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As the Assistant Director of the University Museum of Zoology, alongside the Director I have a strategic and operational overview of our varied activities - developing the Museum as both a valuable academic resource and an excellent public venue, while caring for our collections responsibly. A key area of interest is to develop ways to integrate the historic natural history collection and museum space into current academic teaching, research and public engagement programmes across the sciences, arts and humanities.


My childhood enthusiasm for natural history led me to study for a Natural Sciences (Zoology) degree at the University of Cambridge, with a large amount of my teaching taking place here in the Museum. After graduating in 2003 I started my career in Science Communication at the hands-on science centre At-Bristol, running workshops in the Learning Department.

I joined the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London in 2004 as the Learning and Access Manager, using the Museum’s specimens to establish a Learning and Access Programme. My role there began with the task of developing the museum spaces and services to be accessible to non-academic audiences for the first time, including schools, families and adults, as well as strengthening our ties with UCL Departments. I became Museum Manager there in 2011, and oversaw the development of the Museum into one of London's leading venues for engagement with the life sciences, curating several successful exhibitions at the interface of natural history, art and art history.

I am a trustee of the Natural Sciences Collections Association, an Honorary Research Fellow in UCL Science and Technology Studies, and sit on the Council of the Society for the History of Natural History.



My key zoological interest is in the natural history of Australia and its mammals.  I regularly undertake ecological fieldwork with Australian wildlife NGOs and universities.

Much of my writing, exhibition, curation and public engagement activities focus on the role museums play in providing a window on the natural world. I see museum collections as a fantastic resource for the history of natural history, and as a means to explore concepts of authenticity in museum specimens, which are both person-made and “real” at the same time. I am particularly interested in the decolonisation of natural history museums.

From 2022-2023, I will be undertaking a Headley Fellowship, supported by the Art Fund, exploring the colonial histories of the Australian mammal collections here at the Museum. The University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, has an exceptional Australian collection, which has underpinned research into evolution and natural history, but the human social stories it can tell have yet to be explored. This project will uncover untold narratives of how colonial collectors worked, and who they worked with. It will shed light on the links between natural history and troubling colonial history. It will seek out those people who contributed so much expertise to the history of science and museums, but who were typically omitted from popular accounts of these histories, such as women and Indigenous collectors.


As well as enabling us to explore the key principles of evolution and natural history, museums also depict nature in certain ways that are not entirely scientific. A major focus are the (normally subconscious) biases in natural history museum displays. These two aspects of museums were the key focus of my 2017 book,  Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects. My 2022 book, Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals celebrates these wondeful animals, and details colonial influences in the ways Australian wildlife is represented to the wider world.



Key publications: 

Ashby, J. (in press, 2023). How collections and reputation were built out of Tasmanian violence: thylacines and Aboriginal remains from Morton Allport. Archives of Natural History 50(2).


Ashby, J. (2022). Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN: 9780226789255


Ashby, J (2022). Wilder review: A compelling look at how lost species are restored.New Scientist, 3rd August 2022. [Media article]


Ashby, J. (2022). Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals. HarperCollins, London. ISBN: 9780008431433


Ashby, J (2022). Not Alien, Just Australian: Dismissing Australian mammals as weird hurts efforts to conserve them. New Scientist, 11th May 2022. [Media article]


Ashby, J. (2022). Calling Australia’s wildlife ‘weird’ puts it at risk. Psyche. Published online 26th April 2022. [Media article]


Ashby, J. (2021). The political platypus and colonial koala – decolonising the way we talk about Australian animalsJournal of Natural Science Collections, 9, 35-45.

Ashby, J., & Machin, R. (2021). Legacies of colonial violence in natural history collections. Journal of Natural Science Collections, 8, 44-55.

Ashby, J. (2020). Telling the Truth About Who Really Collected the “Hero Collections”. Natural Science Collections Association Blog.

Ashby, J., 2018. Museums as experimental test-beds: Lessons from a university museum. Journal of Natural Science Collections, 5, pp. 4-12. Available here.

Ashby, J., 2017. Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects. Gloucester: The History Press. ISBN: 9780750981521

Bailey-Ross, C., Gray, S., Ashby, J., Terras, M., Hudson-Smith, A., & Warwick, C., 2016. Engaging the museum space: Mobilizing visitor engagement with digital content creation. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, fqw041. Available here.

Carnall, M., Ashby, J., & Ross, C., 2013. Natural history museums as provocateurs for dialogue and debate. Museum Management and Curatorship, 28 (1), 55-71. Available here.

Hohnen, R., Ashby, J., Tuft, K., & McGregor, H., 2012. Individual identification of northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) using remote cameras. Australian MammalogyAvailable here.

Ashby, J., 2012. How Museums can Support Higher Education: Engaging Universities with Museums NatSCA News, 23, pp 21-24. Available here.

Ashby, J., 2011. Order from Chaos: The new Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London. NatSCA News, 21, pp. 89-93. Available here.

Macdonald, S., & Ashby, J., 2011. Museums: Campus treasures. Nature, 471 (7337), 164-165. Available here

Ashby, J. & Wood, C., 2010. Lessons in Learning: Primary schools, universities and museums. UCL, London. Available here

Other publications: 
  • Ashby, J., Fanshawe, J., Kingdon, J., 2019. Evolution as Inspiration: Jonathan Kingdon (exhibition catalogue). Cambridge Conservation Initiative & University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge


Jack Ashby

Contact Details

Museum of Zoology, David Attenborough Building, Downing St