GCG / SPNHC Rep – Conference Calling!

Written by Andrew Haycock, Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology at Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales

Hello there, my name is Andrew Haycock, and I am Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology at Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales (AC NMW). I am also the Geological Curators Group Representative for the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) or ‘Spinach’ for short!

What is SPNHC? It’s an organisation devoted to the preservation, conservation and management of natural history collections. Many of its aims and missions are complimentary with those of GCG, therefore a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between SPNHC, GCG and NatSCA (Natural Sciences Collections Association) at the Cardiff conference in 2014.

As anyone who has been to one of our GCG events would agree, society meetings are a great way to network with colleagues, keep up to date with best-practice and current thinking, and SPNHC meetings are no exception. As well as geology, you can meet colleagues from across the Natural Sciences spectrum. Sometimes the solution to your geological problem may come from an unexpected and non-geological source!

SPNHC meetings are generally held in north America, but we are very lucky to have meetings in the UK and Europe every few years or so. Held in iconic venues like the Field Museum Chicago; the American Museum of Natural History New York; and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin; the conference will generally always include workshops, field trips and behind-the-scenes collection tours. I was very lucky to be able to attend the 2011 meeting at the California Academy of Sciences San Francisco on the theme of ‘Sustainable Museums: Sustainable Collections’. The museum itself was sustainably redeveloped and reopened to the public in 2008. It boasts a living green roof, indoor rainforest and a coral reef! (Fig. 1)

Figure 1: The California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, host of the SPNHC 2011 conference. Inset: top left – green roof, bottom left – living rainforest. © Andrew Haycock.

In 2014 I was part of the SPNHC conference organising committee at AC NMW Cardiff. The conference theme was ‘Historic Collections: A Resource for the Future’. Many of the talks were held at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, where I helped install a ‘pop-up museum’ for the duration of the conference in conjunction with colleagues from Oxford University Museum of Natural History. We were able to display some stunning natural history specimens from both collections, including a king penguin collected by Sir Ernest Shackleton on the 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition; the mummified skin from the head of a dodo; the only surviving dodo soft tissue remains in the world, and the iconic Megalosaurus jawbone used in the very first scientific description of a dinosaur by William Buckland in 1824. (Figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 2: Installing the Pop-Up Museum at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff during SPNHC 2014. © Andrew Haycock.

I also helped organise the Icebreaker, pub quiz, banquet and post-dinner disco events during the conference. These events have become legendary in SPNHC circles, and many attendees ‘light-heartedly’ judge a successful conference based on them!

Figure 3: Detail of specimens on display: Left – Shackleton’s king penguin; Top right – Megalosaurus jawbone described by William Buckland; Bottom right – The Oxford dodo. © Andrew Haycock.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being a member of GCG and SPNHC for a number of years, so recently volunteered to liaise as Rep to build on the relationship between the two societies by reporting on the business and activities of SPNHC that are relevant to GCG, as well as promoting GCG activities to SPNHC in return. Reporting is undertaken at the annual business meeting every year, and twice a year (Spring and Autumn) via the SPNHC newsletter SPNHC Connection Newsletter.

The newsletter includes news from other GCG relevant societies like the Geological Society of America (GSA), Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), Paleontological Society (PS) and Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) which I will forward to GCG subscribers via the mailing list.

The society publishes a journal Collection Forum once a year. If you wish to contribute towards the journal or newsletter, or if you feel there is something that you would like me to report to SPNHC, please do contact me at the email below.

SPNHC produces many informative, best-practice documents and procedures related to natural history collections care for its members and the public, these are freely available at  SPNHC Wiki.

The SPNHC June 2022 AGM will be held at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland. The meeting will be co-hosted with The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) and NatSCA under the theme of ‘Through the Door and Through the Web: Releasing the Power of Natural History Collections Onsite and Online’.  Dr Rachel Walcott will be presenting a GCG workshop on geological fakes entitled “Fakes, Forged, or the Real Deal”. Do come along and say hello to us if you are at the conference!

Andrew Haycock


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