When I first visited the American Museum of Natural History during my PhD, I was amazed at many things. The room of extinct specimens, the diversity of species represented, the wide array of collections (skins, skeletons, eggs, nests, fluid-preserved, mounts), and the fact that friendly curators basically let me loose in the rooms and I could explore. All for free. It was transformative.
Years later as a postdoc, I visited yet more large museums (the Royal Ontario Museum and Canadian Museum of Nature, to be precise), and found the same thing. And at smaller collections, too, like the New Brunswick Museum, or The Rooms Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador.
And then four years ago I found an excuse to visit THE Natural History Museum when I moved to the UK. The veritable Mecca of ornithological natural history and museum research. I managed to visit, for research or to drop off specimens collected from my various field travels, a couple of times a year.
Now, I’ll be visiting almost daily.
I’m absolutely thrilled to let you all know that I’ve been appointed the Senior Curator in Charge of the Bird Group at The Natural History Museum, starting this autumn.
I’ve spent nearly four years at the RSPB, and in that time have learned a great deal, done some interesting work, and visited some fascinating places. But the opportunity to work at the NHM in this role was simply too good to pass up. I’ll continue to not be an academic.
The NHM houses 750,000 skins covering 95% of extant bird species, >200,000 egg sets, 17,000 fluid-preserved specimens, 16,000 skeletons, 6000 mounts, and 4000 nests. It also has one of the most extensive (and historically valuable) ornithological libraries in the world, and hosts >1000 visitor-days a year. And like my experiences in New York, Toronto, Gatineau, Saint John, and St. John’s, it has a dedicated team of five fantastic curators who have made my previous visits there welcoming, productive, and exciting.
The bird collection is based at Tring, in Hertfordshire, on an estate donated by Lionel Walter, 2nd Baron Rothschild, in the 1930s, which is where I’ll be based, but with regular time spent at the NHM’s larger site at South Kensington in central London, which is where all the fantastic analytical equipment, and other taxonomic groups are based.
My role is a mix of curation and research, and will no doubt feature #OtherPeoplesData, and the challenges of museum documentation as well as my own collections-based and field research. I’ll also be promoting the use of the ornithological collections by other researchers at the museum and from outside, too.
So now begins the transition, the frantic packing as we relocate, and the impending excitement of the next adventure.