As I remarked in a previous post, the dodo has become an icon of the Museum, thanks to the unique specimen it holds of that unfortunate creature. Long before I had anything to do with the Museum, the idea was born that visitors might like an attractive booklet giving the history of the Oxford specimen and its relatives.
Jane Pickering, a former assistant curator of zoology who is now at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, prepared a draft text. The Museum’s former director, Keith Thomson, made some additions, especially including the exciting work of Oxford scientists on dodo DNA. But when I arrived as Writer in Residence at the beginning of this year the text was still waiting for someone to push it across the finish line and prepare it for press.
The Museum had several lovely images in its collections, and I collected a couple more: the wonderful shots of the specimen itself (now too fragile for public display) taken by the FInnish photographer Harrio Kallio, and the Mughal painting of a live dodo that belongs to the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts in St Petersburg. (My somewhat frivolous decision to take Russian O level as a sixth-former gave me the confidence to make the phone call that kicked off the permissions process, if only to ask the question ‘Do you speak English?’ in Russian.)
With a lovely full-colour design by Claire Venables at Giraffe Corner, the booklet is ready just in time for Christmas. It’s on sale in the Museum shop, but anyone in the world can buy it via the University’s online shop.