by Nicole Heller
I am pleased to share this Smithsonian Scholarly Press publication, Stemming the Tide: Global Strategies for Sustaining Cultural Heritage Through Climate Change. The e-book, edited by Rebecca Rushfield, is available online and freely available to read and download. It is the product of an international symposium organized and hosted by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, March 5 – 6, 2020. According to Amber Kerr, Chief of Conservation, Smithsonian American Art Museum “The objective of the symposium was to empower cultural heritage authorities, managers, and advocates to pursue more ambitious engagement with, and collaborative approaches to, the climate crisis,” and “250 registrants and 1,100 live web stream viewers representing 33 states and 25 countries ranging from the United Kingdom, Spain, and Greece to Canada, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago” took part.
I was honored to be invited to participate and frame remarks about museums and climate change. Looking back, the symposium was at the beginning of difficult times. The crisis of the coronavirus pandemic was just becoming a known reality. I recall forgoing handshakes and hugs, and instead bumping elbows, with the awesome group of global professionals assembled.
Perhaps for this reason, seeing this volume published now gives me extra pause, and feels especially symbolic of the interconnections between people and planet – past, present and future – and the risks we face in the early 21st century. As Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, writes in the forward “This publication invites us to put our heads together and lead the cultural heritage sector in addressing the most pressing issue of our time.”
My chapter, “Museums Facing Climate Change. All Hands On Deck: Moving Past Climate Science and Into Culture,” is about the special opportunity for museums to lead on climate change action and education in their communities, and draws on the good works started at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene and Climate Systems Partnerships. Other chapters explore a wide range of issues. For example, there are chapters on adapting cultural heritage sites and historic buildings to increased risks from extreme weather and sea level rise, ensuring the preservation of collections and archeological sites, supporting resilience of displaced communities, sustaining and respecting Indigenous knowledge and storytelling, as well as tools for mitigating greenhouse gases and improving sustainability practices in collections and exhibition practices.
While intended for a professional audience, I imagine this book will be relevant to anyone concerned about human-caused climate change and interested in the diverse opportunities and challenges it presents. I commend the Smithsonian Institute for leadership in organizing the symposium and publishing this valuable resource. I look forward to using it with my colleagues at the Carnegie Museums and here in Pittsburgh toward pursuing more ambitious engagement and collaborative approaches to the climate crisis.
Nicole Heller is Curator of Anthropocene Studies at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences working at the museum.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog Citation InformationBlog author: Heller, Nicole
Publication date: June 10, 2021