Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The political platypus & colonial koala:

The Political Platypus And The Colonial Koala – How To Decolonise The Way We Talk About Australian Animals, Natural Sciences Collections Association, June 2021

Presented by Jack Ashby, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

Abstract

Decolonisation is about breaking down systemic hierarchies, where European narratives have been considered superior to any others. In this talk, I will be asking whether this can be applied to the way we talk about Australian mammals.

My argument is that the ways in which museums and other sources represent Australian animals today are often fundamentally pejorative, and reflect an ongoing subconscious colonial bias. This attitude begins with the colonists and explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries, but remains detectable in the ways that Australian wildlife is interpreted today, in museums, TV programmes and in the popular zeitgeist. This may sound extreme, but I will be asking whether the zoological and socio-historical stories of marsupials, platypuses and echidnas may intertwine to have severe impact on global politics.

I will explore some common tropes for how Australia’s wildlife appears in our museums, and propose language and narratives to avoid perpetuating colonial narratives in museum interpretation.

About the author

Jack Ashby is the Assistant Director of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. He is author of the book Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects, which explores what we can learn about the incredible mechanisms behind life on earth from specimens in museums; as well as discussing how natural museums present a potentially unnatural view of nature. A key area of interest is the biases that are detected in how animals are popularly represented, particularly in museums. He regularly undertakes fieldwork on the ecology of Australian mammals. Jack sits on the Committee of the Natural Sciences Collections Association and the Council of the Society for the History of Natural History and is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. jda26@cam.ac.uk / @JackDAshby

Presented in the second session of the ‘Decolonising Natural Science Collections’ NatSCA online conference19 November 2020.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.
.