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MuBu sharing best practice at Newark Town Hall

On Friday 4th March I attended the MuBu sharing best practice event held at Newark Town Hall. This was a great opportunity to hear just a little of what a selection of the other MuBu project have been up to. Many of the projects have successfully worked with community groups to produce new engagements with museum collections, through performance, film, and new exhibitions (some of which are still to come).

I also got to catch up with the other MuBu bursary project holders and we all presented briefly on our progress. It was really great to be able to present to an audience of museum professionals and afterwards several people came up to me with new leads on interesting weather and climate related objects held in the region. David and Cynthia are going to be continuing their projects for another 9 months, however I’m winding up my own project now but still have a number of events and activities scheduled that are related to the project so please do check back for new posts, photos and developments! I do also promise to follow up those new leads…

I’ll end this post with a thank you to all those involved in the MuBu scheme and to everyone who has helped me out with my research. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my bursary project and greatly appreciated the opportunity to work in the museums sector. I’ve learned lots!


“Hot Heads” at the Dana Centre, Science Museum

Tuesday evening was time for “Hot Heads”. The interactive public event was held at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre and was part of the the Museum’s ‘Climate Changing’ event programme, organised to co-incide with the opening of the ‘Atmosphere’ gallery.

The panel was comprised of:

Geoff Beattie – a psychologist who explored how we could manufacture a “green revolution”. Geoff explained that although everyone knows that green is good, the impicity and explicit attitudes of individuals are often different meaning that opinions and associations are often disassociated when it comes to green issues. Geoff had been involved in some experiments that had looked at the unconsciousness at work, for example tracking people’s eye movements as they looked at images of different products. Little time was spent looking at information on the product’s carbon footprint, as people want to find good news about their purchase of the product. Perhaps climate change is therefore just too depressing to prompt positive action?

Oliver Payne – considered how green products and lifestyles could become the products of desire. Sustainable behaviour needs to be for everyone, so we are selling to all, yet we are all highly context dependent. We all tend to have an aversion to extremes, and are not purely rational or irrational. Commitments made in public work, and changing the default option changes behaviour as we are seem to welcome decisions that are made for us. Framing is also important as is loss aversion – the pain of loss is apparently twice that of the pleasure of gain so we work harder to avoid loss. Social norms are crucial as no-one wants to be seen as the ‘weirdo’. Oliver’s final factor was temporal discounting as we all tend to dicount the future as we would rather have a reward immediately (even if it is smaller than a reward in the future).

Matt Prescott – explored how policy could be changed to influence the masses through exploring the idea of personal carbon trading. Whilst many people point to the state as being most responsible for climate change, we are ultimately responsible through our use of housing, transport and public services. But the problem is remote, we can’t see it. Matt outlined the main principles of David Fleming’s policy framework to solve the problem through applying emissions trading to us as individuals. Everyone in the nation would have an equal right to pollute and we would then be encouraged to pollute less. We could buy more carbon from those who had not used all of their quote, creating a parallel currency in carbon. Carbon credits could be saved in a community who would be rewarded with new community buildings and facilities. Could we develop these ideas into a policy we would all vote for?

Samuel Fankhauser – an economist and member of the UK Committee for Climate Change explained the nature of Britain’s carbon challenge in reducing its Greenhouse Gas emissions dramatically by 2050. But how to encourage changes in behaviour? Taxes, regulation, subsidies, reputation, assistance and information are all possible ways. So what are the best policies to get people to use less energy in the home?

Lots to think about, but I’m sure that regional museums could play a role in encouraging more “green” behaviour – in fact I’m sure many already are!


‘Wet feet in the living room. Hospitality in the time of heavy weather’, Nigel Clark (Open University)

On the 15th February I went along to one of the seminars arranged by the London Group of Historical Geographers and held at the Institute of Historical Research in London. The speaker was Nigel Clark from the Open University. In his talk, Nigel explored ‘hospitality’ (the theme of this seminar series), and climate change. The title of the talk is drawn from a quote from Ariq Rahman (1995) who wrote that, “If climate change makes our country uninhabitable we will march our wet feet into your living rooms”. Nigel attempted to bring the global and intimate scales of the climate issue together, explaining that in heating our own living rooms we may be having a negative effect on places elsewhere in the world.

With massive displacements of people potentially on the horizon in the form of climate or environmental refugees, encounters between strangers are intensifying. But are there conditions placed on the hospitality offered to these people? Who ‘owes’ what to whom? And how do we respond to an unpredictable Earth? Nigel used the example of Hurricane Katrina to explore the issues further. Through amateur film footage (‘Troubled Water)’ of the aftermath of Katrina, Nigel recounted the outburst of generosity following the hurricane (and also some of the very inhospitable acts) where online adverts of food and shelter were offered to complete strangers in need. Openings to the ‘unknown’ are always both promising and risky, with disasters causing great destruction whilst also offering the possibility of a new and different future. The film took us back to the everyday, the personal and the home, and a family who picked up a complete stranger whilst fleeing New Orleans. When Hurricane Rita struck, many of those playing host to refugees became refugees themselves and the original refugees took over the helping role. The initial moment of hospitality was thus moved beyond, forming more of a reciprocal opening.

The seminar was really thought-provoking, and I think demonstrated the importance of community in tackling climatic change and extreme weather events. This local working-together approach is something that regional museums would be well placed to address.


Museum of Lincolnshire Life

On Monday I travelled to the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln.  The main purpose of my visit was to meet with Curator Sarah Basquill and to look at a few items from the museum stores with links to weather and climate. Lincolnshire has an excellent online catalogue of its cultural collections and this is how I found the homemade weather gauge donated to the museum in 1967, a weather almanac for 1899 and a leaflet advertising Lincoln City Football Club’s  Community Weather game that ran in 2007.
‘The ‘weather gauge’ is catalogued as a ‘domestic furnishing’, and is a clearly homemade weather house, quite different to the one I found at Calke Abbey. This homemade version has only one figure remaining in its doorway. The gentleman is fixed to a piece of wire, so it is unlikely that this weather house would actually have worked, instead I think it was probably used to simply display what the day’s weather was like – if it was raining the gentleman would have been moved so he was outside of the house, if it was sunny, the lady would have been moved out.
Raphael’s Prophetic Almanac or the Prophetic Messenger and Weather Guide for 1899 comprises ‘a variety of useful matter and tables’, including predictions of the events and the weather that will occur in each month during the year. It was published in London by W. Foulsham and Co.
The leaflet for the ‘Imps Community Weather Game’ details a competition run by Lincoln City Football Club (the Imps) and Co-op Lincoln in 2007. Entrants had to match numbers with temperatures reported in the Lincolnshire Echo and Daily Telegraph for six locations.
These three items effectively show just how diverse museum collections can be, particularly those items kept in storage which these three all are.
'Weather gauge'

'Weather gauge'

Almanac/Weather Guide for 1899

Almanac/Weather Guide for 1899

'Imps Community Weather Game'

'Imps Community Weather Game'


‘Understanding the weather of 2010′ – RMetS National Meeting, Oxford

On Saturday I travelled to Oxford to attend a National Meeting of the Royal Meteorological Society. All members of ‘The Weather Club’ had been invited along to listen to a series of talks around the theme of ‘Understanding the Weather of 2010′.  Meteorologists from the Met Office, University of Reading, and University of Manchester reviewed the weather of the past year and put ‘unusual’ or ‘extreme’ events in an historical context.  We’ve experienced significant negative temperature anomalies during the last two winters, winter 2009-10 being the coldest since 1979, but it was not as severe as those experienced in 1947 (in terms of volume of snow) or 1963 or 1979 (in terms of persistence of snow). Care is therefore required in describing recent weather as ‘unprecedented’. The floods in Pakistan and the ash cloud of Eyjafallajokull also featured on the agenda.


Museums, Learning and the Environment

Yesterday I spent the day at Brooklands museum in Surrey. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a ‘Museums, Learning and the Environment’ training day run by Renaissance South East. Most of the presenters came from museums in the south-east region who had received funding under the Green SLIME (Science Links In Museum Education) initiative that looks at how museums can address sustainability. More broadly SLIME is designed to support and promote the study of science through museum collections to a range of different audiences.

Green SLIME projects include hay meadow restoration, biodiversity improvements to museums and partner schools, art projects, archaeological projects looking at historical and contemporary settlement planning, sustainable museum marketing, sustainable buildings and garden creation. All involve collaboration with community or education groups. The project talks were combined with three ‘expert’ presentations on ‘Sustainability education and culture and heritage’ (Ann Finlayson), ‘Engaging learners in biodiversity’ (Surrey Wildlife Trust), and ‘Sustainable living and entrepreneurship’ (Trudy Thompson). At the end of the day there was an ‘open slot’ in which I was able to speak briefly about my own research. It was really interesting to think about my own research in relation to these projects – everyone at the event was using museum collections to engage with current issues in environmental science.

Over lunch I was able to have a very quick look around Brooklands - the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, constructed at Weybridge, Surrey in 1907, “the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation, home of Concorde and the site of many engineering and technological achievements throughout eight decades of the 20th century”. The Museum displays a wide range of Brooklands-related motoring and aviation exhibits ranging from giant racing cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Could any of these items be linked to climate change?

The most obvious relationship with the theme is the contribution of air and motor travel to the changing climate through emissions. There is a large collection of aero engines. Visitors can also enter the stratosphere chamber, designed in 1946 to test aircraft components under environmental conditions prevailing at 70,000 feet – this meant the reproduction of temperatures as cold as anywhere on earth!

Looking around the car collection I came across a ’1911 Napier Colonial Deluxe’ that was especially designed for life in the colonies and the off-road conditions that it would have been subjected to. It would have been tested cross-country and then speed tested on the Brooklands track. This made me think about the different types of vehicles used in different climates and environmental conditions around the world… and the contemporary efforts of car manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions and develop ‘environmentally friendly’ cars.

More photos on flickr.

1911 Napier Colonial Deluxe

1911 Napier Colonial Deluxe




Eastwood – MuBu Bursary Holder Meet-up

On Friday I spent the day in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire visiting the DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum, the Breach House, Durban House Heritage Centre and Brinsley Headstocks, all in the company of knowledgeable Eastwood resident, ex-miner and MuBu bursary holder David Amos, MuBu food bursary holder Cynthia Brown, and David Coleman ex-miner and now historical coal mining entertainer. Together we learnt lots about DH Lawrence and his family, the history of coal mining in Eastwood, and the legacy of coal on the landscape of Eastwood. This was a fascinating day out and a chance for me to catch-up with the other MuBu bursary holders before our bursaries end next month. We are all still enjoying our museum visits and hoping to get in a few more before the end of the project. Please see my Flickr page for more photos…

DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum

DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum

Brinsley Headstocks

Brinsley Headstocks


‘Social Science and Climate Change’, British Library Conference Centre

Yesterday I attended the launch of the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) Climate Change Study Group at the British Library Conference Centre in London. The venue was appropriate as the British Library holds several groups of items that could be of use in investigating climate change and its sociological impacts through history; India Office records, missionary records of climate, oral histories of British horticulture, the National Trust sound archive and the oral history of the water industry. Introduced by Elizabeth Shove from Lancaster University, the event included a number of talks centred around the themes of ‘food and climate change’ (looking at issues of sustainable food consumption through an exploration of the temporalities of eating, the social relations that surround food, socio-technical systems and economic and public institutions, followed by a consideration of food, architecture and planning using the example of a farmer’s market where class was also an important consideration), ‘mobility and climate change’ (using the examples of the Tata Nano – India’s $2,000 car and cycling practises in Hull) and ‘governance and climate change’ (looking at climate change policy) before a panel discussion where questions focussed on the role of sociology and the social sciences more broadly in climate science and climate change policy.

The panel discussion suggested that there was a need for sociologists to talk to the biological scientists, economists, policy makers, NGOs and the food industry, and that the social sciences were the obvious place to go for much research on climate change and it’s human impacts. The present Climate Change Committee lacks a social scientist among its members, despite a growing focus on impact and interdisciplinary research.

At lunch there was time to look around an accompanying ‘Exhibition of Ideas’ by members of the ‘Social-Change Climate-Change Working Party’ that considered the practical implication of new ways of thinking about behavioural change, routine and habit in relation to energy and water usage, food consumption, home design and transport. More photos from the exhbition are available on the project Flickr page, and additional information can be found at:

Exhibition of Ideas

Water usage in the home

Exhibition of Ideas

Water usage in the home


‘Climate Change Wall’ at the Natural History Museum (and some dinosaurs…)

Climate Change Wall

Climate Change Wall

My second stop on Saturday was the Natural History Museum, and more specifically the ‘Climate Change Wall’ which is housed in the Darwin Centre, the museum extension that opened in September 2009. I’d not been to the Darwin Centre before, so began by taking the ‘Cocoon journey’ which begins on the 7th floor of the building. You then wind your way down walkways exploring insect and vegetation specimens alongside interactive displays and information videos, and also scientists at work. 17 million insect and 3 million plant specimens are housed inside the cocoon and one of the areas of research in which they are used is climate change.

The Climate Change Wall is a little hidden away, back on the ground floor and behind the cocoon structure. The 12 metre wide interactive wall of screens responds to the presence of visitors through changing colours, light and sound, inviting them to investigate questions which focus around the consequences of climate change. Some of the panels give examples of current museum research in the field, showing how the collections housed in the Natural History Museum are of value. Screens focus on dragonfly populations moving north in the UK owing to a warming climate (evidence coming from amateur scientists records dating back to the nineteenth century) and the possibility of the UK being invaded by tropical insects like malaria carrying mosquitoes, the reconstruction of past climates and CO2 levels through the use of museum rock samples and ice cores, and species like polar bear and reindeer struggling to survive in a warming world –  using the historical example of the disappearance of the mammoth to explain the current threat. I particularly liked the links the wall made to museum objects and collections, but thought that it would have been useful to perhaps display some of the items used in the examples alongside the wall, rather than just using photographs. Smaller regional museums are unlikely to be able to afford such technologically demanding exhibits and need to find simpler but no less effective ways of engaging their visitors in the issue.

Before leaving the museum I braved the crowds to explore the dinosaur gallery, a display with direct links to long-term climatic changes, a change perhaps responsible for the extinction of the dinosaur. This gallery is so obviously the firm favourite with the museum’s visitors who find the animals both fascinating and frightening! New climate change exhibitions could perhaps look here for inspiration!

More information on the Climate Change Wall (including a video) and the Darwin Centre can be found on the Natural History Museum’s webpages, and more of my photos are available through the project flickr page.

Darwin Centre Entrance

Darwin Centre Entrance


‘London Futures’ at the Museum of London

On Saturday I was able to visit the ‘London Futures’ exhibition at the Museum of London.
The exhibition opened on the 1st October and runs until the 6th March 2011. Photos from my visit are available on the project flickr page, and you can also view the exhbition images at and on The Guardian’s pages.

The exhibition is made up of 14 provocative visions of the future by artists Didier Madoc-Jones and Robert Graves. Each image considers the potential impact of climate change on the city of London, showing how a warming climate may affect different aspects of the city. Visitors are asked to contemplate:

  •  ’London as Venice’ after flooding breaches the Thames Barrier
  • ‘Picadily Circus – a haven of calm’ as water levels continue to rise
  • ‘Hyde Park- palm oil’ plantation as more of the city’s green spaces are given over to industrial agriculture for energy production
  • ‘Notting Hill Carnival’ where carnival-goers are covered in blue sun-block for protection from the rising temperatures
  • ‘Glacial Thames’ as winters become unbearably harsh
  • ‘The Gherkin’ now home to refugees from equatorial lands following rising temperatures and the collapse of the global economy
  • ‘Parliament Square rice paddies’ as more land is converted to food production and rice becomes the staple diet of Londoners
  • ‘Trafalgar Square shanty town’ the new home for people previously resident of the tropics who have been forced to relocate further north
  • ‘Buckingham Palace shanty town’ showing the growing impacts of the climate refugee crisis
  • ‘Kew Nuclear Power Station’ as nucelar power becomes widely accepted as the only viable alternative to fossil fuels
  • ‘Camel Guards Parade’ where the traditional horses have been replaced by camels that are better able to withstand the heat
  • ‘Thames Tidal Power’ generating electricty for thousands of homes and businesses in the city
  • ‘Skating at Tower Bridge’ during a mini ice-age owing to a slowing of the Gulf Stream
  • ‘St Paul’s Monkeys’ who have replaced the traditional gargoyles
  • ‘Whitehall Tornado’ as extreme weather conditions become a regular feature of life in the UK
  • ‘The Mall – Royal Power’ as wind farms begin to fill our backyards.

Graves and Madoc-Jones explain their motivation for the exhibition in the following way:

“We want to create a space in which people can consider how climate change may impact on their lives.  We are committed to making beautiful and arresting images which tell their own story.  We have deliberately chosen ‘postcard’ shots of London, places that all of us are familiar with. By focusing our creative energy on these well- known panoramas, the images have taken on a life of their own. Even we were surprised by the way the story unfolded as the scene was created. Each picture has become a mini soap-opera, alive with colour, drama, triumph and adversity as our city is transformed and Londoners adapt to meet this change.”

The images certainly seem to have got people talking about climate change, and are a welcome attempt to visualise some of the likely (and also perhaps some of the not so likely) impacts of a changing climate on a city which many people are familiar with. The exhbition has also generated some criticism for exaggerating the potential impacts and being more likely to prompt further denial of the issue rather that positive mitigation action. Some have also criticised the images for being misleading and stereotypical regarding the movements of climate refugees through their depiction of immigrants swamping British culture. You can read more in The Guardian’s piece ‘Fantasy images of climate migration will fuel existing prejudices’.

The Museum of London also tackles the long term variation in the Earth’s climate in its permanent ‘London before London’ gallery which focuses on London’s natural landscape and the people who lived in it before the Romans arrived. A graphical climatic reconstruction shows how the climate in London has changed since 500,000BC and how the course of the River Thames (central to the city’s development) has changed. In the glass cabinets opposite the graph are numerous objects dredged from the river bed – among them bones of elephants, bear, hippopotamus and mammoth. You can explore the London before London gallery online.

'London before London'

'London before London'

'London Futures'

'London Futures' - Postcards from the Future