Refloating the Ark


I’m very pleased to be back at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and to be involved once more in Collections in the Landscape. I’d only been at my desk for a couple of days last week when I was whisked away to attend a conference hosted by Manchester Museum.  Refloating the Ark explored the role natural history collections can play in engaging the public with environmental issues, and also how they can contribute to, and attract, new research.

Collections in the Landscape is all about connecting people with museum collections and the Derbyshire landscape. We want to foster a sense of place, and an appreciation and pride in our heritage. Speakers at the conference spoke of ‘Nature Connectedness’, when people feel like part of a wider, natural community. There’s much to gain from this vision, and in our project we certainly do want to connect people with the environment, both the natural and man-made elements . Can we call this ‘Derbyshire Connectedness?’ Suggestions on a postcard please…


Participants explore the barrow built in the bank at Arbor Low

We got people exploring the great outdoors during the project’s development phase. In this photo some of our volunteers are enjoying the natural and archaeological features around Arbor Low.

You can find out more about what happened, who spoke, and about what, through the link below:

And you can see what everyone else thought on Twitter, #RFArk

There was simply too much to cram into a single blog post, so here’s a short list of some of the lessons learnt that were most relevant to Collections in the Landscape.

Contact with nature is good for you…and the environment

Ok, so we all know that getting out and about in the great outdoors is a good thing. But speakers at Refloating the Ark really managed to sum up the positive impact that a project like Collections in the Landscape could have.

Contact with the natural environment is good for physical and mental health, learning, and also our relationships with each other. People spending time in outdoor spaces are also more likely to hold pro-environmental views, so nature gets something out of it too.

Appeal to hearts, not just minds

Evidence shows that facts alone are not enough if you want to engage people to act, or respond to, your messages. You got to appeal to people’s love, awe or wonder for something. This approach turns a passive respect or appreciation into a more passionate, engaged experience that is more likely to provoke a response and interaction.

So understand your audience, what are their values and motivation, what will make them say, ‘wow!’?

Great objects displayed well can really help appeal to visitors love or wonder for a subject - like these specimens in Manchester Museums  Natures Library gallery.

Great objects displayed well can really help appeal to visitor’s love or wonder for a subject – like these specimens in Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery.

If you want researchers to find you, DIGITISE!

Where do we all turn when we want to find something out? The internet of course! Getting data online is a major step in attracting new research into your collections. Make your data easy to find. Speakers even mentioned examples of new, scientific discoveries that had been made by researchers exploring museum’s online data. So don’t hold back!

We’re moving towards making our own collections available online, so watch this space for future news and updates.

Volunteering, but not as we know it

Finally, the concept of museum volunteering is being transformed, and there’s lots of good practice to be found within the natural history community. Citizen Science projects provide online platforms where members of the public can create or process data in response to a research question.

A very successful example is Old Weather, in which online volunteers are asked to study digitised pages from 19th century ship’s logs and pick up reference to weather. This project has helped to improve our understanding of historic weather patterns and has extended the historic data available for climatic research. Participants help digitise and transcribe weather reports, earning points as they do so and progressing in rank from Cadet all the way up to Captain!

Example page from the OldWeather Citizen Science project

Example page from the OldWeather Citizen Science project

Lastly, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the team from Manchester Museum for being excellent hosts who kept us all topped up with food, coffee and inspiring speakers. Refloating the Ark was packed with good ideas, sensible advice and interesting case studies. The next challenge is apply all of this to Collections in the Landscape.


One thought on “Refloating the Ark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s