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Museums and collections


Cultures Under Threat

With changes in global temperature, deforestation and sea level rise there are many cultures under threat, their histories now becoming preserved in museums.

Low Island Nations: The people of Kiribati (pronounced Kirabas) in the South Pacific are the first culture to have to seek asylum due to climate change. There have been many discussion within the Human Rights Council as to the impact of Climate change on human rights. Already a strategy is in place to relocate the people of Kiribati on Fijian Islands. Most of its 113,000 inhabitants are now based on Tarawa, the administrative centre of Kiribati. The plan is to move the people in waves, already starting with those enrolled in education in Fiji. As climate change refugees, they will leave their culture behind, and whilst the people continue on the culture will be more and more remembered in the objects housed in museums such as those held at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Read articles about the people of Kiribati here:

The Telegraph: Entire nation of Kiribati to be relocated over rising sea level threat

RTCC: Climate change threatens human rights, Kiribati president tells UN

Credit: AusAID

Rainforest Communities: Deforestation is caused my many different industries, but one of the major ones is the production palm oil. Forest areas with high areas of conservation value are cleared to plant monoculture palm oil plantations. This destroys habitats for many species but also impacts forest dwelling people. As well as the threat of eviction, these communities are also losing their livelihoods which depend on the natural ecosystems of the forest. The Botanic Gardens are involved in research to look at the impacts of different emissions from a decreased rainforest environment and increased cover of palm oil plantations.

Find out more about this reserch at the Botanic Garden.

Inuit people of the Arctic: Every year the extent of the Summer ice in the Arctic is less and less providing more opportunities for the oil and gas industry to drill in the Arctic.  Oil spills are even more difficult to clean up in the Arctic conditions and would drastically impact the wildlife which the Inuit people are so dependent on for food and their livelihoods.

Credit: Ansgar Walk

Climatic Changes in the Past:  Climate impacts are not new and more recent research shows how climate has had massive impacts on the decline of ancient civilisations. A 300-year drought may have caused the demise of several Mediterranean cultures, including ancient Greece, new research has proposed. A dramatic drop in rainfall may have led to the collapse of several eastern Mediterranean civilizations, including ancient Greece, around 3,200 years ago, including the resulting famine and resource conflict. Find out more here.

A 300 year period of unpredictable weather coincided with the decline of the Roman Empire and although will not be far from the only factor in the fall of the Roman Empire, it would have been a contributing factor. Whilst the extent of climate change occurring now is unprecedented in the last 3 millennia, studying interactions between climate and society in the past may help us understand the future.

Find out more about Ancient Civilisations at the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

Society under threat: As science discovers more, the human perspective on the environment changes. An example of this is held at the Whipple Museum, an 8-inch globe of the planet Mars from 1913 that shows perhaps the early twentieth century public fear of a future arid planet where a once populated planet had died off.

Without the visual clue of the familiar red orbs sitting beside it, it would be hard to pick out Ingeborg Brun’s hand-painted sphere as a globe of the planet Mars. We think of Mars as a barren dustbowl, yet here, in an object only a century old, is a world quite unlike what we see today through the eyes of NASA’s Curiosity rover. Where we see a near-featureless expanse, Ingeborg Brun saw a vibrant living world, crisscrossed with dense green vegetation and peopled by an industrious race of busy engineers.

Brun, a bedridden artist from a remote town in Denmark, painted her globes and sent them to institutions around the world. Yet the lines on them are not her own. She based her globes on the 1905 map by the famous American astronomer Percival Lowell, a celebrity in his day for his sensational claim that he could see evidence of intelligent life on Mars. The lines, Lowell explained, are canals, manufactured in an immense network by purposeful Martians desperately seeking to irrigate their arid planet.

Whether his contemporaries thought this idea fanciful or electrifying, it was certainly hard to ignore, and the debate over evidence for life on Mars and the fate of that life raged on well into the twentieth century, taking in a vibrant world of astronomers, journalists, artists, and an always curious public.

See the mars globe at the Whipple Museum

My Museum Favourite: Ingeborg Bruns Globe



Credit: Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge