SHNH President’s Award 2024 – Nominations open
The SHNH President’s Award recognises an individual or team’s contribution and impact in promoting and improving accessibility, inclusivity and diversity to the study of the history of natural history.
The winner receives the SHNH President’s Medal, to be presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Society.
Nominations are now open and should be sent to the Secretary (email@example.com) by 31st January 2024.
- Award winners are chosen by the Council of the Society.
- Nominations, which open on 01 October, can be made by members and non-members of the Society.
- Nominations close on 31 January the following year.
- SHNH members and non-members can be nominated for this prize, which is open to nominees based in the UK and internationally; individuals and teams can be nominated. There are no age restrictions associated with this prize.
Nominations must be sent to the Secretary (firstname.lastname@example.org) and include the following:
- Your name as a nominator and your contact details.
- The nominee’s name and contact details.
- A supporting statement (up to 600 words) describing why the nominee should receive the award. Testimonials may be useful supporting evidence but are not required (these can be emailed to the Secretary).
Nominees should demonstrate one or more of the following criteria:
- An exhibition that has broken new ground of attracted new audiences. This includes digital exhibitions.
- Implementing initiatives to promote a more inclusive and diverse research and study community.
- Championing diversity through leadership and new policies and/or through research.
- Extent of engagement with the intended audience.
- Originality and innovation.
- Impact (may be relevant to any audiences, including different age groups, career stages and sectors).
The SHNH President’s Award 2023
SHNH is delighted to award the SHNH President’s Award 2023 to Victoria Dickenson for her work on the Gwillim Project: Women, Environment, and Networks of Knowledge and Exchange in Early Nineteenth Century Madras. The Award recognises an individual or team’s contribution and impact in promoting and improving accessibility, inclusivity and diversity to the study of the history of natural history.
The Gwillim Project centres around the life and world of two English sisters in early nineteenth-century Madras (now Chennai), Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds. Elizabeth and Mary’s letters home and detailed drawings, produced during their stay in Madras from 1801 to 1808, provide an immersive portrayal of Madras under East India Company rule. Their correspondence and artwork also provide insight into the landscape, climate, and ecology of the Coromandel coast, documenting birds, animals, fish, insects, flowers, and trees.
Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the Gwillim Project uses a virtual platform to make text and images accessible to all. The online archive encompasses over 250 images from McGill Library and the South Asia Museum (Norwich), and over 700 pages of the sisters’ manuscript correspondence from the British Library, made available under an Orphan Works License. These letters were transcribed by McGill students with ongoing assistance from a network of over 50 researchers in India, Canada, Britain, and the United States, who explained archaic dress terms, translated phonetic renditions of Telugu or Tamil words, and identified places and landmarks. Network members also identified birds, fish and flowers in the over 250 watercolours in the virtual archive, providing contemporary scientific names, mapping distributions, and locating habitats.
As well as digitising and contextualising these valuable resources, the Gwillim project has disseminated its findings through a range of media, engaging with a variety of audiences. A series of nine webinars on YouTube, have, to date, attracted over 22,000 views, the majority from India. In-person events in at the Dakshina Chitra Museum and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai, have expanded the reach of the Project to schoolchildren, university students, local historians, and birding enthusiasts, while exhibitions of the original watercolours have been hosted by museums in Toronto, Montreal, Norwich and Chennai. A co-authored book, Women, Environment, and Networks of Empire, Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras, 1801-1807 will be published by McGill Queen’s University Press in 2023.
The SHNH President’s Award 2021-2022
The SHNH President’s Award 2022
SHNH is delighted to award the SHNH President’s Award 2022 to Madeline Hutchins for her work on Ellen Hutchins and Bantry Bay. The Award recognises an individual or team’s contribution and impact in promoting and improving accessibility, inclusivity and diversity to the study of the history of natural history.
Prior to Madeline’s work, only a handful of historians of botany were aware of Ellen Hutchins and the contributions she made to Dawson Turner and William Jackson Hookers’ monographs on seaweeds and liverworts, and through her regular correspondence with Turner during the last seven years of her short life. Both sides of this correspondence exist https://www.ellenhutchins.com/ellens-letters/ and extracts now available online reveal both botanical practices of the early nineteenth century and Ellen Hutchins’ independent thought. These show how a highly competent woman, whose gender prohibited her entry into learned institutions, was able to participate in botanical science. She was celebrated for finding numerous new species and as an accomplished botanical artist.
The website created by Madeline Hutchins (www.ellenhutchins.com ) draws on these resources and aims to be as inclusive as possible, recognising that a figure like Ellen Hutchins has the potential to attract a range of audiences to natural history. It uses videos such as the one titled ‘She Gathered Seaweeds on the Sea Shore’ (https://www.ellenhutchins.com/the-early-1800s/ ) with re-enactors bringing home the realities of past life in Bantry Bay and what it was like to be a woman collector in the early 1800s, one of several giving insight into her life.
Audiences are encouraged to investigate the plants that Ellen Hutchins studied (seaweeds, mosses, liverworts, and lichens) in the ‘Explore the Botany of Bantry Bay’ section: https://www.ellenhutchins.com/explore-the-botany-of-bantry-bay/ The ‘For Kids’ section: https://www.ellenhutchins.com/for-kids/ stresses the importance of paying attention to nature in the ‘schools page’. The website also details the ways in which Ellen Hutchins is now commemorated in the places with which she was associated and how her life has inspired a novel (2020) and poetry.
Madeline Hutchins has also arranged exhibitions on Ellen Hutchins in Dublin, Cork, and Kew. The greatest impact is through her organisation of the nine-day Ellen Hutchins Festival held annually (since 2015) https://www.ellenhutchins.com/ellen-hutchins-festival/ in Bantry Bay during Ireland’s Heritage Week. The value of using the life of a historical figure to encourage an interest in the natural world is clear on the Ellen Hutchins website and comes fully to life in the festival.
The SHNH President’s Award 2021
This new award attracted a great deal of interest, with seven individuals putting forward nominations for consideration. The Panel took particular note of the stated criteria for the President’s Award, in particular the emphasis on diversity, inclusion, engagement and impact. The Panel recognised that there was merit in all the nominations, but that two projects were outstanding in terms of their impact.
Felix Driver (Royal Holloway), Lowri Jones (University of Oxford) and Vandana Patel (Museum of London) formed a research team that had effectively been the first to successfully raise issues of colonisation and racism in the history of exploration and collecting. They worked together to develop the theme ‘Hidden Histories of Exploration’, the focus of this project being to reveal the lives of indigenous peoples who aided the travels, activities and aims of well-known explorers. The research was initially based on archival material, including art and film, held by the Royal Geographical Society and the Institute of British Geographers. The research then extended, in association with other academic partners, to other significant collections. The end results included a workshop, educational materials for schools, a fascinating online exhibition and a book: “Hidden Histories of Exploration: Researching the RGS-IBG Collections” (2009). This was a ground-breaking academic project that included fourteen Collaborative Doctoral Awards; this research kick-started many of the subsequent discussions on the hidden histories of colonialism, racism, diversity and inclusion that lie unacknowledged in museums, archives and heritage organisations. Although it was an academic project, in many ways it created a platform for further discussions and practical measures to expose the colonial and racist histories embedded in the collections and archives of museums, learned societies and heritage organisations.
Subhadra Das (UCL) and Miranda Lowe (NHM) took academic discussions to the next level. Their landmark paper “Nature Read in Black and White: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections ”, (Journal of Natural Science Collections 6: 4-14) explored the theory and practice of de-colonising museums; they have provided leadership and an inspirational foundation for future work. In their respective institutions they have pioneered important approaches to championing diversity, emphasising the need for action. Miranda Lowe has led Black History Tours in the Natural History Museum; Subhadra Das curated ‘Displays of Power’ at the Grant Museum; together they have provided advice and input to several organisations and events, including the ‘Botany, Trade and Empire’ conference at Kew. It is fair to say that their efforts have together sent a clarion call to museums and heritage organisations to acknowledge colonial histories and to take action.