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Honoring Curiosity

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum of Natural History, has been named as the 2017 recipient of the Nancy Hanks Memorial Award for Professional Excellence.
As a long-time fan of Emily’s YouTube series The Brain Scoop, this pleases me enormously. As a futurist, I think it highlights important shifts in how museums do their work, and on the evolution of our profession. Past recipients of the Nancy Hanks Award have included directors, educators, people working in collections and registration, even a chief bioscientist. I believe Emily is the first awardee, however, whose principal role is communicating the value of research collections to the public.
And an important role it is. To build the case for public support of the enormous collections museums care for behind the scenes, we have to let people know those collections exists, and explain what they are for. Ideally, we need to make them fall in love with museum collections—a courtship at which Emily excels. She makes specimen preparation fun and accessible, whether it’s clearing and staining fishes or skinning a wolf, and explains how science helps us understand our world. (Did you know bird vomit can help us reconstruct history?)
Emily is a role model for women in science by doing what she does so visibly—The Brain Scoop has over 393,900 subscribers—and by talking about what it’s like to be a woman doing science. (I wish I’d seen the Periods + Fieldwork episode before gearing up for my first trip overseas.) She also confronts sexism head on, asking Where My Ladies At? in science-related social media and shining a fierce light on the bullying women are subjected to when they become online content creators.
Emily was an undergraduate art major at the University of Montana when she started volunteering at the campus’ natural history museum. She made her first Brain Scoop video while working odd jobs that enabled her to keep volunteering after graduation. The Field Museum recruited her after she visited Chicago to film an early episode. I’ve blogged about notable people in our field who come from “non-traditional” backgrounds. I think Emily’s road to the Field Museum helps makes the case for museums taking an open-minded, agile approach to hiring.
While the title “Chief Curiosity Correspondent” may or may not become a thing, I hope we see more positions devoted to communicating the wonder, excitement, and day-to-day reality of the behind-the-scenes work at museums. That will be key to inspiring young people from all sorts of backgrounds to join our profession.
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