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During a night of celebration, expectation and promise at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Trust Board and key figures at the Museum, including the recently appointed director, Roy Clare, re-instigated the Auckland Museum Medal Awards. 

Lauded as a return to the original intent of museums, to care for and conduct research on its collections, there was a distinct feeling of change for the better amongst the speakers. 

Four eminent New Zealander’s who have dedicated of their lives to excellence in research and scholarship were recognised with all involved in some way in the furthering our understanding of the history and heritage of New Zealand.

Those honoured were:

-          the late Dame Judith Te Tomairangi o Te Aroha Binney, author and historian

-          Professor Russell Stone, historian and professor emeritus at Auckland University

-          the late Professor Roger Neich, ethnologist at the National Museum Wellington and lately of Auckland Museum

-          Dr Nigel Prickett, archaeologist, became an associate emeritus of Auckland War Memorial Museum

Each of these people have been major contributors to New Zealand’s science and humanity sectors, with the relationships, traditions and material manifestations of the Maori world and Pakeha central to their work. 

I was very honoured to be invited to see Dr Nigel Prickett receive his award.  He was the first person to take a punt on me as a 19 year old wannabe archaeologist when he took me on to volunteer in the archaeology department. This ultimately led onto the next 4 years with the collections, and my first job after graduation.  I know first hand from experience the value of working with and handling the museum’s amazing collections, as well as being surrounded by a wealth of knowledge from the different domains of science.  It has been inspirational, and confirmed for me the potential museum collections have with the right guidance and enthusiasm.

Equally fantastic was hearing the stories of the recipients, such as a rousing and passionate speech by Dame Judith Binney’s partner Sebastian Black, Professor Stone who played homage to New Zealand’s participation and loss of life in the World Wars of the 20th century, and the wife of Roger Neich who focused on his love of family, rather than the respected scholar.

Sir Peter Gluckman was the key note speaker demonstrating his usual flare for communicating his vision for the future of science and  museums.  Whilst he continued his theme on the use and value of complex science, he advocated the advancement of science, in all its manifestations, defining it as a high value component to a world class city, to which Auckland should now be striving.

He also caused considerable thought around the inherent risks generated through decision making involved in the presentation of science and knowledge.  Using the concept developed by Funtowicz and Ravetz, his discussion on the principles of post-normal science where evaluation of value, evidence and relevance…including uncertainties…was thought provoking, and a paradigm that allows museums to create exciting research opportunities and best engage with communities through knowledge and display.

This is a recognisable quality of many of the physical sciences, including archaeology, geology and biology, where the assessment and evaluation of risk, probability and value are key components, but has at its foundation knowledge, facts and measured base line information.

Whilst it may appear that post normal science stems away from the notion that science is static with pre-determinable data, Gluckman was under no illusion that excellent research, scholarship and knowledge was at its heart; principles that were on exemplary display by the awardees.

In his final summation, to the effect that museums should be seen as repositories for the future, not the past.  That they are a place of life, not a mausoleum, Gluckman resonated the announcement later in the evening that the Auckland Museum is committed to launching a Research Centre in the near future. 

The Auckland Museum Research Centre has been heralded as a facility to underpin its renewed value placed on science and knowledge.  Once a bastion of research, the collections number into the 3 ½ million mark and Mr Clare was loud and clear in his desire to better utilise the collections available. 

     -   To use the collections to make new discoveries,

     -  Encourage new research such as that conducted at the Kermadec Islands last year to record marine and study its marine life, and Ahuahu in February this year by archaeologists with Auckland University,

     -  Use the collection to engage with Auckland and the global population

The Executive Summary of the Auckland Museums 2012-2013 Draft Annual Plan backs this up, and seen online here:

Establish a Research Centre in Partnership with other Educational and Cultural Institutions, adding strength to the stewardship of out collections and reinforcing the city’s positioning as a ‘learning and innovation cradle’.

Curator of Archaeology Louise Furey has said that ‘In essence it should provide a platform where the museum can work with external collaborators on research and will enhance the reputation of the museum and its collections… the museum and its board is recognising scholarship and research as an important part of the credibility of the museum.’

This is all good stuff, and I just hope it can deliver.