Zoë Varley

With a background in humanities my route into working with zoological collections has perhaps not been the most straightforward.

During my undergraduate degree in Art History I became interested in the history of collecting and my research interests focussed on the Wunderkammer- the precursor of our modern museums- particularly the way in which man-made artefacts and works of art often sat alongside natural history specimens to engage, educate and inspire wonder about the world around us.

After working with collections in a range of different settings (a library, gallery and media archive), I began an MA in Museum Studies alongside a collections research project at the Natural History Museum. I hadn’t anticipated that this combination of academic study and hands-on museum work would evolve into an ongoing research project and materialise as the focus of my MA dissertation (reuniting and exploring the zoological collection of Robert FitzRoy, Charles Darwin’s captain during the voyage of the Beagle).

During this time I learnt a huge amount about the practicalities of researching, utilising and caring for historical collections as well as gaining a far greater appreciation for the diversity of the specimens themselves. It also solidified my conviction in the importance of material culture as a source of interdisciplinary study and the role of museum’s in telling these narratives through their collections.

I have since worked as a Curatorial Assistant with the Natural History Museum’s Bird Group, digitising and researching fragile, complex collection manuscripts and investigating how their wealth of data can be made accessible, supporting the physical specimens for future preservation and use.

I love museums and the value collections and their stories hold for education, understanding and research- particularly across interdisciplinary fields. I am excited to be working on a project utilising collections amassed over the last three centuries and look forward to learning about the modern techniques and methods being applied to them as well as opening up this research through citizen science.