Episode 34 of the Tuesday Feature takes a look at a different part of the University life: The Manchester Museum. Today we interview Henry Mcghie who is the Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at the Manchester Museum.
Please explain your role with the museum and the University.
I’m the Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology at the Museum, which means I head up the team of Curators and Curatorial Assistants. The Museum is the largest university museum in the UK, with a collection of over 4.8 million objects and specimens. I’m responsible for the direction of the team, building relationships that make use of the collection for wider use, and working to ensure that the Museum contributes effectively to the University’s overall goals. My team lead the development of most of the Museum’s exhibitions: over the last few years I’ve worked on two large gallery redevelopments and many temporary exhibitions. I also help with the preparation of funding bids for developing the Museum, and am involved in a number of funded projects exploring various aspects of museums and environmental sustainability.
What benefits do museums offer to the general public?
That’s a big question. Museums are storehouses, catalysts, research tools, sources of inspiration. They can offer something to everyone. The Museum has about 450,000 visitors a year who visit the exhibitions we develop and who take part in events. Our collections are heavily used by experts round the world, who ask to examine objects and specimens, or to sample them for scientific analysis. Museums can help connect people with the world around them. They help people connect with the ‘big here’ and the ‘long now’. I think they are really important reference points, helping us understand how we know what we know, and helping people critically evaluate the information they’re presented by mass media and politicians.
How did you first become interested in your museums and engagement?
I became involved with museums when I was an undergraduate at Aberdeen University (over 20 years ago now). They had a university museum, and I got involved with sorting out the bird and egg collections at Inverness Museum. My overriding interest is bird ecology and conservation, and I used to work as a field ecologist. I realised that collections were a rich resource for understanding changes in distribution and ecology, and also that they had enormous potential for educating and inspiring the public. I was completely fascinated by the old collections and historical records, and wrote quite a bit based on them. That’s what helped me most to find a job.
Did you have any science heroes growing up? Who inspired you to study/work in science?
I was always a great admirer of Thomas Huxley and, of course, Charles Darwin. Ian Newton, formerly of the ITE/CEH was also a great inspiration.
How has working here in Manchester helped you?
I’ve been at the Museum for quite a while now, and have had a number of different roles. I started in a temporary job, then worked my way up. I’ve loved the opportunities that came along as the Museum underwent radical change and growth. I’ve built up my knowledge of my pet subject, had enormous opportunities to share really interesting things with the public, set up a team to develop exhibitions and support student teaching, the list goes on and on. I’ve been very satisfied with lots of the projects I’ve worked on, which you can see make a big difference to people and to nature.
What do you do outside of work?
Bird-watching, allotment, gardening, walking, gym, writing