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200-year-old Indian Museum to Tap British Know-How for Spruce Up

The 200-year-old Indian Museum is consulting experts from London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) to assist in planning strategies, digitisation of the collection and developing a premier research-curation hub. The museum is said to be the oldest museum in the Asia-Pacific region.

Showcasing scientific work in action to the public, the concept of families sleeping over among exhibits to give a feel of artefacts (like dinosaur skeletons) coming to life at night a la Hollywood hit "Night at The Museum" and social inclusion are some of the ideas shared by the NHM’s Head of International Engagement Jim Broughton at a meeting with Indian Museum authorities here.

Established in February 2, 1814, the Indian Museum is currently in its first phase of renovation covering its cultural heritage section. In continuation with this, the authorities have set the ball rolling in terms of planning for the natural history segments.

Banking on its "shared history" with the Indian Museum, including the fact that both institutions are over 200 years old, Broughton offered insights into their best practices that could be executed in the revamped exhibits.

"At the outset you have to get the basics right… what is the story that it wants to tell… form a definitive narrative along the galleries through the placement of exhibits. While documenting natural history, the museum has to take into consideration the latest scientific discoveries and incorporate that into the narrative," said Broughton, an expert in museum planning.

The NHM is home to the largest and most important natural history collection in the world with over 70 million specimens ranging from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons. Aided by specialist staff, the institution has comprehensive state-of-the-art facilities and a wide range of modern instrumentation (like molecular laboratories) for new-age research-curation.

With over 30,000 artworks dating from the 1750s to the 20th century, NHM’s India collection reflects why this country’s rich natural history was so important for the British East India Company.

"For countries rich in biodiversity and with growing economies, like India, museums can help in exploration of biodiversity and the ongoing changes. At the same time, preserving them in digital format ensures posterity, Broughton said.

As an instance, he highlighted how climate change can be woven into the narrative by initiating citizen science groups where members can be asked to collect plant specimens over a period of time demonstrating the effects of change.

According to Indian Museum director B. Venugopal, both the institutions will also collaborate on scientific exchanges. A veritable treasure trove, the scientific sections of the Indian Museum administered by the Zoological, Geological and Botanical Surveys of India have a good number of galleries displaying fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, fossils (dinosaur egg), rock and minerals, in addition to medicinal plants, vegetable fibres, dyes and tans, gums and resins, timber, oil and oilseeds collections.

However, "They (NHM) represent the best in the world in terms of documenting natural history … so we are exploring the possibility of getting the best in the world,” said Venugopal, “We are waiting for the final approval from the central government… the second phase is in consideration and through these consultations we are paving the way ahead." He added that Scottish experts will also share their experiences.

(With inputs from IANS)

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