Dr Hannah Chalk

Working title: How are objects attributed value?

This research aims to extend material culture theory to collections of natural objects, with a particular focus on university earth science collections. In order to understand how natural objects are attributed value, this research will theorize university earth science objects and collections museologically and culturally, addressing questions surrounding scientific objectivity, authenticity and the role of information management in the construction of knowledge. These questions will be approached through three themes, namely; the coming into being of scientific objects, their functions, and their circulation.

While the socio-cultural contexts of natural scientific collections are increasingly acknowledged and analysed, natural collections remain largely untouched by material culture theory, suggesting that they are immune from scrutiny at this level; that they are somehow different, uncorrupted, and purer than their cultural counterparts. My research aims to deconstruct the idea of natural scientific collections as objective, scientific evidence in order to establish whether they deserve this special treatment and to consider the implications of this for their future use and development.


I am undertaking my PhD part-time under the supervision of Dr Samuel Alberti (Centre for Museology) and Dr Nick Merriman (The Manchester Museum). After graduating from Manchester with a degree in Geology, I undertook the University of Leicester's distance-learning MSc Museum Studies course.

I started my museum career at Lancashire County Museum Service as Assistant Curator of Geology (2000-2003), and then Lifelong Learning and Outreach Officer (2003-2005). In 2003 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, which allowed me to spend 6 weeks in a variety of North American Museums. I have subsequently worked as Curatorial Assistant at the University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (2005), and as a Freelance Geologist at Leeds City Museum (2005-2008) where I developed the geological elements of the new galleries. I currently work part-time at the Manchester Museum where I am involved in both the development and teaching of primary science education sessions.

Conference papers

'Taken for Granite? Exploring the uses, meanings and values of university earth science collections'. New Professionals Conference, Liverpool, October 2008

'Romancing the Stones: Earth science objects and collections as material culture'. Material Worlds Conference, University of Leicester, December 2008


  • Chalk, H., 2008, Thoughts on the exploitation of geoscience collections, The Natural Sciences Collections Association newsletter. (Forthcoming)

Contact details

Email: hannah-lee.chalk@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk