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The 2021 Black in Natural History Museums Week

Inspired by the many Black-in- “X” weeks on Twitter, BlackInNHMs organized its first virtual event in October 2021. Given the colonial tendencies of natural history collecting and the commitment of many contemporary museums to decolonize their science and diversify their audiences and workforce, we strive to feature various institutions and professionals for this initiative. During this week, celebrated annually, we hope to inspire many Black professionals to reimagine their relationship with the biodiversity of our planet, while highlighting career opportunities in museums and related fields for the broader community. Last year, our 6-day event kicked off with an international virtual rollcall (search #BlackInNHMs #rollcall on twitter).

Folks hailed from across the US, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Denmark, Germany, and the UK. We connected with curators, professors, collections managers, postdocs, graduate students, and outreach coordinators. We also heard from Adania Flemming and Miranda Lowe about the Black perspective on natural history museums.

On Day 2, we peeked behind the scenes at the day-to-day of museum professionals and the collections that support their work (#BINHMBehindtheScenes). We toured the vertebrate collections of the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science (LSUMNS), explored the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute Fish Collection, browsed some of the biological and geological collections of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and learned about the insect collections at the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

We also met some cool museum professionals who kindly shared their experience in natural history museums: Sheree Carter-Galvan (Senior Vice-President and General Council) and Brianna Mims (Ph.D. Student) from the AMNH; Valerie Stampley (Outreach Coordinator), Tammie Jackson (Business Manager) and JC Buckner (Postdoc) from the LSUMNS. Dr. Lauren Esposito (Curator of Arachnology, California Academy of Sciences) and graduate student Kate Montana highlighted their colleagues at the Ant Lab, Madagascar Biodiversity Center: Dr. Jean Claude Rakotonirina (Chief Scientist) and Nicole Rasoamanana (Lab Coordinator). You can find the videos of the tours and interviews on our YouTube channel. We ended the day with a scavenger hunt to encourage everyone to share finds from their local museum using #BINHMSearchYourMuseum. We got some cool entries from places like the Texas A&M University Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, the Florida Museum of Natural History, and the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

On Day 3, we hosted a BioBlitz to teach folks about the importance of cataloguing biodiversity, past and present. We also organized a discussion with Scott Edwards, Adania Flemming, Hadeel Saad, and Aaron Woodruff. The panelist talked about the importance of documenting biodiversity, inclusion, Black people in nature, and much more which you can view here.

On Day 4, we examined the legacy of NHMs, the hidden figures contributing to biodiversity knowledge and collections, and the connections to colonialist and imperialist practice as related to Black peoples. Throughout the day, we shared stories of historic Black naturalists and museum professionals. In February 2022, we started an archive to collect these stories on our website.

Later that evening, our live event opened with a powerful poem written by Dr. Brandon Kilbourne (Berlin Museum of Natural History) about the connection between biodiversity collection and the slave trade. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Alex Moore, then gave an amazing talk about their research and experience working in natural history museums. Dr. Jessica Ware (AMNH) and Dr. Melissa Kemp (UT Austin) joined us to close out the evening with a panel on dismantling harmful legacies and reimagining the future of museums. The poetry reading, lecture and panel recording is available here.

On Day 5, we explored digitization of collections as a strategy for making collections more accessible with Dr. Hank Bart, Dr. Lisa White, Dr. Philip Skipwith and Dr. Kory Evans. Our group of panelists explored this notion through several lenses, including leveraging imaging technology to mitigate neo-colonialism, here.

On Day 6, we highlighted and connected folks with Black role models and mentors in the NHM community. During the afternoon we hosted a virtual meet-&-greet for potential mentors and mentees. There are very few Black curators and professionals in NHMs. So, we followed with a panel discussing the power of visibility and identifying mentors, a luxury often unavailable to aspiring Black scientists.

We are so thankful for everyone who participated during the week and we look forward to our next Black in Natural History Week in 2022!


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