The word "Up close: stories, objects and ideas from beyond the galleries" sit atop a microscope photo of two red cells.


UP CLOSE: Stories, objects, and ideas from beyond the galleries


Get up close with history!

Browse through our library of past virtual talks to hear from museum experts about research and collections projects, meet special guests, ask questions, and get up close with the fascinating stories from our collection.

Scroll down to watch the recordings, and keep an eye on our website for future Up Close talks! 

Past Talks

Attracting owls: Nest box vacancies and owl puke

Originally streamed: April 8, 2022

Boreal owls (Aegolius funereus) live throughout the boreal forest in North America and northern Eurasia. Though well studied in Europe, we know little about boreal owl prey and reproductive success in Alberta. To find out more, we installed 31 nest boxes to attract pairs of boreal owls to nest so we can monitor their nesting attempts and collect their pellets. By dissecting and separating the bones and teeth in the pellets, we can identify the species of small mammals that the owls are catching and eating. This helps us examine the relationships between prey, the landscapes around their nests, and owl reproductive success.

Speaker bio:

Corey Scobie (Ph.D.) has been Assistant Curator of Ornithology at the Royal Alberta Museum since 2014, where he prepares birds, helps manage the Ornithology collection, and assists with various research projects. Previously, Corey worked with Species at Risk in the grasslands of Alberta and Saskatchewan, where he focused on the effects of human development on burrowing owl movement patterns and reproductive success.


Collecting a pandemic: Why, how, and what

Originally streamed: April 22, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the province. The Royal Alberta Museum began collecting objects right away to make sure the museum would be able to interpret that experience to audiences of the future. In this talk we’ll explore what is called “rapid response collecting,” and why it is so important to do it.

Speaker bio:

Pat Myers is the Curator, Work Life and Industry, at the Royal Alberta Museum. She has spent her career in heritage in Alberta, and has worked on teams developing historic sites, and preserving heritage buildings. She is the author of several publications on Alberta history, and contributed to the centennial history of Alberta, Alberta Formed/Alberta Transformed.


Berries and birds: Exotic plants altering the colour of birds

Originally streamed: May 6, 2022

Many birds consume berries as a part of their diet, but what happens when they’re exposed to berries with new pigments from exotic plants? In the case of the Cedar Waxwing and other fruit-eaters, eating berries of the introduced Morrow’s (Lonicera morrowii) and Tatarian (L. tatarica) honeysuckles at the time of feather moult causes their bright yellow feathers to take a red colour. In this talk, Dr. Jocelyn Hudon will dive into his research into why this happens, how common it is, and what the consequences might be for the birds.

Speaker bio:

Jocelyn Hudon has worked as the Curator of Ornithology at the Royal Alberta Museum since 1992. Jocelyn acquired early a fascination for birds, particularly their gaudy colors. After obtaining a B.Sc. in Biology from Université Laval in Québec City, he went on to the University of Connecticut to study the evolution of carotenoid usage in birds, which earned him a Ph.D. He then spent 3 years at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as a postdoctoral fellow, investigating the pigmentation of the iris of birds, before joining the Royal Alberta Museum. Jocelyn is interested generally in the nature and evolution of colour ornamentation in birds and is using a variety of techniques to help understand the origins of new forms.


Elk ivory pendants in Alberta

Originally streamed: May 20, 2022

Indigenous girls and women have worn beautiful and precious polished elk tooth pendants for at least 2,500 years. A special dress decorated with them communicated the wearer’s place in their community and role in ceremonies. Given as a gift, it symbolized long life and enduring love. By examining twelve pendants recovered from archaeological sites and studying historic records, we’ve learned more about how these pendants were made, for how long, and the significance of these unique and special artifacts.

Speaker bio:

Karen Giering is Assistant Collections Curator of Archaeology at RAM where she manages the archaeological artifact collection. She has worked on archaeological projects in Alberta, the US, Greece and Cyprus. Karen’s research and publication interests include stone tools, bone tools, ceramics, rock art, and ancient plant foods.


Ancient buffalo hunting on the Great Plains

Originally streamed: June 3, 2022

The landscapes have a story to tell. Hear the stories from an indigenous lens. Learn how the Blackfoot language and stories connects to the Great Plains natural world. In order to survive in these times, the ancient Plains people were dependant on understanding the environment and the behaviour of the Buffalo. One of the techniques derived from this knowledge was the Buffalo Jumps. An ancient hunting method herding up the animals, tricking and luring them to the edge of a cliff. For thousands of years, the ancient plains people survived by driving buffalo over steep cliffs including Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, one of the oldest, largest, most used and best preserved Buffalo Jumps on the North Western Plains. Learn how the animals were processed and how the Buffalo contributed to the way of life of the plains people.

Join Stan Knowlton, Head of Interpretation at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump as he takes you into the ancient past, sharing knowledge and stories from his ancestors, the Blackfoot plains people.

Speaker bio:

Stan Knowlton is a member of the Piikani Nation, one of the four Nations that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy. Stan has a Bachelor of Science in Geography from the University of Lethbridge, with a focus on archaeology and a concentration on geographic information system (GIS). Stan has worked at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump for over 16 years, and he is currently the Head of Interpretation.


Piecing together the puzzle of past landscapes

Originally streamed: June 17, 2022

Have you ever wondered how we know how the landscape, forest, and climate have changed over millennia? The answer is “proxy” data, which can be used as direct indicators of the past. For example, we can use preserved pollen in lake sediment to tell us what types of plants were present hundreds of thousands of years ago. There are many types of proxies, ranging from chemical, physical, or biological. Each proxy is like a small puzzle piece; when connected to other types of proxies they help complete the puzzle so we can better see and understand what the past was like. The Quaternary Environments lab at the museum looks at preserved plant material as proxies of past landscapes. We also look at modern pollen to learn more about Alberta’s grasslands and native plants. Come and learn about the diversity of pollen and plant macrofossils, and how they and other proxies gathered from ice patches, lake sediment, pollinators, and mountain caves, can help us learn about Alberta’s past.

Speaker bio:

Diana Tirlea has worked as the Assistant Curator of Quaternary Environments at the Royal Alberta Museum since December 2012. She maintains the diverse collections including the Seed, Pollen and Tephra Reference Collections. Her research primarily focuses on the reconstruction of past landscapes in the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the past 12,000 years. She also works with modern samples, including counting 1000’s of pollen grains recovered from rangeland pollinators, such as bees and flies, to better understand pollination interactions in the prairies. Aside from working in the mountains, Diana has backpacked in the mountains for over 20 years and enjoys mountain photography and painting mountain wildflowers.