Insects, atoms and archivists: 25 years of National Lottery heritage funding

Oxford Giving
Nov 19, 2019 · 5 min read

Since the first National Lottery draw on 19 November 1994, the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) has supported thousands of heritage projects across the country — including many right here in Oxford. To celebrate this special birthday, we’re shining a light on some of the incredible things made possible in our museums and libraries thanks to National Lottery players.

Queering and questioning collections and at the Pitt Rivers Museum, thanks to NLHF support | Photograph by John Cairns

Rethinking Britain’s oldest public museum

This month marks ten years since the Ashmolean Museum reopened its doors following a remarkable makeover. Funded in part by a £15 million grant from the NLHF, the refurbishment added 39 new galleries (including four temporary exhibition galleries), a new education centre, state-of-the-art conservation studios and Oxford’s very first rooftop restaurant.

The redevelopment also provided curators with an opportunity to rethink the display of the collections. Objects’ stories are now told by tracing the journey of ideas and influences through time and across continents, transforming the way these rare and beautiful antiquities are understood.

The reality of seeing so many objects — squirrelled away for too many years — out on display will make the Ashmolean a museum to return to, time and again.’

The Guardian, 26th October 2009

As well as helping to shape the Ashmolean’s physical space, the NLHF has also supported the museum in making a number of major acquisitions over the years, including Turner’s iconic High Street, Manet’s captivating Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus and the magnificent Watlington Hoard.

Looking beyond the binary

Beyond the Binary Takeover Night — an event specially curated by the young people from My Normal, an intersectional project aiming to give LGBTI+ youth safe spaces and a bigger voice in Oxfordshire.

Last December, the Pitt Rivers Museum launched an ambitious eighteen-month programme aimed at exploring the global diversity of sexual and gender identities.

Supported by a grant of £91,200 from the NLHF, Beyond the Binary challenges historical interpretations of the museum’s collections, offering alternative understandings from people with different identities and highlighting human histories that are unrepresented as a result of intolerance.

The programme’s ultimate aim is to ensure that no individual or group feels excluded from the museum, and so that all visitors —however they might identify themselves — can understand humanity better.

Providing HOPE for the future

Earlier this year, Oxford University Museum of Natural History was awarded a NLHF grant of £703,700 for its HOPE for the Future project. Complex and multi-stranded, the project will re-house and make accessible the museum’s nationally-significant British insect collection — a cornucopia of 1.1 million specimens that spans almost the entire history of British entomology.

As well as enabling the creation of two new public areas in the museum, the award will support a major new education and community outreach programme, through which the museum hopes to inspire interest in British wildlife, conservation and the natural environment.

(Clockwise from top-left) Stag beetles; hornet moths; a school visit to the British insect collection | Photographs by Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Making the history of science personal

Henry Moseley in the Balliol-Trinity Laboratories, Oxford, 1910

Henry ‘Harry’ Moseley was an exceptionally promising young English physicist. His work on the X-ray spectra of the elements provided a new foundation for the Periodic Table and contributed to the development of the nuclear model of the atom. Yet Moseley’s life and career were cut short. He was killed in 1915, aged 27, in action at Gallipoli, Turkey.

With support from the NLHF, the History of Science Museum staged a special centenary exhibition about Moseley in 2015. Featuring entries from his mother’s diary, as well as his original scientific apparatus and personal correspondence, the exhibition marked Moseley’s great contribution to science, and revealed the impact of his death on the international scientific community.

Following a further gift from the NLHF, the exhibition was later transformed into a permanent display in the museum’s basement gallery.

Amabel Moseley’s pocket diary showing the entry she made on the day her son died: ‘My Harry was killed in the Dardanelles’ | Photograph by the History of Science Museum

Keeping pace with the digital revolution

Former trainee digital archivist Harriet Costelloe | Photograph by John Cairns

In 2013, the Bodleian Libraries secured generous support from the NLHF to develop the next generation of digital archivists. Drawing on the Bodleian’s magnificent collections, beautiful buildings and world-class curatorial expertise, the programme gave six graduates crucial paid experience, as well as the opportunity to undertake a vocational qualification through distance learning.

The skills learned by the archivists during their time on the programme are already proving vital in preserving and making accessible collections of scholarly and cultural value that would otherwise be beyond use, or, in the case of electronic material, be at serious risk of loss.

Supporting Oxford’s cultural collections

Whether opening up hidden treasures to new audiences, drawing out otherwise disregarded or less-audible voices, or serving as a resource for academic engagement, Oxford’s museums, libraries and gardens play an important role within both the University and the local community. Follow the link below to find out how you can support them.

Oxford University

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Oxford Giving

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The University of Oxford Development Office— fundraising for students, scholars, researchers and buildings at a world-leading university.

Oxford University

Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact:

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