A spherical glass model

Over 10,000 deep sea specimens were created in glass by father-and-son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in the 19th century. The Museum collection holds 180 delicate pieces which are cared for by Miranda Lowe.

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Curator Miranda Lowe conquers BBC's Woman's Hour Power List 2020

An expert in deep-sea creatures and a champion of diversity in museums, Miranda Lowe is awarded a place on BBC's Woman's Hour Power List 2020.

What is The Woman's Hour Power List?

Woman's Hour is a BBC Radio 4 show with a weekly audience of over 3.5 million people. The programme has an annual Woman's Hour Power List celebrating 30 high-achieving women based in the UK.

They are chosen by the public for making a real change towards a sustainable planet. Their contribution ranges from volunteering in community gardens to influencing global policies and more. The winners fall into one of five categories: decision-makers, innovators, communicators, campaigners and volunteers.

Miranda Lowe, a principal curator of crustacea at the Museum, has been chosen for the communicators category for the Woman's Hour Power List 2020.

Miranda says, 'I was shocked and overjoyed when I found out. I'm really honoured to be nominated by the public and chosen by the judges as one of the top 30 women.'

Who is Miranda Lowe and why was she nominated?

An expert in crustacea and cnidaria, Miranda has been taking care of historically important specimens at the Museum for nearly 30 years. This includes specimens from the Discovery and Challenger expeditions.

Miranda believes in communicating her passion for nature and the environment with the next generation, and lectures in curatorial research and popular science.

She has made appearances on a number of digital platforms, including an episode of Natural Histories on BBC Radio 4, Britain's Whale Hunters: The Untold Story on BBC Four, and Absolute Genius with Dick and Dom on CBBC.

Miranda also plays an active role in several committees. She is the London Members representative at the Museums Association, a member of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and a membership coordinator at the Society for the History of Natural History, for which Sir David Attenborough is patron.

Miranda presents a specimen in a glass showcase

Miranda shows off a Museum specimen at a behind-the-scenes tour
 

As a STEM ambassador and communicator of science, Miranda is a volunteer mentor for the Aspiring Professionals Programme, a scheme which aims to connect high-ability students without a network with top professionals in their field.

Miranda says, 'I think it's important that young people know there's someone who looks like me - a woman of colour - in the museum sector. It shows them obtaining a top-level job is achievable.

'Some people have this image in their head of scientists being untouchable in their white lab coats. But inviting people into my place of work and talking with them shows we're not. We're just human beings like everyone else.'

Acknowledging the work of people of colour in natural history

Miranda is passionate about raising awareness of the contributions made by people of colour in natural history. She was one of the people to unearth the story of Graman Kwasi, a Surinamese freedman who discovered the medicinal power of the Quassia amara, a small evergreen shrub from the tropics.

Kwasi showed European settlers how to use the plant to treat digestive problems and fevers, and as a result, had the plant named after him.

Crediting people of colour in science was rare and Kwasi was one of the few Black men in the 1700s to have a specimen named after him.

'I dug deeper to learn about Kwasi because I believed we should be looking be at our foundational collections - where they've come from and the context they were collected in.

'There are many hidden stories about people whose labour was used to collect and create these collections, but they're rarely acknowledged in the labelling, notes and databases. Those who were didn't write their own narratives.'

This, along with a tweet questioning whether museums were inherently racist, prompted Miranda to co-write 'Nature read in black and white: decolonial approaches to interpreting natural history collections', a paper which highlights structural racism in natural history.

The review uses Kwasi's story as an example to highlight the absence of people of colour and their contributions, some of which have made important influences to natural science.

'I didn't realise the paper would be picked up worldwide,' says Miranda. 'It's probably had more impression than any of the science papers I've written.'

'Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said it was written in a very accessible form, and that's the best part: engaging people who don't work in science. They can pick up the paper and understand what it means. It can inspire them to do great work.'

An illustration of a jellyfish against a pale blue backdrop

Miranda appeared on The Museum of Curiosity, a comedy talk show on BBC Radio 4. Guests are expected to make a hypothetical donation to the imaginary museum and Miranda donated a moon jellyfish. © EmilyJupitusillustration

 

Museum Detox

Miranda is co-founder of Museum Detox, a volunteer organisation that champions fair representation within the cultural sector.

'This is what I've been looking for throughout my whole career,' she says. 'Sometimes you don't realise you're missing something until you find it.

'People of colour are tired of being one of the few. Although we may have some amazing colleagues, there are just some challenges that we may feel awkward discussing with them. Or we want the ease with people who know what it feels like - some of the emotional labour or struggles we're going through - without having to explain it too much.

'There's subtlety in discrimination, or unconscious bias. A lot of the times, we deal with this outside of work and we just try to continue with our day. But then to come into a workplace and experience the same thing can be very taxing.

'So having a group where people of colour come together in a safe and supportive space, where we can draw strength from one another is helpful and needed.'

​The Woman's Hour Power List recognises and applauds Miranda's vast and impressive efforts in effectively communicating with a wide range of audiences, promoting diversity and bringing about real, positive changes to communities.