Kingston University has won a £260,000 grant to launch an oral history project with staff at London’s Natural History Museum. The grant, from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will allow a team of Kingston experts to record the memories and experiences of curators, collectors and other specialists working at the world-renowned institution. Dubbed Museum Lives, the three-year programme of interviews will produce a detailed historical record and create a host of multimedia resources for the museum’s exhibitions and education work.
Project leader Professor Brian Cathcart, a journalism expert based at Kingston University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said the award made it possible to carry out the urgent task of preserving the knowledge held by many museum staff. “During the next five years, 24 staff are due to retire from the museum taking with them an incredible 775 years of experience. These fascinating people are very often world leaders in their scientific fields and have worked in every part of the globe, so their knowledge is of huge importance to many different disciplines,” Professor Cathcart said. “The Museum Lives project is an exciting way of ensuring not only that such knowledge will be preserved for future generations, but that it can be put to imaginative use for the benefit of everyone who has a passion for natural history.”
A team of experts from Kingston will conduct interviews with a whole cross section of Natural History Museum staff to learn more about their jobs and the high points of their careers. Their subjects will range from botanists who have identified previously-unknown exotic plants to palaeontologists involved with the museum’s world-famous dinosaur displays. The interviews will be recorded on camera and transcribed before being stored at the museum and added to its internet. The team will also collect footage of staff talking about some of the most intriguing items to have gone on show in the museum’s extensive collections.
The museum’s Director of Science, Professor Richard Lane, said it had used its collections and scientific expertise to further understanding of the natural world for more than 250 years. “Many of our senior researchers and curators have decades of experience in managing and engaging the public with the national collection of 70 million natural history specimens,” he said. “This oral history project gives us additional tools with which to preserve this knowledge and share it with a much wider audience. Visitors and the wider public will get a new insight into the life and work of the Natural History Museum in a way they have never been able to before.”
Kingston University already has close links with the Natural History Museum. It began working with museum staff a year ago on a project entitled, New Perspectives, to look into ways of encouraging academics in the arts and humanities to make better use of the museum’s resources.