The Nerd and the Museum #2 ‘The Brain Scoop and Zoology collections’

Scary front cover of Milgrom's 'Still Life: adventures in taxidermy'

Scary front cover of Milgrom’s ‘Still Life: adventures in taxidermy’

I promised ages ago to post about the nerdy museum phenomenon that is The Brain Scoop. This seems like a brilliant time to post as it has just reached the next stage in its development. The Brain Scoop began only a few months ago in December 2012 when Vlogbrother Hank Green shot a video blog post from the University of Montana’s Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum. There he met museum studies student and curatorial assistant Emily Graslie. Emily’s enthusiasm secured her an invitation to start her own YouTube channel as part of the Nerdfighter family (on which more in a later post). As the museum is mostly a research collection this was a rare opportunity to display objects to the public. The series also went behind the scenes, and in a series of stomach turning episodes Emily even dissected a wolf. The video in which the wolf is skinned currently has around 217,000 views!

Spider in the Cole Museum of Zoology (Photograph taken by Fil Gierlinski)

Spider in the Cole Museum of Zoology (Photograph taken by Fil Gierlinski)

As an aside, I chatted to my colleague Claire about Brain Scoop and we compared the books on taxidermy that we had bought following Emily’s recommendations. Claire has been volunteering at our own university zoology collection The Cole Museum of Zoology and is also a digital aficionado. Check out Claire the Conservatrix to find out more.

Anyway, back to Brain Scoop. The Field Museum, Chicago became aware of the channel and invited Emily to visit. They were so impressed that they made her the Chief Curiosity Correspondent. I was a little sad to see Emily leave the smaller research collection but I’m excited to see what she comes up with in Chicago. Emily is a positive role model for young women who might be considering STEM careers. Brainscoop also makes me wonder whether students or ‘experts in training’ make more accessible role models than the established academics that we usually see on TV documentaries.

Finally, the success of The Brain Scoop demonstrates that zoology and taxidermy have a nerdy appeal when pitched correctly. Other examples which embrace the kookiness of zoology collections are my twitter favourites Glass Jar of Moles (UCL’s Grant Museum) and the Horniman Museum’s Walrus. These social media experiments work because their authors aren’t restricted by brand or ‘organisational voice’. They use their own voices and embrace their inner nerd.

Blackwell Taxidermy

Blackwell Oxford’s Taxidermy Display

The Nerd and the Museum 1#

nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’”

– John Green

At the Society of Museum Archaeologists’ Conference in Manchester 2012 Dr Nick Merriman suggested that museums need to reach out to the geek audience. Museums have always struggled to bring in young people, so marketing and programming for an ‘unironically enthusiastic’ audience might be just what is needed.

Studies of visitor figures from around the world show that, as a general rule, you stop going to museums when your parents and school teachers stop taking you. You start going again when you have kids of your own. So what is going to make you come in while you are a ‘young person’? This is something which really troubles me as somebody teaching mostly 18-30 year olds from within a museum of rural life.

I went to a fantastic ‘Steampunk’ exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford a few years ago which was packed with people in the 18-30 bracket. More recently I found myself as part of a Nerdfighter gathering, in which I was one of the oldest people, at the STEAM Museum in Swindon. I was there to see John and Hank Green, who have found a variety of ways to get young people interested in history, science and culture online. Not all young people are geeks but thinking and marketing geeky clearly expands your audience from the perspective of age. It can also be the catalyst for new questions and displays of creativity.

As somebody marching on through their 30’s I am sad to say that I am no longer in the ‘young person’ demographic. However, I would define myself as a bit of a geek.  In light of this I thought that I would combine my two passions and write a series of posts about things which link the geeky and the museological. Next post on Nerdfighters and Brainscoop.