University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Connecting Collections and Conservation Science at the Museum of Zoology

The Connecting Collections grant from Arts Council England funded an exciting research project. Exploring the specimens and stories that link the Museum of Zoology’s collection with other University collections and conservation science, this research will now be used in planning and developing future displays as part of the Museum of Zoology’s ambitious redevelopment.

One of the great connecting threads between collections is the historical figures that helped to shape them. Take an obvious character like Darwin, where we are aware of his work but there are also many lesser known contributions he has made which are still of huge scientific significance. For example, collected on the Beagle Voyage on Charles Island, Sicyos villosa is a rampant vine Darwin described as being ‘in great beds injurious to vegetation’ as it was hugely abundant at the time of his visit. Interestingly, it was never mentioned by any other visitor to the island and was never collected again, which implies it died out soon after his visit and is now extinct. Darwin’s sample is housed at the University’s Herbarium and this single sheet is the only record of this intriguing species.

When you put this together with Darwin’s great collection in the Museum of Zoology and his remarkable contribution to the way we understand the world, much of which is housed at the University Library, it really demonstrates how individuals have shaped the way the collections in Cambridge look today. There are so many fascinating characters that have made significant contributions across the collections, many of which will be celebrated alongside their specimens in the galleries once the museum reopens in 2016.

view - podium rear stair and trail copy

Shelley BoldersonI will be using this research to create displays that not only connect collections, but also showcase the research and practice carried out by partners who make up the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). CCI is a unique collaboration between the University and leading biodiversity conservation organisations clustered in Cambridge. It represents a critical mass of expertise, on a scale unparalleled anywhere in the world, at the interface of research and education, policy and action, for the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. By working in partnership, CCI can tackle issues in conservation with innovative approaches, and across disciplines, in ways that cannot be achieved by any one partner alone.

The primary focus of my work moving forward is to research content for a new exhibition, which will provide a narrative from the impressive entrance foyer of the newly redeveloped Museum, where the finback whale skeleton will be re-hung, along the walkway to the CCI reception and leading to the new route on site from Corn Exchange Street. The new exhibition will provide visitors with a perspective on the history and future direction of conservation, highlighting the important role of museum collections as we strive to conserve biodiversity for future generations.

Shelley Bolderson, Development Co-ordinator, Museum of Zoology and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative

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