30 July 2011

The long road to the new natural history museum

Yesterday, I gained a fascinating insight into the history of our natural history at Prof Peter Ng's talk.
It seems a miracle that we are today embarking on a New Natural History Museum for Singapore!

The roots of our natural history museum began with Sir Stamford Raffles. Prof gave lots of details of how the collection first started and the many changes over the years that took place. Among the many miracles was how the collection survived World War II which many other collections in the region did not. I most enjoyed the slides of what the old natural history museum looked like.
Prof shared how the natural history collection faced dark times when it was excluded from the National Museum. Through many trials and tribulations, moved here and there, it survived only due to the fierce care and protection by a few people who realised the true value of the collection. Some details of what he shared is on The Museum That Almost Never Was (pdf) on the Raffles Museum Newsletter No. 1 15 Jun 2001.
The icon of the old natural history museum was the "Singapore Whale". Which Prof pointed out several times was originally found in Malacca. It has since been given away to Malaysia.
The Whale made a brief return to Singapore in 1986. I didn't know that!
The Whale is now in Labuan. Can we have it back? was one of the questions asked after the talk. Rather difficult since we gave it away, Prof says. Some good suggestions included having a blank exhibit to show the missing Whale. And a hologram to depict this missing icon that we sadly gave up in the past.
Due to the long and illustrious history, the collection is now an important basis of biodiversity research not only in Singapore but well beyond our borders.
All the red dots on the global map shows the specimens found in our natural history collection! Isn't it awesome?!
The Museum has many other roles including education and other services. And now it is embarking on the next step. Thankfully, the collection survived and today faces happier times with plans to launch a New Natural History Museum!
Prof shared lots of stories and insights into how the idea for a New Natural History Museum came about. And how an enormous amount of money was raised within 6 months to make it a reality! I am particularly taken by his point that the funding comes from the public and donors, thus making it more difficult the collection to be dismantled and given away as it was in the past. It also means the museum has a broad base of stakeholders.
Prof also shared some of the principles that will guide the future of the New Natural History Museum.
Of course he shared lots more stories and ideas during his talk which I could not cover in this simple post. Another Big Issue he covered was the plan for dinosaurs at the New Natural History Museum which I share about in this separate post.

I'm very excited about these plans and look forward to a bright and happy future for the Museum!

Get updates on the new museum via the RMBR news blog.

More about the New Natural History Museum in these earlier posts

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