Museum Lives project

Museum Lives was a joint project between Kingston University and the Natural History Museum in London (funded by a three year AHRC grant), which sought to record the lives and careers of the Museum's curators and scientists (retired and current). Oral history expertise was provided by University staff from journalism and the Centre for the Historical Record, while staff from the museum's Library and Information Services Department (led by Julie Harvey) provided the infrastructure for identifying and contacting potential interviewees, along with office space and support for the project.

Museum Lives originated from a realisation within the museum that a number of key members of staff, who had joined in the late 1960s or early 1970s, were soon to retire. Concerned about the volume of tacit knowledge that would be lost, the museum decided that an oral history programme should be established to capture this valuable resource.

Over a three year period (2008-2011) a total 53 members of staff (either retired or still in position) were interviewed, generating over 200 hours of recordings on film. The purpose was to create an oral history archive which presented this iconic London museum through the eyes of its staff in the last half of the 20th century. Interviews have revealed stories which range from the exciting or terrifying - expeditions, scientific breakthroughs, war - to the everyday, sometimes mundane, routine of being a scientist at the museum. They have included tales of political upheavals, gender discrimination and scientific disputes.

The interviews were carried out by Professor Brian Cathcart and Mary Braid from Kingston's Department of Journalism, and Dr Sue Hawkins from the University's Centre for the Historical Record. They were filmed by Nadja Noel (Natural History Museum) and Petra Niskanen (Kingston University, Department of Film). The original recordings and their transcripts are held in the Natural History Museum archive. Sue Hawkins and Brian Cathcart have spoken at several conferences about the themes which arose from the interviews.

Centre for the Historical Record