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Natural History Museum – Museum Lives project

Lorraine Cornish.The challenge

Much of the knowledge about the Natural History Museum exists in human memories. It would be a huge loss if these stories about one of the world's great museums were left untold and unrecorded.

The solution

A team of researchers, led by Professor Brian Cathcart in Kingston University's School of Humanities, conducted a three-year project interviewing museum staff from the past 60 years.

Museum Lives, an oral history project to reveal life behind the scenes at the Museum captured human stories about the Museum's collections, and how specimens were acquired, cared for and used in science.

Applying best oral history practice, the project developed new approaches, linking video clips about collections with the Museum's collections management database.

The impact

Memories of every aspect of life at the Museum during the past 60 years created an archive for visitors and staff to enjoy and learn from. The resource is of historical and scientific interest to researchers across many disciplines. 

The project hosted a joint conference between the Museum, Kingston University and The Royal Society to explore the use of oral history in science.

Professor Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum said
"Many of the Natural History Museum's senior researchers and curators have decades of experience in managing a national collection of more than 70 million natural history specimens and using it to engage the public. Working in partnership with Kingston University gives us the additional tools with which to preserve this knowledge and share it with a wider audience."

Picture: Lorraine Cornish, courtesy of Natural History Museum.