How can the heritage sector engage the mainstream public? Webinar

Webinar: Climate change – how can the heritage sector engage the mainstream public? – 25 July 2017, 3pm BST

An interactive webinar with George Marshall from Climate Outreach, hosted by Sara Penrhyn Jones from Bath Spa University was held in July 2017. George’s most recent book, ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change’ (Bloomsbury US, 2014), explores the psychology of climate change, and was written for a general public audience. In this webinar, he will bring his expertise on climate communication very specifically to the heritage sector.

How can we use our resources and skills to play a useful, educational role on climate change? Most importantly, what kind of climate narratives are proven to be compelling and effective? This may involve some radical rethinking of old assumptions, as we consider, more consciously, the kind of language and strategies that we use.

Comments or questions?

Email us: Sara Penrhyn Jones (discussion moderator):

Tweet questions to the moderator in advance, or as part of the live webinar: @saraPjones. Or just use the hashtag: #heritage4climate.

Interested, but can’t make it? Let us know, and we’ll send you a link to the uploaded webinar later on. You can still send in comments or questions in advance!

This webinar is part of a collaboration between an academic team and other partners researching heritage in times of climate change: Bath Spa University; Kings College London; University of Exeter; Manchester Museum; National Trust; International National Trusts Organisation; Newport Restoration Foundation; National Museum of World Culture, Gothenburg and Climate Outreach. This work follows on from a project called ‘Troubled Waters’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK. It is happening because the UK heritage sector has expressed a desire to communicate climate change with the public, but also a need for more support, dialogue and advice. For more information, see: and

‘The Gathering Storm’: Marshall Islands brace for rising seas | Produced by Al Jazeera America

A gathering storm of climate change looms over Marshall Islands.

Severe droughts, massive flooding and dying coral mark realities of climate change on remote Pacific islands

As climate change becomes a growing global concern, the Marshall Islands, a collection of atolls spread across 357,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean, offer a snapshot of what may be to come. On the main island of Majuro, seasonal high tides combined with storm surges and a rising sea combined to render more than 1,000 people homeless last year. The outer atolls have also been hit hard, first by droughts and now by increasingly common flooding. The floods have gotten so bad that the residents of Kili, home to hundreds of descendants of the nuclear refugees from Bikini Atoll, have petitioned the United States government for help relocating to higher ground in the U.S. And rising sea temperatures have caused massive coral bleaching in the Marshall Islands’ world-renowned reefs. As Sheila MacVicar reports in this excerpt from Compass, residents remain optimistic and defiant in the face of the rising seas.

Watch an excerpt from the video here:

Originally aired on Jun 28, 2015.  A report from Compass with Sheila Macvicar.

“Extinction: A Radical History” by Ashley Dawson


Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction that has continued to the present.

Headlines today are made by the existential threat confronting remaining large animals such as rhinos and pandas. But the devastation summoned by humans extends to humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats, and butterflies. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic. Currently, the earth is losing about a hundred species every day.

This relentless extinction, Ashley Dawson contends in a primer that combines vast scope with elegant precision, is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole.

This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, Dawson argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics. Extinction: A Radical History performs this task with both brio and brilliance.

130 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-682190-40-1 • E-book 978-1-682190-41-8

The Anthropocene in Museums: Reflections, Projections and Imaginings Deutsches Museum, Munich

How might museums reframe themes and stories to bring the Anthropocene into focus? How might we create relational museums that foster collaborative forms of communication? How might we design exhibits that invite museum visitors to understand themselves in new ways in relation to material and social worlds? These were some of the questions we pondered as we gathered last week for ‘The Anthropocene in Museums’ workshop at the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Museum scholars, curators, and other practitioners came from as near and as far as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States to participate in the two-day workshop. While some participants generously shared their experiences and lessons learned from working with and in the Anthropocene, others bravely invited us to preview their works in progress. Our discussions revealed many shared Anthropocene challenges including how to bring together diverse forms of knowledge in our exhibits while balancing messages of urgency and hope, forging human connections and managing institutional and practical limits.

A tour of ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’, a special exhibition created by the Deutsches Museum and Rachel Carson Center, informed and inspired our discussions. As did Jenny Newell’s public lecture, ‘Activism, Art, and Atolls: Communicating the Oceanic Anthropocene’.

By exploring and experimenting together, we furthered our goal to build a community of museums from which we can all draw ideas and inspiration for transforming museums in this new period of the Earth’s history. Because, as one workshop participant put it, ‘we need safe spaces for dangerous ideas’.

Moving Forward, Never Forgetting: curatorial and artistic responses to the Aggressive Assimilation of Indigenous Peoples in Canada

  • In this public talk, David Garneau will discuss the exhibition, the artists and the art work, curatorial research, community engagement and other issues with a mind to develop strategies for Indigenous/settler creative conciliation Canada and Australia.

When: December 8, 2015, 12:30pm-1:30pm
Where: Visions Theatre, National Museum, Australia


Introducing the Climate History Podcast by Dagomar Degroot

The Climate History Network and have launched the Climate History Podcast, hosted by environmental historian Dagomar Degroot of Georgetown University.

In the first episode of the podcast, professor Degroot interviews professor Geoffrey Parker of Ohio State University. Parker, one of the world’s best-known historians, has recently published Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. In his conversation with Degroot, he describes the consequences of early modern cooling for people around the world, explains how historians can link climate change to everyday activities, and argues that understanding the past can help us address the future.

Every few months, the Climate History Podcast will add new interviews with the most interesting people in climate change research, journalism, and policymaking, always from the perspective of environmental history. Click here to listen to the first episode, and click here to subscribe on iTunes.

Contact Dagomar if you have any questions, but it is in the public realm so just needs acknowledgement of source.

Can New York’s Climate Museum save the planet? by Jonathan Jones | The Guardian

It may well be able to – but it can’t do it alone. Museums around the world must stop dumbing down science and start putting education before entertainment

Can a museum help to save the planet? Is it possible to promote solutions to the human-caused warming of global climates through interactive displays, 3D movies, a gift shop and all the other methods of the modern museum?

That’s what the Climate Museum Launch Project hopes. This week, the Board of Regents of New York State gave it a five-year provisional charter to create a climate museum in New York City. Soon, tourists could be supplementing trips to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum with a troubling, or perhaps inspiring, visit to a museum full of climate-related exhibits. The plan is to focus on “solutions”, reports the New York Times. A design for the building has even been proposed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

Blue-sky drawing … Olafur Eliasson’s sketch for a future Climate Museum in New York. Illustration: Studio Olafur Eliasson
Blue-sky drawing … Olafur Eliasson’s sketch for a future Climate Museum in New York. Illustration: Studio Olafur Eliasson

It sounds like a welcome new way to look at the most pressing issue of our time – of any time? – but it is also an immense challenge. How can a museum deal with this topic in a way that is genuinely informative, intelligent, honest and accessible without being patronising? The Science Museum in London has notably failed to do so. Its Atmosphere gallery manages to patronise visitors of all ages. Poorly conceived interactive displays turn climate issues into a bad computer game.

Anyone who is still a sceptic about the overwhelming evidence of long-term damage to our climate is ignoring the facts and spurning reason. The problem for the majority, who do accept that dangerous climate change is happening, is to make us focus on this reality instead of trying to forget it. That means thinking about solutions, which the Climate Museum project rightly proposes to do.

To act, people need hope. The problem with apocalyptic scenarios or claims that capitalism itself must be destroyed in order to save the planet is that they produce, in most people, a paralysing despair instead of the strength to act or even think. But a visit to a museum can’t just be a motivational session; it needs to be genuinely educational. And this means that to really work, a museum about climate needs to reinvent the science museum itself.

In an episode of The Simpsons, the family visit a science museum in which the joke is that it’s just a giant playground. It is spot-on satire. All over the world, museums of science have abandoned “boring” displays of scientific instruments to entertain visitors with fun and games. In theory, the games are educational, but in practice the amount of scientific knowledge some museums share is incredibly slight.

It is no coincidence that the Science Museum in London deals badly with climate change. The sad truth is that the Science Museum contains very little science, and it projects deep confusion about its own purpose. It has several galleries that are effectively indoor playgrounds (including one for all ages). There are flight simulators, too. Do all these kinds of entertainment teach through play? A bit, perhaps. But there is not enough information to balance the fun.

I am convinced it is possible to spend a day at the Science Museum and leave still thinking the sun orbits the Earth. By contrast, it is impossible to spend much time in the superb Natural History Museum next door without being exposed to the theory of evolution. As for the realities of climate change, visit its current exhibition about coral reefs that shows how much will be lost if they disappear.

If we don’t grasp how nature works, how can we comprehend the challenges of climate change and the meaning of global warming? Before museums can teach people about the future of the polar ice caps they need to explain what a pole is, what water is and what a climate is.

New York’s Climate Museum is a commendable venture. But it’s a huge challenge and time is running out. Above all, science museums need to teach basic science better – for only a scientifically literate public will ever be ready to face the facts about climate change.

Re-posted from:

Strange Objects for Strange Times by Libby Robin

We live in strange times. Strange weather, strange financial markets, strange technologies are all about us, and anxiety is at high levels. The Great Acceleration of global change can leave humans stranded, feeling stressed and out of time. One of the ways we can respond to this is to slow down, rather than speed up, for survival.

Slow Media are increasingly important in strange and fast times. Museums are places where visitors physically spend slow time with special objects, perhaps with friends or grandchildren, perhaps in serendipitous conversation with other people whose curiosity has been stimulated by the same object in the cabinet. They are an important part of a growing slow media movement that is analogous to the slow food movement.

The idea of a Cabinet of Curiosities has its origins in another ‘strange time’ when the expansion of Europe was leading to the discovery of the rest of the world, a time when voyagers brought curiosities back from far-flung places, and wealthy people displayed their curiosities for the entertainment of their friends. Natural history specimens and portable objets-d’art, including ceramics and carvings all found new European homes, and the idea of the public Museum was born. New foods – tea, coffee, spices – enlivened the European diet. In some cases the new food and the new museum were closely linked. The Royal Physician, Sir Hans Sloan (1660-1753) mixed milk with exotic cacao and sugar from his travels in Jamaica and discovered a new and curiously delicious confection, milk chocolate. On his death, he gifted to the nation his extraordinary Cabinet of Curiosities, built up from his own and other important collections. This became the basis for the original British Museum in Bloomsbury in 1759.

At a time when ordinary families had very few objects of their own, and only practical ones, these exotic objects of aesthetic beauty and curiosities of nature were the focus of highly entertaining visits. In Germanic Europe they were Wunderkammer, cabinets of ‘wonder’. The objects in them stimulated social meetings, talking and speculating about these strange things, imagining stories and lives where such objects might fit.

Stimulating the imagination with objects is much harder in the 21st century of excess objects. Historian Christof Mauch, commenting on the Great Acceleration of Objects, at the Anthropocene Slam at the University of Wisconsin, Madison observed that in the era of the Wunderkammer the average middle European household had approximately 30 objects.(1) In the 21st century this number has risen to 12,000. In an era where people live in bigger places with more and more stuff, how might returning to the older practice of looking carefully at ‘curious’ objects help with the anxiety of living in times of rapid environmental and social change?

The rapidly growing Climarte is an ‘Art for a Safe Climate’ movement that works to harness ‘the creative power of the Arts to inform, engage and inspire action’ through Arts events, forums and ‘creating an alliance of Arts practitioners and organisations that advocate for immediate, effective and creative action on climate change’. In May 2015, one of its events was an Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities, held in Australian Galleries, a major private gallery in Collingwood, Melbourne, as part of the Art Show, The Warming.(2) The curator and artist, Mandy Martin, who was a presenter at the Anthropocene Slam in Wisconsin, called on her fellow artists to make ‘Art for a Safe Climate’ and included An Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities with a performance-based ‘Slam’ (#anthropSLAM) as part of the opening event on 3 May 2015.

Blast’, 2015, Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, oil on linen and digital projection (16.9, duration 2’ 20”) 180 x 320 cms.

The art show was performative too, particularly the work by Mandy Martin and Alexander Boynes, Blast which combined classic and digital art to blow up a coal-fired power station. This extraordinary work can be viewed on Vimeo, for those who are not able to see it live in Melbourne (until 24 May 2015). Dale Cox’s powerful acrylic work, Tract 38 (Burning) exuded all the action of Australian bushfire, and its deep reach into the fissured stratosphere below. Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman, working as Peridam Projects, created an ephemeral installation Slow Melt, of suspended ice-rock sculptures melting steadily out onto the footpath, taking the warming into the street outside. (Such a work is very demanding of the gallery: Stuart Purves, Director of Australian Galleries, and a great supporter of Climarte, knocked a brick out of his wall to accommodate the work!) Tomasetti installed a new exhibit every day of The Warming – making the passing of time a feature, and brilliantly illustrating the idea of slow media. Echoing the cabinet concept, John Wolseley chose to work with Hobart cabinet maker Linda Fredheim to create an exquisite Reliquary Cabinet for Disappearing Species.

The Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities featured objets-d’art from seventeen established and emerging artists that spoke to questions of life on a changed planet. The great advantage of such artworks is that they can focus and make local major issues. Many of the artists were present to pitch their work at the Slam event. Many of the artists deployed plastic as the medium for objects of the future. Julie Collins and Derek John even covered a dead tree in polyurethane, giving it new, longer life as it hung from its roots in Evidence Based Research – Specimen #5. The stratigraphic committee considering what material layers will be the signature of the Anthropocene is considering using polymers (plastics), created in the 1950s, as one possible “marker” of human presence in the strata. Some are even suggesting the epoch could be called the Plasticene.

Striking among the plastic works were Barbie Kjar’s Shrinking Reef jig-saw puzzle of reef specimens poised between the cool and the warmer waters, Jen Rae’s Put a Bear on It plastic bean bag polar bear, and Jane Gilling’s Mantis Shrimp created out of all the waste plastics that together create the Pacific Gyre of Garbage, and threaten animals, including this small crustacean. Plastic served subtle purposes in the powerful Will she feed the fish? art-science collaboration between Lisa Roberts and Marc Pascal. The fine plastic wires that hung the aesthetically beautiful recycled Biomesh pods, including a pod of dreaming the Anthropocene, are implicated in wildlife destruction.

Some created their own cabinet for abstractions: Alex Asch boxed his artwork, The Denial and Daniel Savage in Twinkie placed live cockroaches and a twinkie cake, the survivors of a post-human world, in a plastic museum case. Janet Laurence lit a natural history museum specimen taken out of its cabinet and made art of its shadow, in The Back of My Mind: The Dream Weaver (part of her Fugitive series). David Jensz’s 440 sculpture in coal and steel of the critical tipping point for carbon emissions was a different, powerful way to make abstractions concrete.

The performance and stories of the objects enlivened their effectiveness as ambassadors for making conversations about climate change possible. In cases like David Buckland’s Chalk Shard, it was very helpful to learn of the scientific context of the cocolithophores in his small object and his pioneering Cape Farewell Project of Art and Climate Science, which has become global since its inception in 2001.

The #anthropSLAM event was very stimulating. But it is also valuable to reflect on such art in a ‘slow media’ way and to simply view the show as a gallery hang. I now want to return without the buzz and see the different things when the art objects themselves do the talking. The Anthropocene is a big and complex idea, and art works like these offer a fresh way to interrogate it.

Top image: A storm hits Brisbane, 2009, by Nam Nguyen, Flikr Creative Commons.
  1. Robin, Libby and Cameron Muir, ‘Slamming the Anthropocene: Performing Climate Change in Museums’ reCollections 10(1) 2015.
  2. The Warming and An Anthropocene Cabinet of Curiosities, Australian Galleries and Climarte, 2015,
Reposted from the People and Environment Blog – People’s relationships with Australia’s natural and built environments
Original: May 8, 2015