On 12th November I will presenting on my research to date at the University of Nottingham as part of the Centre for Advanced Studies seminar series. The talk will take place at the Staff Club between 12:30 and 2. All are welcome to attend.
This seminar will review work to date on a post-doctoral bursary project entitled ‘Representations of Climate Change in Local Museum Collections’ which runs between June 2010 and February 2011. This is a MuBu (Museum Buddies) project in association with Renaissance East Midlands and the Centre for Advanced Studies. MuBu projects emphasize the use of digital media to generate audience engagement and I will begin by explaining my use of various social media applications to generate interest and information for the project.
The overall aim of the research is to create new connections between museums and communities in the East Midlands region through an exploration of collections that can tell us something about past climates at both the regional and global scale (weather recording instruments, weather diaries, natural history collections, archaeological artifacts etc). The focus for research is on museum, library and archive material that can inform us about local and amateur attempts to record, predict and understand weather and climate, and on personal responses and management strategies employed as a result of climatic change and the occurrence of extreme weather events.
The seminar will consider whether local museums should follow a growing number of national institutions in engaging with climate change through exhibition, and the possibilities for them to do so. I will also look at the response of museums in the region to climatic change and extreme weather events, and their own weather data collecting practices. The seminar will conclude with a demonstration of initial attempts to produce interactive maps showing museum objects, prominent characters in climate and weather history, extreme weather events, and the predicted impacts of climatic change in the region.
I recently walked over to Highfield House on University Park, home of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a building with important meteorological connections. Joseph Lowe built Highfield House for his family in 1798. Joseph’s grandson Edward Joseph Lowe (1825-1900) was born in 1825 at Highfield House and began to make meteorological observations at the age of 15. He continued these until 1882 when he moved to Chepstow. He published A Treatise on Atmospheric Phenomena in 1846 and also wrote papers on meteors and fireballs. He was a founder member of the British Meteorological Society (now Royal) which formed in 1850. Edward’s father Alfred Lowe (1789-1856) had also taken meteorological observations at Highfields until ten days before his death.
Research published last week showed that herbarium specimens can hold valuable and reliable long term data on phenology (the timing of climatically driven events like plant flowering), in turn indicating how the natural world might respond to future changes in climate.
The research used 77 specimens of early spider orchids from herbarums at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and London’s Natural History Museum, alongside field observations collected between 1975 and 2006. Data from the specimens (relating to the date when the specimen was collected*) was matched against the Met Office’s historical records. Results showed that for every 1 degree Centigrade increase in the average spring temperature, the orchids flowered six days earlier.
One of the researchers Professor Davy (University of East Anglia) told the BBC, “There are huge collections in different museums and herbariums around the world; it is estimated that there are 2.5 billion specimens stored in these collections”.
This piece of research has shown the value of museum collections in documenting climate change. I hope that my own research will show that it is not just herbarium specimens which hold useful snippets of climatic data. Any suggestions of herbarium collections in the East Midlands that could be used in a similar way are appreciated!
*Plant collectors are assumed to have taken plants when the species were at their peak flowering, in order to provide the best taxonomic reference for the herbarium.
As a follow up to my entry on the Bromley House weather records, last week I was able to meet with John Wilson, a member of the library and the author of a paper on the records. John was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about meteorology in the region, particularly in Nottinghamshire where John’s own research has been based.
John has also published material on Mr Arnold B. Tinn, a man who took daily weather observations uninterruptedly for almost 45 years (1989-1962) and contributed several pieces on local weather to the journal East Midlands Geographer. His book This Weather of Ours was published in 1946. Mr Tinn regularly corresponded with the Geography Department at the University of Nottingham and his manuscript collection of meteorological data is held at the University Archives. I intend to explore these further in the near future!
As a retired pharmacist, one of John’s main research interests is the relationship between the weather and health, and he is currently studying the Medical Officer Charts for the city of Nottingham.
John will be giving a talk on Nottinghamshire’s meterologists at the Ruddington Local History Society on the 1st December which I shall be attending.