Environment Research Growth Network
There is no question that people are living in a time of rapid climate change, induced by the activities of the human species. An urgent and current global challenge is to mitigate and manage the harm that will follow – both to the natural world, through loss of biodiversity, and to societies. The scale of the problem is immense, requiring collaborative solutions between research fields traditionally divided into the Sciences and the Arts.
The library and museum collections offer precisely such an interdisciplinary opportunity for addressing these challenges – by facilitating greater collaboration with departments, faculties and interdisciplinary research centres. They provide a detailed longitudinal record of declining biodiversity in relation to environmental change, over thousands of years, and how humans have shaped and responded to that change. Natural science collections can be used to chart broad-scale patterns of extinction in relation to climatic change, and to understand more recent declines in local biodiversity following human caused environmental change, to better inform policy making by local conservation organisations.
Changes in the natural environment, and attitudes to change, can be observed and understood through the art, library, archaeology and anthropology collections, though depictions of wildlife or changing personal relationships with landscape, heritage and local environments. The university has placed itself at the forefront of international efforts to tackle the unprecedented crises caused by human-caused climate change, and this research growth network will ensure that the collections cared for by the university are thoroughly integrated into that important work.
The key questions asked by the network are:
- What can the collections cared for by the University of Cambridge indicate about environmental change, and the response to it?
- How can the Network best engage a range of audiences, within and beyond academia with issues related to environmental change, especially in public spaces and using the collections the Network cares for?
- Can the Network develop new research questions, and new resources for research, by using crowdsourcing or citizen science projects in collaboration with the ‘Digital’ strand of the Research and Collections Programme? The broad range of collections cared for by the University of Cambridge offers a unique opportunity for cross-disciplinary research and longitudinal study. Here are some of the ways researchers anticipate working with collections within the Network:
- The fossil record can be used to forecast how the natural world will respond to rapid global heating.
- Genetic data in zoological and plant specimens can be used to assess the changing genetic diversity of populations and their resilience.
- Archive material such as diaries, ships logs and field collectors’ notebooks can provide dated and geo-located information about sea ice extent, animal habitat ranges and weather patterns.
- Changes in environment can be observed in artworks, whether they depict wildlife, industrial developments or changing personal relationships with local environment.
- The development of a global economy can be seen in fashions in art and design as new commodities became available.
- History of science collections offer the opportunity to explore early environmental studies, and the way the scientific tools and practices have changed over time.
- The archaeological and anthropological records help researchers to explore societal responses to the changing environments, which include entire settlements being relocated, new types of income generation being sought and building technological interventions such as sea defences. These also relate to human caused environmental change such as draining the fens in East Anglia, more intensive agricultural practices and shifting norms around travel and work.
This Network will build on previous work within the University including the Green Museum project, Operation Survival, Climate Hack and Earth Optimism Day to bring research findings to new audiences using best practice in public engagement. It will seek to embed an understanding of environmental change and its effects to engage audiences across organisations with leading edge research about environmental change, one of the most important issues humanity is currently facing.
No, this infrastructure does not provide funding.
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