I have an eight-month-old daughter. Like so many of her generation, she will grow up in a large city, in a world in which our lives are increasingly lived online and ever more disconnected from nature, yet continually drawing more and more resources from it.
It will be her generation more than any other that will face the realities of man-made climate change and biodiversity loss. I worry about this, and want her and others of her generation to discover a sense of wonder and joy in the natural world, and realize why it is worth protecting.
For me, this is just one reason why natural history museums are so important.
Stuffed to the gills with skeletons, taxidermied animals, pinned butterflies, fossils, rocks and minerals, these museums can seem to some like dusty remnants of the distant past, archives of the Victorian mania for collecting that are outdated in our shiny digital world. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Natural history museums are guardians of our shared natural and cultural heritage, and their collections are crucial and irreplaceable for scientists studying modern and past biodiversity and environments. But equally importantly, they are also places that engage children and adults with real objects and specimens, creating that sense of awe and wonder that cannot be gained from a computer or smartphone screen. After all, nothing really prepares you for seeing a dinosaur skeleton up close for the first time.
Lapworth Museum reopens
This month, we reopened our own natural history museum here at the University of Birmingham following an 18-month closure as part of a £2.7 million redevelopment and expansion.
The Lapworth Museum of Geology dates back to the late 19th century, and our collections include more than 250,000 fossils, rocks, and minerals, many of national or international scientific significance. They tell the story of 4.5 billion years of Earth history, from the first life to the ages of dinosaurs and mammoths, and from the Industrial Revolution to modern biodiversity and climate change. They also help us explain how the world works, why we have earthquakes and volcanoes, and where minerals and gemstones come from.
Our aim has been to use the wonderful resources of these collections to inspire and excite children, families and adults from across the Midlands and beyond.
Our new museum includes entirely new galleries, displays and interpretation, as well as a new dedicated state-of-the-art Education Room for school visits, temporary exhibition space, and improved visitor facilities. We’ve worked hard to develop an exciting, interactive and engaging modern space, while retaining as much of the Victorian and Edwardian character of the original Museum as possible.
In keeping with our engagement goals, the new Museum is free to visit and open seven days a week. I hope we’ve created something that will allow all generations to discover the excitement and magic of the natural world.