Sunday, 4 June 2017

Out of the Box

Last Thursday and Friday were spent at the University of Canberra's Out of the Box symposium which aimed to share strategies for accessing natural history collections.  It was a perfect arena in which to give a lightning talk about my current research on the Charles Morrison seaweed albums, and to introduce to others the way I work with natural history collections and objects.
Part of my presentation
It was a bonus that Dr Christine Cargill, my scientist-collaborator, also gave a talk about the artists-in residence she has hosted at the Cryptogam Herbarium at the ANBG, including myself, so double exposure on my artworks!
Christine Cargill's presentation
There were some very interesting talks from speakers who were involved with different aspects of natural history collections - conservators, researchers, writers, artists, curators, scientists, taxidermists etc - but the symposium itself was engineered so that everyone who attended could participate in discussions and workshops on how to make natural history collections more accessible, both in the physical and virtual sense.

These discussions raised issues about increased non-scientist access and security; the increased value of physical collections in a digital world (and also the importance of an online presence); the role of volunteers; the idea of establishing an Australian Natural History Museum; who the stakeholders of these collections are; and how and who we can lobby effectively for an increased  awareness about the importance of these collections.

There were tours of three CSIRO collections: The  Australian National Insect Collection; the Australian National Wildlife Collection and the Australian National Herbarium.  I chose to go to the Herbarium again as I haven't been for a few years.  The ANWC was fully booked as there were limited places and lots of delegates who worked in the fields of taxidermy and conservation of animals and birds.  ANIC was also a very popular tour but I had been there not too long ago.

Brendan Lepschi, the Curator of the ANH, spent an hour taking us through the various aspects of the collection, which was greatly appreciated by the students and interstate visitors who had never been behind the scenes before.
Brendan Lepschi in the ANH showing how specimens are kept

Herbarium sheets showing how small orchids are mounted

Small plants can also be preserved in jars although they tend to
lose colour

Specimen of Eucalyptus collected by Joseph Banks on
Captain Cook's first Voyage

There were also three practical workshops that you could register for : Conservation of physical specimens with Sheldon Teare (Australian Museum); Digital Sharing with Ely Wallis from Museum Victoria, and Creative Responses to Natural History with Erica Seccombe. I chose to go to the Digital Sharing workshop and it opened my eyes to online resources for collections I didn't know existed. It also gave me a broader understanding to other sites such as the Atlas of Living Australia, Trove as well as providing insight into how I could contribute online as a citizen scientist to several other websites.

As with most conferences, the highlight is always meeting like-minded people, finding common ground and talkking about collaborative projects that could be realised in the future.
A very big thank you to Alison Wain for not only organising the conference but ensuring everything ran smoothly over the two days so that maximum time was spent sharing information and strategies for ensuring natural history collections are seen as vibrant resources of information, not dusty old exhibits locked away in dark cabinets of curiosity.

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