Year 12 Inspire – The Museum of Natural History

About The Museum of Natural History:

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History was established in 1850. The museum displays an extensive array of natural history exhibits including dinosaurs, minerals, fossils, and taxidermy animals. In 1860 the museum played host to an influential debate, in which key figures advocated for and against Charles Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’. Now, the museum offers numerous in-person exhibits, allowing school groups, families, and members of the public to enjoy the exhibits. The museum also has a youth forum for 16–19-year-olds, encouraging them to get involved with museum activities and initiatives.

Activity 1 – Settlers: Genetics, geography, and the peopling of Britain

This project explores the relationship between the genetics and geography of Britain. This resource highlights numerous factors which have influenced settlement change over time, including fluctuating climatic conditions, invasion and migration. For this project, the museum has taken DNA samples from 2000 British people, and produced a map which highlights links between ancestry and geographical location.

Activity 2 – ‘2020: The Sphere that Changed the World’

This webpage explores an exhibit created by Angela Palmer entitled ‘2020: The Sphere that Changed the World’. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, Palmer was inspired to combine science with art, creating a glass representation of the coronavirus capsid sphere. She borrowed modelling information from computational Biology expert Professor Dmitry Korkin, and engraved this data onto 28 sheets of glass. The subsequent video explains how the project developed, alongside the creation process and the meaning Palmer wanted to convey.

Activity 3 – Truth To Nature

This extensive resource explores the museum’s history, discussing its founding principles, key figures in its development and influential figures in its design. Highlighting the museum’s origins as Oxford’s first science faculty, the page then explores how scientific views of the period influenced the museum’s architectural design. Attention then turns to the function of the building, exploring the role that the museum played in accommodating ‘The Great Debate’. Finally, the webpage highlights ways in which the museum is looking forward, tackling some of the most pressing issues facing our contemporary society. These include ‘Threats to Diversity’, ‘Changing global environments’, and ‘Working towards equity in science’.


Activity 3 highlights some of the greatest contemporary challenges facing our society, including ‘Threats to Diversity’ and ‘Working towards equity in science’. It also highlights the important role that the museum played in hosting ‘The Great Debate’ in 1860.

If you were designing a debating competition for one of the contemporary challenges mentioned in Activity 3, how would you go about this? Consider the following:

  • Which key speakers would you invite and why? Regardless of your own perspective, choose speakers from both sides of each argument.
  • Who would you assign as chair of the debate (the individual regulating the discussion)?
  • A rival debating company are hoping to address one of the other challenges mentioned in Activity 3. There is only funding to host one event. Why is your selected issue the most pressing?