Six Questions for a GCG Committee Member – Zoe Hughes

1. Tell us about your work for the GCG committee

I am the Programme Secretary of the GCG. This involves planning and liaising with a whole variety of people to run our events. Recently I have been writing a series of guidance documents to make running events a smoother process. I am also trying to get a database of possible future venues and co-hosts together so that events can be planned further into the future. If you want to host an event at your institution, have an event idea, or anything else you feel would help me plan a great programme of events, do email me at events@geocurator.org.

2. What do you enjoy most about this role?

Organising things! I also love reading all the feedback and collating the evaluation forms together so I can see what the delegates liked and what they didn’t. Whilst I know it can be very annoying filling these forms in, they do provide a useful insight into what works, what doesn’t and what needs our membership has. They really do inform future events. I also love working with our members in various institutions to put events together. The committee is formed of a great bunch of people from museums all over the UK, it has been a delight to work with them and get to know them all over the three years I’ve been on committee.

3. What does your day to day work involve?

Day to day I am Curator of Fossil Invertebrates (Brachiopods and Cephalopods) at the Natural History Museum. I am responsible for around 9000 drawers of specimens, and more importantly caring for- and providing access to- them. No two days are the same. Some days I might be registering new specimens and incorporating them into the collections, other days I might be answering enquiries or working with collaborators on research projects. That is just the tip of the iceberg, being a curator is a diverse and sometimes very reactive role. I also love the opportunities to travel, both for fieldwork and for conferences and workshops.

This fossil specimen, found by Charles Darwin, is the first known ammonite to have been found in South America. © Trustees of the Natural History Museum.

4. What is your favourite story about your collection that illustrates its importance and use?

Oh my goodness, this is a difficult question as there are so many amazing stories in the collections I care for. Two of my favourites, just briefly (perhaps I should make these into a longer blog article at some point?), include the first ammonite known to science from South America (pictured above), which was found by Charles Darwin, and I also love the Davidson Collection of Brachiopods. Davidson was to most brachiopod workers the “Godfather of brachiopods”, his work to write and illustrate the series of Palaeontographic Society monographs in the 1850s is still relevant to modern science on these organisms. At the NHM we have many of the figured specimens and the notebooks featuring his early illustrations, notes on every species and correspondence with many eminent palaeontologists at the time.

Left: Thomas Davidson, the ‘godfather of brachiopods’. Right: A page from one of Thomas Davidson’s notebooks. © Trustees of the Natural History Museum.

5. How did you get into working with geological collections?

Pure chance! While I was doing my MSc in Advanced Methods in Taxonomy and Biodiversity (an Imperial College course, but mainly based at the NHM), I started volunteering with my now line manager and also used the cephalopod collections for my project. The way in which I documented the specimens I was using impressed the Head of Collections of Invertebrates and Plants and he suggested I apply for a Collections Care Assistant role. I did, got that job, then a maternity cover curator job, again at the NHM. Part way through that contract my current job was advertised, I applied and was successful. Seven years later, here I still am! I am exceptionally aware that I have been very lucky in getting what I now know is my dream job. Twelve years ago I had no idea that being a museum curator was even an option!

Me and a beautiful ammolite ammonite. © Zoë Hughes.

6. What is your favourite geology display and why?

Ooh that’s a very hard question. I’m not sure I can pick just one…… Whenever I am in a new place, I like to visit the local Natural History Museum. However there are many places I haven’t been so my choices aren’t exhaustive (I still have to get myself to the Lapworth Museum of Geology for example!). In the UK I love the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough, it’s such a beautiful and unusual building. The Jurassic exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum in York is fantastic! (well done Sarah King, the GCG Chair who worked very hard on that!). In London my favourites are the Grant Museum of Zoology and the Horniman Museum and Gardens, though these are my favourites for all of their natural history, not just the geology. Internationally, the National Museum of Natural History is ace, I loved the Venice Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Ireland- Natural History (lovingly known by most as Dublin’s Dead Zoo) is brilliant too. Sue the T. rex’s new(ish) gallery deserves a mention from the Field Museum in Chicago and I enjoyed the American Museum of Natural History too (though can people please stop sending me pictures of their ammolite ammonite when they visit?!) Why do I love all of these? Because they are brilliant in a range of different ways!

Zoë the human scalebar, next to a huge ammonite in the National Museum of Natural History, in Paris. . © Zoë Hughes.

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