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Whose Story is it Anyway? The Challenges of Conducting Institutional Histories

Author(s): Sue Hawkins

Journal: Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies
ISSN 2049-4572

Volume: 10;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 44;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Museums | Curators | Natural History Museum | gender | childhood memory

This paper is based on my experiences as an oral historian on the Museum Lives project, a joint undertaking between Kingston University and the Natural History Museum in London, which seeks to record the lives and careers of the Museum’s curators and scientists (retired and current). By focussing on scientists at a single institution the project becomes a study not only of individual scientists and the natural sciences but of the institution itself. As a result, in planning and conducting the interviews there are three narratives to be taken into account as narrators relate their stories: as practitioners within the science, as members of the institution and as individuals in their own right. In their accounts, the narrators talk for their science and for the Museum, but even more revealingly, perhaps for the first time, the project gives them space to talk of themselves, as members of the wider society. This paper will investigate the tensions that arise as a result of these separate but interconnected strands and the impact these tensions have on the stories which emerge.
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