Curating the Future: Museums, Communities and Climate Change, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Curating the Future

Museums, Communities and Climate Change, 1st Edition

Edited by Jennifer Newell, Libby Robin, Kirsten Wehner


298 pages | 60 Color Illus. | 50 B/W Illus.

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Curating the Future: Museums, Communities and Climate Change explores the way museums tackle the broad global issue of climate change. It explores the power of real objects and collections to stir hearts and minds, to engage communities affected by change.

Museums work through exhibitions, events, and specific collection projects to reach different communities in different ways. The book emphasises the moral responsibilities of museums to address climate change, not just by communicating science but also by enabling people already affected by changes to find their own ways of living with global warming.

There are museums of natural history, of art and of social history. The focus of this book is the museum communities, like those in the Pacific, who have to find new ways to express their culture in a new place. The book considers how collections in museums might help future generations stay in touch with their culture, even where they have left their place. It asks what should the people of the present be collecting for museums in a climate-changed future? The book is rich with practical museum experience and detailed projects, as well as critical and philosophical analyses about where a museum can intervene to speak to this great conundrum of our times. Curating the Future is essential reading for all those working in museums and grappling with how to talk about climate change. It also has academic applications in courses of museology and museum studies, cultural studies, heritage studies, digital humanities, design, anthropology, and environmental humanities.


I applaud the contributors to this book for their courage, conviction and actions in confronting the reality of climate change. In so doing, this book chronicles a new standard of mindfulness in museum practice, grounded in a commitment to the durability and well-being of individuals, communities and the planet.

Robert R. Janes, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Museum Management and Curatorship

This book documents and advocates for the significance of material storytelling as a resource for addressing the most significant challenges of the Anthropocene – how to acknowledge and manage the impact of climate change on our planet and its people. I cannot imagine a stronger argument for the importance of museums.

Professor Andrea Witcomb, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Australia

Curating the Future is far more than a book about how to exhibit the vitally important, if sometimes contentious, topic of climate change. Instead, it sheds new light by bringing together a myriad of examples and perspectives that show how museums and their relationships with collections, Indigenous peoples, and others are being transformed as they find ways to reflect upon and mobilise in relation to the environmental changes that threaten our collective future.

Professor Sharon Macdonald, Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Social Anthropology and Director of the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMaH), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

This collectionis a provocative, exciting and pioneering contribution to museum studies scholarship, the environmental humanities and beyond. It offers fundamental, first principles thinking about how museums and communities through their collections and exhibition activities might engage global climate change. It is beautifully written, rich with practical case studies and new theoretical insights – a must read for heritage and museum professionals and scholars.

Dr Fiona Cameron, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, Australia

This innovative collection celebrates the reanimated life of objects in many contemporary museums and argues that museums are great places for promoting conversations and actions on the pressing realities of climate change. Through a creative congregation of scholarly analyses, cameo essays, poems and pictures, it reflects on community collaborations, visitor experiences and curatorial practices in mounting exhibitions and performances. It will excite readers' hearts as well as their minds.

Professor Margaret Jolly, Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow 2010-2015, Australian National University, Australia

I strongly recommend this volume to any scholar interested in climate change and other environmental issues, but more broadly it is relevant to anyone seeking to engage the public about complex and challenging topics. I agree wholeheartedly that museums are often “safe places” (4) to start these conversations.

Torben Rick, Museum Anthropology Review

Table of Contents

Foreword Michael Novacek

1. Curating Connections in a Climate Changed World Kirsten Wehner, Libby Robin & Jenny Newell

2. Poem: "Tell Them" Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Part 1: Welcoming New Voices: Opening museums

3. Rob Nixon, The Anthropocene and Social Justice Rob Nixon

4. Cameo: Museums Connecting Lumepa Apelu

5. Talking Around Objects: Stories for a Climate Changed world Jennifer Newell

6. Object in view: Jaki-ed mat, Marshall Islands Kristina Stege

7. The Pacific in New York: Managing Objects and Cultural Heritage Partnerships in Times of Global Change Jacklyn Lacey

8. Cameo: Connie Hart’s Basket Tom Griffiths

9. Peoples who Still Live: The Role of Museums in addressing Climate Change in the Pacific Peter Rudiak-Gould

10. Object in view: Taking a Bite Out of Lost Knowledge: Sharks’ Teeth, Extinction, and the Value of Preemptive Collections Josh Drew

Part 2: Reuniting Nature and Culture

11. Towards an Ecological Museology: Responding to the animal-objects of the Australian Institute of Anatomy collection Kirsten Wehner

12. Object in view: Harry Clarke’s high wheeler bicycle Daniel Oakman

13. Food and Water Exhibitions: Lenses on Climate Change Eleanor Sterling and Erin Betley

14. Object in view: The Stump-Jump Plough: Reframing a National Icon George Main

15. Telling Torres Strait History through Turtle Leah Lui-Chivizhe

16. Four Seasons in One Day: Weather, Culture and the Museum Kirstie Ross

17. Object in view: Nelson the Newfoundland’s Dog Collar Martha Sear

18. The Last Snail: Loss, hope and care for the future Thom van Dooren

19. Object in view: Hiding in plain sight: Lessons from the Olinguito Nancy Simmons

Part 3: Focusing on the Future

20. The Reef in Time: The prophecy of Charlie Veron’s living collections Iain McCalman

21. Food Stories for the Future George Main

22. Shaping Garden Collections for Future Climates Sharon Willoughby

23. Object in view: A Past Future for the Cucumber Sharon Willoughby

24. The Art of the Anthropocene William L. Fox

25. Object in view: The Canary Project: Photographs and Fossils Ed Morris and Susannah Sayler

Part 4: Representing Change and Uncertainty

26. Cameo: The Vulnerable Volvo Sverker Sörlin

27. Museum Awakenings: Responses to Environmental Change at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, 1965–2005 Ewa Bergdahl and Anders Houltz

28. Rising Seas: Facts, Fictions and Aquaria Susanna Lidström and Anna Åberg

29. Object in view: The Model of Flooded New York Edmund Mathez

30. When the Ice Breaks: The Arctic in the Media Miyase Christensen and Nina Wormbs

31. Displaying the Anthropocene in and beyond Museums Libby Robin, Dag Avango, Luke Keogh, Nina Möllers and Helmuth Trischler

32. Poem: Dear Matafele Peinem Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

About the Editors

Jennifer Newell is the curator of Pacific Ethnography at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA. She teaches Museum Anthropology at Columbia University, USA, and convenes the Museums and Climate Change Network. She has partnerships with museums in the Pacific, including in Samoa and Fiji, and is a former curator at the British Museum.

Libby Robin works across the university and museum sectors in Australia, Sweden and Germany. She is Professor of Environment and Society at the Australian National University, research affiliate at the National Museum of Australia, affiliated professor at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, and Board Member, Rachel Carson Center, LMU, Munich, Germany.

Kirsten Wehner is Head Curator of the People and the Environment program at the National Museum of Australia. She is a member of the Humanities for the Environment Australia-Pacific Observatory and a professional associate of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra, Australia.

About the Series

Routledge Environmental Humanities

From microplastics in the sea to hyper-trends such as global climate change, mega-extinction, and widening social disparities and displacement, we live on a planet undergoing tremendous flux and uncertainty. At the center of this transformation is human culture, both contributing to the state of the world and responding to planetary change. The Routledge Environmental Humanities Series seeks to engage with contemporary environmental challenges through the various lenses of the humanities and to explore foundational issues in environmental justice, multicultural environmentalism, ecofeminism, environmental psychology, environmental materialities and textualities, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, environmental communication and information management, multispecies relationships, and related topics. The series is premised on the notion that the arts, humanities, and social sciences, integrated with the natural sciences, are essential to comprehensive environmental studies.

The environmental humanities are a multidimensional discipline encompassing such fields as anthropology, history, literary and media studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, and women’s and gender studies; however, the Routledge Environmental Humanities is particularly eager to receive book proposals that explicitly cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing the full force of multiple perspectives to illuminate vexing and profound environmental topics. We favor manuscripts aimed at an international readership and written in a lively and accessible style. Our readers include scholars and students from across the span of environmental studies disciplines and thoughtful citizens and policy makers interested in the human dimensions of environmental change.

Please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan ([email protected]), to submit proposals.

Praise for A Cultural History of Climate Change (2016):

A Cultural History of Climate Change shows that the humanities are not simply a late-arriving appendage to Earth System science, to help in the work of translation. These essays offer distinctive insights into how and why humans reason and imagine their ‘weather-worlds’ (Ingold, 2010). We learn about the interpenetration of climate and culture and are prompted to think creatively about different ways in which the idea of climate change can be conceptualised and acted upon beyond merely ‘saving the planet’.

Professor Mike Hulme, King's College London, in Green Letters

Series Editors:

Professor Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA

Professor Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, USA

Professor YUKI Masami, Kanazawa University, Japan

Previous editors:

Professor Iain McCalman, University of Sydney Research Fellow in History; Director, Sydney University Environment Institute.

Professor Libby Robin, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Professor of Environmental History, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden.

Dr Paul Warde, Reader in Environmental History, University of Cambridge, UK

Editorial Board

Christina Alt, St Andrews University, UK, Alison Bashford, University of New South Wales, Australia, Peter Coates, University of Bristol, UK, Thom van Dooren, University of New South Wales, Australia, Georgina Endfield, Liverpool UK, Jodi Frawley, University of Western Australia, Andrea Gaynor, The University of Western Australia, Australia, Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA,□Tom Lynch, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, Jennifer Newell, Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia , Simon Pooley, Imperial College London, UK, Sandra Swart, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota, US, Jessica Weir, University of Western Sydney, Australia

International Advisory Board

William Beinart,University of Oxford, UK, Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, USA, Paul Holm, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, Shen Hou, Renmin University of China, Beijing, Rob Nixon, Princeton University, USA, Pauline Phemister, Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, UK, Sverker Sörlin, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, Helmuth Trischler, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Co-Director, Rachel Carson Centre, LMU Munich University, Germany, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, USA, Kirsten Wehner, University of London, UK

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Museum Studies
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
NATURE / Ecology
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy