Report on the 2015 ICOM NATHIST conference

1The 2015 conference was a great success, providing the opportunity for roughly 150 participants representing over a dozen countries to meet, reconnect and think deeply and constructively to finding common solutions to the challenges of the sector. A number of the conference goers first attended a workshop of the ICOM NATHIST Wildlife Trafficking Working Group. A report of that meeting will shortly be posted at this link.


The main conference was held at the beautiful White Palace, Nanmen Park, one of the sites of the National Taiwan Museum. It began with an opening ceremony; in which we were warmly welcomed by Deputy Minister Chen (Mr. Joseph Chen) from the Ministry of Culture, Director Chang (Dr. Chang Yui-Tan) of the Chinese Association of Museums (CAM), Director Chen (Dr. Hsueh-hua Chen) of the National University Museums and Director Chen of National Taiwan Museum, also a distinguished board member of ICOM NATHIST, and our host for the conference.

The first keynote speech was by Dr. Gerald Dick, Director General of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). His engaging talk, “Zoos, Aquariums and Natural History Museums: Different Tribes or a Growing Interface?” explored the relations between these collecting institutions and ours. This is an important topic in light of the memorandum of understanding between ICOM NATHIST and WAZA. After that was the first of our thematic sections “Building Partnerships”, a perfect segue from our keynote presentation. Talks in this section covered a variety of topics focusing on innovations in partnerships around exhibitions and collections, from a local to an international scale.

1.3The morning concluded with the second thematic session, “Building Audiences” with a thoughtful treatment of building relationships with visitors, as well as with museum stakeholders who have stories to tell. This theme was continued after lunch with talks about giving visitors opportunities to offer their opinions, as well as what we in the museum field do with the data once collected.

The afternoon concluded with the first workshop, in which the ICOM NATHIST President, Dr. Eric Dorfman, led the drafting of the Taipei Declaration on Natural History Museums and Biodiversity Conservation, which was ratified at the conference and is available online at this link.

22169927498_42c4ec4936_cThe evening concluded with a poster session, which is something of a departure for ICOM NATHIST meetings. It was very popular and it seems highly likely it will appear again. It was the perfect opportunity for people to showcase initiatives, such as computer interactives that do not translate easily to a formal presentation.

22193403478_f8e50c8c16_cThe next morning began with our second keynote speech, “Learning Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Natural History Museums”, delightfully and thought-provokingly delivered by Dr. Wen-Hou Chou. it concerned combining various modes of thinking and feeling into a cohesive perspective for natural history museums. Dr. Chou surprised the audience when he proved a point by popping a balloon mid-stride, an act that will no-doubt be recounted for years to come.

“Building Collections”. The talks in this section explored some creative solutions to growing collections in light of greater regulations around taking animals from the wild, as well as innovations in disseminating the knowledge gained from these collections. This was a counterpoint to the next set of talks “Building Capacity” which looked at strategies for future-proofing our actives, through partnerships, navigating the political sphere and looking into the deep future.

22193524730_3a09f2f219_cAfter the talks concluded, the Board of ICOM NATHIST led the Annual General Meeting, providing reports from the President, Treasurer and Secretary, as well as ratifying the Taipei Declaration. Other activities that took place at this meeting will be covered in separate posts.

In the final section of the formal conference, Dr. Dorfman and Ms. Chao-Ling Kuo led a group workshop in which the participants defined their challenges along the lines of the conference presentation themes: partnerships, audiences, collections and capacity. The thrust of this was to look at the obstacles standing between natural history museums and the prospect of achieving the goals outlined by the talks of the conference. A more thorough review of the workshop activity will be published separately and disseminated to the members ICOM NATHIST as well as the conference attendees.

2015-10-20 18.35.18Of course, the conference would not have been complete without an opportunity for our hosts to show us their famous hospitality. Both during the main conference, and for the two days following we were treated to consistently delicious food, as well as trips to some of the most impressive sights Taipei has to offer. This included a traditional puppet show, a visit to Taipei Zoo and an elaborate (and delicious) closing dinner at the Museum of Medical Humanities National Taiwan University. We’ll cover the wonderful trip to Dasyueshan in a separate report.

We are extremely grateful to the many people that made this conference truly memorable. Our consummate host, Mr. Jimmy Chen, Director of National Taiwan Museum had a team that provided unstinting support. Principal among these was Ms. Emily Yuan, without whose continued support, this fantastic result would not have been possible. We’re very grateful for their professionalism and attention to detail that made this one of the best conferences in the history of ICOM NATHIST.