DEN Project

Your projects Blog

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.


‘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




‘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


Cultural Spaces of Climate

Tomorrow I will be attending the first workshop of the Cultural Spaces of Climate AHRC network in association with the Royal Meteorological Society and Royal Geographical Society which is being held at the University of Nottingham. The network is led by Dr Georgina Endfield and Dr Carol Morris in the School of Geography at Nottingham and the programme of activities aim:

1.)    To question the bias toward climate change, and global as the preferred scale, in contemporary climate research

2.)    To refocus attention on public understanding of climate, and weather, at the local, sensory level

3.)    To consider the changing cultural spaces of climate knowledge production, past and present

4.)    To explore the actual and potential role of interest groups, including enthusiast/amateur, professional and learned societies in the collection, production and circulation of climate knowledge past and present.

The workshop tomorrow is titled ‘Reculturing Climate’ and will include a plenary by James Fleming (Corby College, Maine) on ‘What counts as knowledge? The historical spaces of Klima‘. I will hopefully be presenting my work on climate change and local museums at the third workshop in the series to be held in June.

Please visit the network webpages to find out more.


‘Learning to Live with Water: Flood Histories, Environmental Change, Remembrance and Resilience’

Next Friday (26th November) I will be giving a short presentation on my MuBu project at the first workshop of the AHRC Learning to Live with Water network. The workshop is titled ‘ Floods and environmental change: conceptual frameworks for watery landscapes and living with floods’, and will be held at the University of the West of England, Bristol. My talk will focus on museum objects and displays focussed on floods in the region considering how museums could help communities to become more resilient and to share their local knowledges of flooding, and on the threat flooding poses to museums.

Visit the network blog.


Community Climate Action Conference, Nottinghamshire

On Saturday 13th November I attended ‘Living for Tomorrow’, Nottinghamshire’s Community Climate Action Conference, held at Forever Green, Ransom Wood, near Mansfield. I learnt about the event which was part of ‘Changing Climate Weeks 2′ through The Wrapper (Climate East Midlands’ quarterly newsletter). The day was a chance for community groups working on climate action to get together and learn from each other about how best to engage their communities, and to get new ideas both from other community groups and professional service providers.

The main thing that I took away from the conference was that there are lots more community groups engaged in climate action in Nottinghamshire than I imagined! ‘Transition Towns’ and ‘Greening’ groups were particularly well represented, and schemes involved everything from eco-homes, community allotments and markets, cotton shopping bags, skills exchanges, cycling campaigns, lightbulb libraries and reducing household energy consumption.

Community engagement was a key theme for the conference, and I came away thinking about how museums could potentially help in this role. Barbara Breakwell from the ‘Greening Ruddington’ campaign did tell me that they had made use of Ruddington Village Museum in their particular campaign, using collection items like mangles and other household equipment to show the children of the village how washing was done without electric power, and how candles were the main form of lighting. This history of changing energy types proved to be a successful tool in the campaign generating cross-generational interest.

So far I’ve been focussing my community engagement upon specialist interest groups within the East Midlands region with an interest in recording the weather, or weather-related phenomena, the climate action groups are something quite different, focussed on actions rather than observations. I will be looking out for more community group activities and hope to engage them in my project, possibly through the Living for Tomorrow publication.


Seminar – 12th November, University of Nottingham

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.