As part of the Term Coord new series of projects, your Term CULT features several linguistic resources for users of culture terminology. It comprises three sections addressing different needs of the reality of culture. One of them deals with terminology extracted from documents translated in the European Parliament for the House of European History; a second section, undertaken by the ISIT University of Paris, analyses a corpus of online texts published by the European Capitals of Culture; and there is a third section on museum’s terminology, developed by the University of Alcala (Madrid), which I shall introduce here.

On 1 April 2019, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) launched a campaign to redefine the term “museum”. They invited its members, committees, partners and other stakeholders to revise the classic definition – one that focused on “purposes of education, study and enjoyment” – and find a new one that would also touch on notions of “different world views”, as well as on “the urgency of the crisis in nature and the imperative to develop sustainable solutions”.

ICOM remarks, linking planetary wellbeing with the role of museums in global culture, steered us towards choosing Natural Science museums as a starting point for our terminological work.

Natural Science and Natural History museum collections have become an integral part of research on sustainability. Scientists draw on such collections to compare historical taxonomies and genetic data with recent evidence of climate change, loss of biodiversity, endangered species and other emergencies that point towards an uncertain outlook for the future.              

In this context, acknowledging the links between museums, society and the scientific community may lead to essential changes in the ways our global society tackles climate and biodiversity emergencies. 

For this reason, we created a database which compiles terminological units in the field of “collaboration between natural science museum and the scientific community for a sustainable future”.

This terminological database is beneficial to at least three groups of users; for museums, it serves as a benchmark for exploring and making use of terminology related to other museums’ research. For scientists, it means a faster, more efficient access to museum collections and data that might prove instrumental in their investigations. For the general public, it is an effective resource to gain an understanding of the role of museums today, not only as stagnant repositories of historic species, but also as active actors within the field of sustainability.

The projects in which museums are or have been involved constitute the main corpus for term extraction. Names and titles of the projects are the core terms, while key terms pertaining to each project included in the database expand on the information – e.g. “the midge thermometer” is a term designating a project in which the term “chironomid” is key to understanding what the project is about. When possible, definitions include goals, procedures, materials and people involved in the project. Usage notes display additional data – also when available – concerning the project in which terms appear, and the partners that work together to achieve a common research goal. In general, the domain of the terms refers to the museum specific collection, department or resource (e.g. mammals, DNA, digital collections), while the subdomain indicates the environmental or biodiversity emergency they address (e.g. climate change, diseases, agriculture, loss of biodiversity).

We organised the terminological database by means of a frame-based approach; elements within the frame and relationships among them are built around a prototypical “natural science museum event”; such event reflects the process by which an agent (e.g. museums, institutes, etc.) address a process (e.g. greenhouse gas emission) which produces a result (e.g. climate change) that affects a patient (e.g. all living species). The singularity of the database – distinguishing it from others that deal exclusively with biodiversity– lies in that we also include information as to how the agent draws on museum resources (e.g. collections) to suggest, encourage or implement measures and actions that lead to specific results (e.g. public awareness, sustainable solutions). Due to the complexity of the project, the concept system is still under development; the newly revised framework will soon be published.  

This fascinating project shows the importance of collaboration not only between museums and the scientific community, but also among museums, botanical gardens, universities, institutes and other scientific centres world-wide; therefore, alongside conventional research projects, we included terms designating educational tools (e.g. The Climate House), facilities and laboratories (San Francisco Exploratorium), , global networks (Global Carbon Project, iNaturalist Network) and databanks (e.g. Irish Cetacean Genetic Tissue Bank) that may inspire other museums in their efforts to offer a window to the past and to the future.

While we initially prioritised cross-European projects, we soon found the need to incorporate world-wide projects that reflect the impact of museum collaborations on sustainability throughout the global community. The first set of terms of the database include projects from museums in Paris, Berlin, London, Madrid, Olso, Ontario, New York and San Francisco. In the face of global emergencies, multidisciplinary actions and research are necessary to cope with the danger of unwanted changes on earth, it is our hope that this new resource does its bit to improve communication between cultural, social and political institutions in their efforts to achieve a better future. 

Daniel Migueláñez Munilla.

Associate professor, University of Alcala de Henares, Madrid.

Share This