Re-activating the Silenced Landscapes of Natural History Collections
by Miranda Lowe
Panel: Transdisciplinary Provenance Research on Objects from Colonial Contexts Tuesday, 22 June, 11:15 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. (CET)
Narratives about the history of collecting are commonly absent from the interpretation of natural history collections where science, racism, and colonial power were inherently entwined. This misrepresentation of the past is problematic because it alienates non-white audiences. By telling the stories of where the specimens came from, and, more importantly, relating the context of why they were collected and being honest about how this furthered the colonial project, it will help remove an obstacle that is actively blocking wider participation. This acknowledgement will show that museum professionals are aware of the stories of people who come from the same parts of the world as our museum specimens and artefacts, and that museums are not trying to deny their history or contribution. These are crucial steps towards ensuring we are all involved in our collective project of learning about the natural world. Using examples from a single natural history collection – the Natural History Museum, London (NHM) - this paper will demonstrate how an existing collection can still retain these colonial ideologies and narratives, and, as such, can be used at the centre of decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections.
Miranda Lowe is a principal curator and scientist at the Natural History Museum, London. Her research links art, science, and nature to aid the public understanding of natural world. She is part of the Museums Association’s Decolonisation Working Group and has published work that discusses how museum collections are connected to colonialism and how to best deal with these difficult histories. Miranda is a founding member of Museum Detox, network for people of colour working in the heritage sector, championing fair representation, inclusion, and deconstruction of systems of inequality. She was listed in the BBC Women's Hour Power List 2020: Our Planet.
Natural History Museum, London