Report on the 2014 ICOM NATHIST conference

The 2014 conference of ICOM NATHIST, held in Croatia, was a great success, both for our ability to come together once again as colleagues and to explore the theme of the conference The Future of Natural History Museums: Relevance, Balance and Innovation.

Before the conference, we brought together a group of experts to consider the issue of museums and illicit trafficking of wildlife. This workshop, kindly hosted by Zagreb Zoo, addressed one of the most important topics currently faced by natural history institutions. We are happy to be able to announce the formation of the ICOM NATHIST Illicit Trafficking Working Group and will shortly be able to share with you the report from its first meeting.

The conference itself was hosted by The Croatian Museums of Zagorje. The first day of talks was held at the Museum of the Peasant Uprisings in Gornja Stubica.  We were made to feel very welcome and our official greetings included members of local and national government, as well as the President of ICOM Croatia.

Picture6Our first keynote speaker, Frank Howarth, Chair of Museums Australia, gave a talk on The Natural Futures Museum (contrasting with the notion of ‘natural history’). This and all the talks from the conference will be available on line in the next couple of weeks. Frank’s talk centred around new types of research, new ways of to use natural history collections and engage with the public. Carlos Roberto F. Brandão of the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo, our second keynote speaker also addressed the conference theme. Together, they set the context for the rest of the two days’ talks.

Picture8The first of the sessions to explore this was  a special session, curated by Christopher Garthe of Studio KLV in Berlin and convened by Dr Gerhard Winter, former President of ICOM NATHIST. The speakers for the session entitled The collection of the future: engaging visitors with natural objects were Dr. Martin Ĉepek (Senckenberg, Frankfurt); Michele Lanzinger (MUSE, Trento); Uwe Moldrzyk (Museum of Natural History, Berlin) and Bernhard Kehrer (Studio KLV, Berlin). Each gave a perspective from their own institution, as it related to engaging with – and education through – objects and collections. After a break, delegates gave further perspectives on the conference theme.

Together, the first sets of talks of the conference were striking in their shared perspectives and began to give us an opportunity to distil our thinking about where natural history museums are going, by addressing the topic directly. Although the rest of the two days’ worth of stimulating papers ranged more widely, sometimes with a stronger local focus, they also provided us with a comprehensive overview of activities that exhibit many aspects best practice. Click here to download the conference abstracts.

Picture16The venue for the second day was the award-winning Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, where we were treated to a morning of exploration before beginning our presentations. ICOM NATHIST reporting was covered on the second day at the Annual General Meeting, and we identified a bit more work to do finalise our report to the ICOM Secretariat. Once complete, we will disseminate it to the membership.

The quality of the venues and hosting is so important to a conference, and our 2014 was no exception. As part of the conference we visited a number of museums in the region and got a taste of the beautiful natural environment. Throughout our days in Croatia, our many hosts did everything possible to make us feel welcome, well fed and stimulated with new experiences. I must give fulsome thanks to our venue hosts Vlasta Krklec, Goranka Horjan and Lorka Lončar Uvodić, our organsers from Lily Tours, and the many officials representing museums and Government who took time from their busy schedules to be with us.

Picture11I would also like to thank the Board of ICOM NATHIST for their ongoing support of the Committee in our efforts to make a difference for the World’s natural history community. On behalf of the Board, I would like to welcome as a seconded Board Member Dr. Osamu Kamei from Japan, Head, CTR of the History of Japanese Industrial Technology, National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. The Board also recognises Terry Nyambe of the Livingstone Museum in Zambia for agreeing to stand in for his colleague Clare Mateke in her absence.

Picture14With so much accomplished at our meeting, it is with great pleasure that I announce the National Taiwan Museum in Tapei as the venue for our 2015 conference. We will give you the information about this in the next couple of days.

If you have photos of the event that you would like to share, please let us know and we will post them.

Warm regards,

Dr Eric Dorfman, President

Click on the photos to enlarge

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