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Department of Zoology

 

Biography

As the Manager of the University Museum of Zoology, I have a strategic overview of our varied activities - developing the Museum as both a valuable academic resource and an excellent public venue, while caring for our collections responsibly. A key area of interest is to develop ways to integrate the historic natural history collection and museum space into current academic teaching, research and public engagement programmes across the sciences, arts and humanities.

Background 

My childhood enthusiasm for natural history led me to study for a Natural Sciences (Zoology) degree at the University of Cambridge, with a large amount of my teaching taking place here in the Museum. After graduating in 2003 I started my career in Science Communication at the hands-on science centre At-Bristol, running workshops in the Learning Department.

I joined the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London in 2004 as the Learning and Access Manager, using the Museum’s specimens to establish a Learning and Access Programme. My role there began with the task of developing the museum spaces and services to be accessible to non-academic audiences for the first time, including schools, families and adults, as well as strengthening our ties with UCL Departments. I became Museum Manager there in 2011, and oversaw the development of the Museum into one of London's leading venues for engagement with the life sciences, curating several successful exhibitions at the interface of natural history, art and art history.

I am a trustee of the Natural Sciences Collections Association, an Honorary Research Fellow in UCL Science and Technology Studies, and sit on the Council of the Society for the History of Natural History.

Research

My key zoological interest is in the natural history of Australia and its mammals.  I regularly undertake ecological fieldwork with Australian wildlife NGOs and universities.

Much of my writing, exhibition, curation and public engagement activities focus on the role museums play in providing a window on the natural world. I see museum collections as a fantastic resource for the history of natural history, and as a means to explore concepts of authenticity in museum specimens, which are both man-made and “real” at the same time. I am particularly interested in the decolonisation of natural history museums.

As well as enabling us to explore the key principles of evolution and natural history, museums also depict nature in certain ways that are not entirely scientific. A major focus are the (normally subconscious) biases in natural history museum displays. These two aspects of museums were the key focus of my 2017 book,  Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects.

Publications

Key publications: 
  • Ashby, J., 2018. Museums as experimental test-beds: Lessons from a university museum. Journal of Natural Science Collections, 5, pp. 4-12. Available here.
     

  • Ashby, J., 2017. Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects. Gloucester: The History Press. ISBN: 9780750981521
     

  • Bailey-Ross, C., Gray, S., Ashby, J., Terras, M., Hudson-Smith, A., & Warwick, C., 2016. Engaging the museum space: Mobilizing visitor engagement with digital content creation. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, fqw041. Available here.
     

  • Carnall, M., Ashby, J., & Ross, C., 2013. Natural history museums as provocateurs for dialogue and debate. Museum Management and Curatorship, 28 (1), 55-71. Available here.
     

  • Hohnen, R., Ashby, J., Tuft, K., & McGregor, H., 2012. Individual identification of northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) using remote cameras. Australian Mammalogy. Available here.
     

  • Ashby, J., 2012. How Museums can Support Higher Education: Engaging Universities with Museums NatSCA News, 23, pp 21-24. Available here.
     

  • Ashby, J., 2011. Order from Chaos: The new Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London. NatSCA News, 21, pp. 89-93. Available here.
     

  • Macdonald, S., & Ashby, J., 2011. Museums: Campus treasures. Nature, 471 (7337), 164-165. Available here
     

  • Ashby, J. & Wood, C., 2010. Lessons in Learning: Primary schools, universities and museums. UCL, London. Available here

Other publications: 
  • Ashby, J., Fanshawe, J., Kingdon, J., 2019. Evolution as Inspiration: Jonathan Kingdon (exhibition catalogue). Cambridge Conservation Initiative & University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Museum Manager

Contact Details

Museum G. 18
01223 (7)61344

Affiliations

Classifications: