Paper was precious and expensive in the mid 19th century, when many of our herbarium specimens were collected and pressed. Some collectors re-used newspaper or letters as mounting paper for their pressed flowers.
We always keep a sheet of vintage newspaper once the plant specimen has been remounted onto new acid-free paper. Above are some of the delightful examples of adverts, stories, and articles we have discovered while working on the collection here at the Manchester Museum.
There are many more, for a future blog post.
Spider ID workshop at the Manchester Museum (Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL) on Saturday 2nd February, provisionally 10am – 4pm.
This workshop is for beginners and attendance at the workshop is free.
This course will introduce the common families of spider that can be found in the UK. Attendees will be shown basic spider anatomy and how to identify spiders to family level and also some easy spider species.
We will use microscopes and the recommended ID guides (provided, although some sharing may be necessary).
We may have some live spiders to examine, but the emphasis with the microscopes will be on how to identify preserved specimens in alcohol.
This is necessary to clearly understand the anatomy and features used in identification (which when familiarised can often be viewed with a hand lens on live spiders in the field).
Space is limited to 10 attendees.
Please contact Philip Baldwin, North West Regional Coordinator, to book your place on this workshop, preferably by email with your contact details; Mobile: 07585 606148, email email@example.com; or Dmitri Logunov, the Curator of Arthropods (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other events run by the British Arachnological Society can be checked upon online at: http://wiki.britishspiders.org.uk/index.php?title=Events,_etc.
Hello. I’ve decided to try out a new line for this blog. My background is as an ornithologist, and I’m lucky enough to work with one of the best bird collections in the UK, at Manchester Museum. The collection includes about 15,000 preserved ‘study skins’ which aren’t usually on display, but are kept in drawers in locked cabinets. These have a number of uses, and we keep them in the dark to keep their colour and keep insect pests from eating them. If you try to imagine a time without bird books, or when next to nothing was known about birds, that’s when the collection was mostly put together. The collection, and others like it, is the basis of what we know about birds. What species there are, where they’re found, how they vary. Collections like this are still used a lot, to work out where birds are found, how they vary and how they change with age. If you think people know everything about birds, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Nature is extremely dynamic and things are changing all the time, and we know next to nothing about some of the commonest birds.
So, I’m going to use this blog to go through some of the ways we identify birds, what they are and why museum specimens important. I hope you like it. To get us started, I’ve chosen a specimen of an Arctic Redpoll (the privilege of position, a truly wonderful bird). This is a small greyish finch, which eats seeds, and as its name suggests mostly lives in the Arctic. The species is a rare visitor to Britain. It is found in Greenland and Canada, and in northern Europe across Siberia. It comes in two forms, Carduelis hornemanni exilipes (the more southern subspecies, known as Coues’ Arctic Redpoll) and Carduelis hornemanni hornemanni (found in Greenland and northern Siberia). Elliot Coues (pronounced ‘cows’) was a 19th century American ornithologist.
The first thing is to get to know the terms used for different parts of birds, like a kind of ‘map’.
This bird was collected (shot) in April 1875. It is identified as an adult male, probably on dissection. The tail feathers are adult. Note how white the rump and lower back are, with white extending up between the tertials (large wing feathers). Note also the broad white fringes to the tail feathers. Ground colour is certainly not white, but is greyish brown.
A view of the underside of the same bird, no streaks on flanks or undertail coverts. Breast is flushed rosy pink, not red as on the forehead.
Side view of the same bird, showing how white and unstreaked the sides of the lower neck are. Broad whitish supercilium (eyebrow) extends between eyes. Small black patch on chin. Bill is thick looking, partly because of black feathering over nostrils.
This bird was collected by the famous English ornithologist Henry Seebohm on one of his trips to Siberia, in 1875. It was described by Henry Dresser in his famous book ‘The History of the Birds of Europe’. It is Coues’ Arctic Redpoll, not the Greenland Redpoll as not white enough and too small.
Hope you enjoyed this, the first venture into using museum specimens to help identify birds. The real power of these specimens is in affecting how we look at, understand and help conserve living birds.
I ceased to be Writer in Residence at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the middle of 2011. The Museum continues to flourish under its new Director, Paul Smith, and up-to-date information about its activities can be found at its own website.
Although this blog will inevitably become increasingly out of date, I’m leaving it up as an archive of the enjoyable time I spent working with the Museum, and just in case someone else wants to revive it in future.
This is a repost from the blog Prerogative of Harlots, detailing a proposed museum cut that has all the hallmarks of a poorly informed senior management decision. Read it and weep… or even better send a response.Sad to say, there’s news of another proposed museum cut, in this case the ornithology program at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Natural History, which is part of the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Here’s the email from the ornithology curator, John Klicka. Note particularly paragraph 2; admittedly it’s not a direct quote from UNLV’s VP for Research, but the statement about museum work being “antiquated and no longer relevant in the modern world,” if true, is quite extraordinary. Even a cursory glance at this group’s publication list shows that they are using a mixture of molecular and morphological techniques to address real issues in conservation, wildlife management, and environmental change; the journals that they are publishing in are indicative of its quality. As a former university administrator, I normally heave a deep sigh when I hear my colleagues go off on the iniquities of their administrations, but even I’d have to admit that this one takes the biscuit. ———————–
EMAIL FROM: John Klicka email@example.com
As many of you have likely heard, due to a prolonged economic downturn in Nevada the Curator of Birds position at the Marjorie Barrick Museum will likely lose its state funding after July 2011. This decision was ultimately made by the University’s Vice President for Research (a long-term administrator, formerly a chair in the Sociology Department). The Director of my academic unit (Dr. Oliver Hemmers [Oliver.firstname.lastname@example.org], an expert in X-ray atomic and molecular spectroscopy) has suggested that it might be helpful if I solicited some opinions from outside sources that would argue in support of the continued operation of the Ornithology program at the Barrick Museum.
The immediate problems appear to be two-fold. First, Oliver has told me that the VP for Research believes that museum work is antiquated and no longer relevant in the modern world. He needs to be informed that the type of work being done in the Ornithology program is of critical importance in these days of disappearing habitats and climate change. Second, the VP for Research is apparently under the impression that nearly all we do in this program is collect, prepare, and catalogue specimens. Of course, as specimen-based researchers our group does these things, but the program has also been very productive with respect to student training and original research. Since 2006 we have produced 26 peer-reviewed publications and have given 22 presentations at national or international meetings (see web links below). The single state line associated with this program (the Curator position) thus produces a considerable return for the University. Our VP for Research needs to be informed that we do better than average work here, and that despite its small size, the Barrick Museum Ornithology Program and its collections have put UNLV on the map in the Ornithological world at an international level.
If this sounds like a desperate, last-ditch effort to save yet another museum program from disappearing, it is. It is possible that the VP for Research may not change his mind, but I’d like for him to know that some very qualified people recognize the important contributions that this program makes to UNLV and to science and that they (you) do not approve of his decision. If you choose to help, please expand on the themes mentioned above and send your views to Dr. Oliver Hemmers at email@example.com (and please CC me). Your support is much appreciated.
Regards, –John Klicka
Publications here: http://barrickmuseum.unlv.edu/ornithology/publications.html
Students here: http://barrickmuseum.unlv.edu/ornithology/personnel.html
Clearly there is a need to reinforce the contemporary importance of museum collections in the current period of financial dearth, particularly when it comes to cash-strapped universities. Museums take up valuable space and to an administrator interested in the bottom-line they may not seem to offer much return.
However, as with any resource, museums require support if they are to demonstrate their worth. The progressive reduction of resourcing that many university museums have endured does little to allow them to fulfil their potential as a valuable teaching and research resource.
This is short-sighted, because with a little support university museums can provide an incentive to prospective students and can contribute novel information feeding into the major challenges facing the world in the 21st Century.
It’s no coincidence that four of the top five universities in the league tables have excellent museums (and the one that doesn’t is the London School of Economics, who consider that museums are key to Britain’s success as a creative economy). Administrators should bear these factors in mind before viewing university museums as an easy cut.
Right now the museum sector is in a period of transition, which may mean opportunities for some and disaster for others. Funding cuts have been hard: 15% (over 3 years) across the sector as a whole (20+% when you factor in inflation) and a total of 25% cuts for Local Authorities (over 4 years – plus inflation, so let’s say 30%), which will invariably hit the Local Authority museum services hard.
Looking at a map of cuts to Local Authority budgets (below) it’s interesting to note that the regions are the hardest hit. A double-whammy for regional Local Authority museums, since the Renaissance in the Regions programme – which funds a substantial number of staff in regional museums – is also hit by the overall 15% cross-sector cuts.
It will be interesting to see what patterns emerge from the implementation of cuts – will particular collections and the specialists who work on them be hit harder than others? It might be unsurprising to see Archaeology, Science, Geology and Natural History collections losing out in favour of Contemporary Art for example, since the Arts Council England (ACE) is to take on many of the responsibilities of the now doomed Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).
Why would this be a possibility? Because ACE (perhaps understandably) seems to view science as rather unrelated to art:
… the boundaries of art were pushed out rather far by some people. Some of the perhaps more surprising thresholds to be crossed were those relating to
More worrying are indications that science is seen as uninteresting or even ‘mundane’ by elements within ACE:
…It could be said that trying to measure or quantify something about the natural world – say the number of stars in the night sky – can turn it from art to science, from the mysterious to the mundane…
Just how ACE will interact with science-based collections is yet to be seen and it may be that they embrace them with the enthusiasm with which the science-based Wellcome Trust has embraced the arts. Only time will really tell.
Whatever transpires, there is a need for vigilance during the next few months and years, to see what patterns emerge across the sector – perhaps that will be a role suitable for the Collections Trust to take on? In the meantime, if you know of any threats to collections, please feel free to report them to firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments section below – your anonymity will be respected.
We have our first guest post from a museum professional who wishes to remain anonymous:
A regular gripe amongst colleagues is the cost of events run by the Museums Association, but it seems that shrinking budgets are finally being recognised. The two-for-one offer on some of the recent events have led to increased uptake and this year the Annual Conference has been whittled down to two days with an early-bird registration cost of ‘just’ £360. It’s hard to compare against other conferences to assess value for money since scale, catering and venue overheads will vary considerably. The last conference I attended (less than a month ago) cost £70 for two excellent days. The MA conference is five times more which is prohibitively expensive for a lot of people in the sector.
I’ll put grumbles about money aside – what are the preliminary themes of this year’s conference?
Next top model: creating the museums of the future
What will a museum look like in twenty years’ time? Will it be a virtual museum, with no physical location and its collections mothballed or sold off? Or will it be a smarter museum that has faced up to the harsh economic climate and survived?
This theme will debate the possibilities and potential for museums and their audiences including new business models, commissioning, and the MA’s Smarter Museums project. It will give delegates the practical tools to become the museum of the future.
I think we can truthfully say that the museum of the future will be any museum that manages to survive the current government hatchet job – who holds the external purse strings will play a bigger role than the fiscal savvy within the organisations. And as we should all know by now survival of the fittest is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It isn’t something to strive for – it’s an unfortunate outcome of being in a harsh and unsupportive environment. The MA should be fighting to maintain a habitat for museums rather than falling back on the idea that ‘if you snooze you lose’. Presumably the ‘losers’ will be those relegated to becoming ’virtual museums’ – or databases as they would more accurately be called since without collections a museum isn’t a museum.
Innovate: thinking your way out of the crisis
How can museums and galleries not just keep up with new trends in society but be the trend creators? This theme will look at new ways to draw in and engage audiences, raise extra cash and realise commercial opportunities, and make the most of collections.
Delegates will have the chance to discuss the latest ideas on a range of issues from using new spaces, to new approaches to formal and informal learning, and creative programming.
I’m all for the idea that museums should be setting trends yet the sector is renowned for its slow uptake of ideas. The latest ideas in the museum sector are usually lagging behind the real trend setters by 5 years at least. Web 2.0 is still news in some parts of the museum world (see theme 3 below), despite having been around for over a decade. I dare say that Web 3.0 or the semantic web is still unheard of by management in some museums.
I shouldn’t be too disparaging though – this theme is likely to be of use, as long as it doesn’t turn into a show-and-tell of what a few key players are already doing. It doesn’t count as trend setting when you’re copying what someone else has already done.
Get connected: creating and sustaining networks
The most important things in museums are people not objects. How do we make, create and use networks to link the people who work in museums and those who visit them?
This theme will explore how we connect at a professional and a public level and how to get the most out of social media tools and real-life networks. It will also allow delegates to make their own professional and social connections.
The most important things in museums are objects, since people are not ‘things’ and without objects you cannot have a museum. The most important resource a museum has is people. What I find odd about this is the distinction between social media and real-life networks. If you are distinguishing between them it’s a pretty good indication that you don’t understand social media. Which takes me back to my earlier point about Web 2.0.
Perhaps this post is a bit cynical, but I find it depressing that the organisation that is meant to be representing museum professionals seems to be offering slim pickings at a time of great need in the sector. Where are the cuts put in perspective? Where are the discussions about collections at risk? Where is the consultation about areas that require lobbying? In short, where is our representation?
The new structure for Gift Aid looks like it may facilitate claims by charitable organisations, which is positive, since the old system was inefficient and the benefits of Gift Aid were offset by the administrative costs of claiming it in some organisations. However, as one commentator noted, there will be a reduction in the value of Gift Aid from 28% to 25%, which will offset some of the benefits of the new system.
Donating Art and Historic items is also to be made easier (by which we mean more financially attractive). This idea of philanthropy is all well and good, but for many museums the priority is to maintain what they already have, never mind administer new acquisitions. Collections Management takes staff, space and resources – which are ongoing costs that the Budget has been less supportive of.
How do you foresee the Budget impacting on your work?
To get the ball rolling we thought it might be useful to provide a few topics to stimulate discussion. The obvious issue that overrides most others at the moment is funding – in particular the situation that many museums are facing with regard to a loss of expertise and stewardship of collections. Whilst the Nationals feel the cuts, the smaller museums may be crippled by them. What has your experience been like so far?
Another area for discussion is Collections Online and web presence, an area of investment and a high priority for many museum managers. But how much value do these projects have for the collections and do they actually result in a usable and sustainable end product? Would it be better for the projects to be replaced by an integrated approach to digital media that are not dependent on ephemeral funding and which have no project deadlines to stand in the way of their integration into the wider museum strategy?
A third topic for discussion is deaccessioning and collections review. Has there been too much focus on getting rid of collections, creating an environment in which pressure to sell collections is increased because it is seen as a way of raising income? Deaccessioning is a hot topic at the moment, hotter for some than others. What are your thoughts?
As always, we are keen to hear from any museum professionals or people involved in or with an interest in the cultural and heritage sector.
The Museum sector employs a lot of people, yet the only voices that tend to be heard are those of senior management or marketing teams. The Museums Association represents museum professionals, yet many of us find ourselves disagreeing with the direction taken by the MA.
There seems to be a disconnect between the policy makers and movers and shakers and those people on the ground who make museums work; the people on the front line of collections care, exhibitions or facilitating public delivery and support. This is particularly worrying in the current period of uncertainty regarding funding and the future of many museums.
This blog has been set up to provide a voice for museum professionals, a place where you can have your say with a degree of anonymity if it is desired, but mainly a place where the thoughts and experiences of the many might feed into the bigger picture.
You make museums work – tell us how and, more importantly, tell us how they could be made to work better. If you have something you want to say, please drop us a line at email@example.com and we can guide you through the process of putting your thoughts into words and your words online.