This exhibition has a very watery feel, exploring water from the start of its journey in the clouds through all freshwater aquatic environments using objects chosen from across the Gallery’s collection.

Water is an essential element for all life that has ever lived on the planet and makes up important part of our local wildlife habitats. Come and see beautiful paintings portraying rivers, lakes and canals displayed alongside ancient fossil fish and an array of present-day aquatic creatures. A special attraction is the fossil skeleton of an Ichthyosaur, the largest fossil in their geological collections.

Oldham became the most important spinning town in the world because it is nestled high in the hills making the most of the damp climate so necessary to spin the best cotton yarn. Water collected in newly constructed reservoirs was important for an expanding human population to ensure good health and hygiene as well as textile processing.

Water has a special attraction to us for leisure activities, swimming, boating and fishing to name just a few. Amazing fish trophy mounts donated by Oldham Central Angling Club will be displayed together with swimming memorabilia.

Image © Gallery Oldham

The British Museum – Arctic: Culture and Climate

Home to rich cultures for nearly 30,000 years, the Arctic is far from the inhospitable hinterland it’s often imagined to be.

From ancient mammoth ivory sculpture to modern refitted snow mobiles, the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic. Developed in collaboration with Arctic communities, the exhibition celebrates the ingenuity and resilience of Arctic Peoples throughout history. It tells the powerful story of respectful relationships with icy worlds and how Arctic Peoples have harnessed the weather and climate to thrive.

The dramatic loss of ice and erratic weather caused by climate change are putting unprecedented pressure on Arctic Peoples, testing their adaptive capacities and threatening their way of life.

What happens in the Arctic will affect us all and this exhibition is a timely reminder of what the world can learn from its people.

What to Read

We have two great new entries on the NatSCA blog this month. Trials From The Riverbank: Conserving a Taxidermy Otter by Jen Gossman details the assessment and plan for conservation work needed for a taxidermy otter. Telling the Truth About Who Really Collected the “Hero Collections” by Jack Ashby explores how museums can work to decolonise their collections by seeking out the real stories behind famous collections traditionally attributed to ‘dead white men’.

Over on the Geological Curators’ Group blog, John Cooke and Ros Westwood write about the Auction of a Thomas Woodruff Table and provide a great history of the table and its maker.

Job Vacancies

The Powell-Cotton Museum are seeking an Audience Development Consultant, to lead on building networks with the Museum’s local communities (both well represented and underrepresented) and to develop a series of workshops and focus group sessions that will bring those audiences into the ‘Colonial Critters’ project.

Tullie House Museum is inviting applications for a Biodiversity Curator, a unique and exciting opportunity to work in the most biodiverse county in England with both a nationally Designated museum collection and one of the largest and oldest biodiversity data centres in the UK.

Before You Go…

If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Similarly, if you have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, we welcome new blog articles so please drop Jen an email if you have anything you would like to submit.

NatSCA Digital Digest – August

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

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 blog@natsca.org.

Where Can I Go?

Museums have been steadily reopening since the beginning of July, and August brings a growing list of museums tentatively opening their doors to a limited number of visitors. The Art Fund has put together a list of opening dates, with big names in August including The Natural History Museum, the Science Museum (London), the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), National Museum Cardiff and Eureka (Halifax).

What Can I Read?

We’ve got two great posts on the NatSCA blog this month. Yvette Harvey writes about the colonial history of the collecting trips of George Forrest, whose collections still have a huge impact on what is grown in our gardens today. Jan Freedman writes about his experiences in busy museums, and how a calmer, post-Covid environment may benefit the experiences of visitors.

Continue reading

Global Biodiversity Collections: Becoming Part of the Open Data Community

Written by Isla Gladstone, Senior Curator Natural Sciences, Bristol Museums

On 13th March I travelled to Sofia in Bulgaria, my mind buzzing with questions about biodiversity data…

I had been awarded one of 30 funded places on the first training school of Mobilise, an EU initiative to mobilise data, experts and policies in scientific collections. More specifically, Mobilise is an EU COST Action: a bottom-up network funded over four years to boost research, innovation and careers by COST, an intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology.

Digitisation and data management challenges in small collections promised new skills in the key basics of data quality and cleaning. It also offered a chance to meet colleagues from around the world, and connect to a bigger picture.

At a time of unprecedented human-caused climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, it feels more urgent than ever to connect museum collections to real-world change. Natural sciences collections offer precious opportunities here. Alongside huge potential to engage communities and inspire debate, specimens are unique sources of the scientific evidence urgently needed to unlock sustainable development solutions:

“There is more information about biodiversity in [the world’s] natural sciences collections than all other sources of information combined.” iDigBio

Collections’ biodiversity data: the what, when, where, who collected attached to many biological and palaeontological specimens © Bristol Museums

Continue reading

Caring for Entomology Collections

The following post is from Emma-Louise Nicholls of the Grant Museum of Zoology who attended our recent Caring for Entomology Collections Workshop

The scarab beetle shows how pins are used to manipulate the legs whilst the specimen is drying, after which it will maintain its shape.

At the NatSCA course Caring for Entomology Collections held at the NHM in London, I not only got to salivate over the swanky slide cabinets that the Natural History Museum now houses, but I also got to pin a scarab beetle from scratch, peer into a liquid nitrogen freezer at minus 196 degrees, see a grasshopper eating a mouse, eat amazing food (not from the nitrogen freezer), and was even rewarded for my endless questions* with a free gift in the form of a rubber gasket. All in all it was a stupendous day and a course definitely worth attending.

This liquid nitrogen freezer is used to store organic material that would degrade at higher temperatures.

This liquid nitrogen freezer is used to store organic material that would degrade at higher temperatures.

The day was split into eight sections that covered how to prepare your specimens, care for and store your collections, and lots of inspiration for what you can subsequently do with your specimens to make them available to a wider audience. We also talked about how to deal with insects that are not so much the specimen type, but more of the wild roaming, likely to eat your specimens variety. Although there is much to say, here are some highlights.

The Digitisation Project is working to re-house entomology collections and give each specimen an individual QR code for fast and efficient data extraction.

The Digitisation Project is working to re-house entomology collections and give each specimen an individual QR code for fast and efficient data extraction.

We were shown an impressive digitisation project that involved taking a drawer of entomological specimens in need of some TLC, applying both remedial and preventative conservation techniques and then photographing each specimen with a unique QR code. The idea is that in the future, the code can be scanned and will link to metadata on the Museum’s database. Knowing how troublesome paperwork for loans can be, this has exciting implications in terms of simplifying the process and decreasing both the time required and the potential for human error in filling out forms and in transcribing the specimens’ labels.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an essential part of any museum staff members’ knowledge base. Even if a full blown IPM plan is not logistically feasible in your building (as it isn’t in the museum where I work), a knowledge of how and why it works is integral to writing a pest monitoring programme that suits your collection. Housekeeping is, of course, the most important part of keeping museum pests at bay, but even in the best kept collection, pests can and do still occur, and knowing how to monitor and effectively eradicate any outbreaks is integral to preventative conservation of your specimens. It was both interesting and very useful to compare and contrast the problems and protocols that are used by the Natural History Museum with those from my own museum and I came away some useful tips.

The scarab beetle in the centre of this image shows how pins are used to manipulate the legs whilst the specimen is drying, after which it will maintain its shape.

The scarab beetle in the centre of this image shows how pins are used to manipulate the legs whilst the specimen is drying, after which it will maintain its shape.

The element of the course I most enjoyed was the opportunity to both pin an insect specimen, and ask endless questions of the suitably enthusiastic entomologists demonstrating the techniques. There are many more methods used in pinning insects and other invertebrates than I had ever imagined, and being able to have a go myself solidified the information as well as making for an exciting day. I can proudly tell you that the scarab I pinned lost no legs and the metal pin was at a (near) perfect 90 degree angle to the base. It’s all in the teaching no doubt.

Despite both the obvious and more subtle differences between the Natural History Museum and other natural history collections and museums, I felt the information given at the course was delivered in a way as to be directly relevant to all collections represented. Having spoken to the other delegates present, it was unanimously agreed to be a thoroughly useful and interesting day.

– Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

* May have been an attempt to silence me

‘Crap in the Attic?’: the management and use of natural history collections

20 November 2013, 10.30-17.15, Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History, in partnership with Oxford ASPIRE, would like to invite colleagues from organisations with natural history collections in the region to ‘Crap in the Attic?’: a symposium on the challenges facing natural history collections in the region, the role of natural history collections within the wider sector, and what the region needs in order to ensure the future of these significant collections.

Book your free place at http://oxfordnaturalhistory.eventbrite.co.uk/