Natural history museums, and their collections, have great potential to help us understand our relationship with nature and the natural world, as well as creating opportunities for discussion and dialogue around the issues that face us now and in the future.
However, this requires a radical shift in the way in which natural heritage collections tend to be displayed, understood and used with audiences. Traditional approaches to natural heritage collections that are framed by a scientific lens (collecting, categorising, identification, classification), and which use the language of zoology, botany, geology and palaeontology, can be off-putting for non-specialists. Subject specialists and their expertise are essential, but often museums are more focused on preserving things in the past rather than looking to the present and future. Dead, lifeless specimens that are sealed behind glass rarely speak to us about our everyday experiences with nature.
In order to remain relevant for the future, natural history museums are repositioning themselves to be about people and natural heritage, shifting their attention from the past to the present and future. Connecting collections to wider themes such as nature connectedness, environmental sustainability and human impact is one way to overcome the challenges of traditional approaches for non-specialist audiences, as Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at Manchester Museum describes in this short film: