Elee Kirk: Snapshots of a Life in Museums

The journal Museum & Society has just published a special issue in memory of Elee. The editors — Elee’s good friends Gudrun Whitehead, Julia Petrov and Helen Saunderson — asked me to write a contribution. I thought for a while about something more academic, but in the end settled for a personal introductory piece. I thought I would share my piece here on Elee’s blog.

There is a tuna skeleton in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It is beautifully displayed in a wood and glass case. Its jaws gape, and whenever I see it, I am reminded of quite how big tuna are.

But there is something else about the skeleton that is strange and wonderful. Because if you stand in front of it, and if you crouch down (you need to crouch!), when you look into the fish’s mouth, you can see all the way to its tail.

There is something topsy-turvy, something both fascinating and funny, about looking into the mouth of a fish and seeing its tail.

It was Elee Kirk-my long-time partner, collaborator and friend-who first introduced me to the topsy-turvy tuna. Elee did her doctoral research in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. She knew the museum intimately. She worked there with young children aged four and five, giving them cameras, asking them to photograph exhibits. When the children had finished scooting round the museum taking snapshots, Elee interviewed them about the images they had taken. Like many of the best pieces of research, it was deceptively simple. And it was amazingly fruitful.

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