Changing times at the museum

New Cambridge Museum manager Elizabeth Harvey has always had a fascination for museums.

Much of the skillset Elizabeth Harvey has amassed in decades of working in international museums will doubtless inform decisions she makes as Cambridge Museum’s new manager.

Elizabeth’s pick by the Cambridge Historical Society sees her step into the shoes of her predecessor Kathryn Parsons, who departed earlier this year to become a research librarian for Hamilton City Library’s Heritage Collection.

The timing seems opportune. Museums worldwide are seeking ways to become more relevant, while the popularity of televised histories and a sweeping hunger to seek out ancestral stories has fuelled interest in the past. Closer to home, the new history curriculum for New Zealand schools comes with a requirement for a deeper historical understanding at community level.

Elizabeth is well-placed to drive the shift forward. “The Historical Society has taken a bold step in my appointment by recognising that museums in a post-pandemic world need to be reaching out to communities beyond the museum building by using more innovative techniques, especially digital. I am museum-trained but also have digital business experience. I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity.”

Museum visits formed part of Elizabeth’s English childhood; even before studying she worked at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. She went on to complete an honours degree in history from Stirling University in Scotland, then a Masters in Museum Studies at Leicester University, after which she worked at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum in Stirling, the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life and then the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. While at the latter, she collaborated on digital projects in Europe via the European Union Framework.

She also put time in at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in America, and for a couple of years, took a side-step into the world of eCommerce and tourism.

She came to New Zealand in 2014 and started at Cambridge Museum in late 2019, first as a volunteer, then front of house host. Covid provided an opportunity to come up with ideas for more carefully crafted exhibitions and expanded digital opportunities and Elizabeth is keen to expand on both.

Moving forward is less about re-inventing the wheel, she said, and more about linking with others. She is already doing that with Cambridge High School and envisages much wider engagement with local schools and groups.

“Collaboration with larger partners like SLANZA [School Library Association of NZ Aotearoa], Digital NZ, and Te Kahui Ako o Te Oko Horoi community of learning is important to develop services for everyone interested in our heritage. Our purpose is to reach as many people as possible by creating events, exhibitions and digital resources that impact people’s lives. We have a special responsibility to preserve and protect the stories and material culture of this space in Waipā,” she said.

“I want to demonstrate that history is more than just dates and artefacts. It’s about human relationships and storytelling.”

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