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  • Unpacking UCL’s Magic Lantern Slide Collections

    By Margaux Bricteux, on 9 July 2014

    Grant Museum magic lantern slide LDUCZ 299 showing craters on the lunar surface

    Grant Museum magic lantern slide LDUCZ-299 showing craters on the lunar surface

    The UCL Grant Museum and the Science and Engineering Collections currently have several thousand magic lantern slides that relate to subjects as diverse as telegraphy, astronomy or Australian coral reefs; but which for the most part have been consigned to gathering dust in splintering wooden boxes. I, however, have spent the last few weeks sorting, auditing and cleaning hundreds of these slides, and I am now rather well acquainted with these little glass squares.

    Example of a 19th century magic lantern slide projector from the UCL physics collection. This example was used as a sort of overhead projector but others were designed to project across a lecture theatre or hall

    Example of a 19th century magic lantern slide projector from the UCL physics collection. This example was used as a sort of overhead projector but others were designed to project across a lecture theatre or hall

    Magic lanterns were first developed in the 17th century as one of the earliest image projectors. While the device itself has evolved, the concept has remained the same: A combination of lenses and a light source are used to enlarge the images found on glass slides (each about the size of a Post-it) and project them onto a wall or screen. Magic lantern slides, hence, can be described as a kind of ancestor to the Kodachrome slides used in slide projectors, or even present-day PowerPoint slides. Read the rest of this entry »

    To Display or not to display?

    By Jenni M Fewery, on 8 July 2014

    While undertaking my Museum Studies Masters at UCL this year, common themes that kept cropping up were the issues that arise when displaying certain subjects or indeed objects. During our Museums: A Critical Perspective class we covered ethnographic collections, ‘Dark Tourism’ and national memory and the debate over displaying human remains. With my interests lying with the history of science and medicine I wanted to find a topic I could sink my teeth into whilst also focusing on museums of science and their methods of display.

    Brown Dog Statue, 1906 with the plaque reading: “Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?”

    Brown Dog Statue, 1906 with the plaque reading:
    “Men and Women of England, how long shall these things be?”

    In April a UCL Science Collections curator asked me if I would be interested in taking a look at a 1930s dog respirator as a starting point for a dissertation topic. I was informed that the object may have been used during animal experimentation and there were concerns about how to display it responsibly, considering its historic role in experiments to which so many have a negative responses. I researched the history of vivisection – live animal dissection – and discovered the story of the little brown dog. During the early 1900s protests and riots spread through London as anti-vivisectionists campaigned against experimentation on animals in response to the illegal dissection of a little brown dog. Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog to be erected as a memorial, antagonising medical students or “anti-doggers” and resulting in the statue being removed under the cover of darkness. In 1985 another statue, commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society, was erected in Battersea Park and remains there today. Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 143

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 7 July 2014

    Scary Monkey

    For this week, it’s my turn to step up to the ravenous hoard of knowledge-hungry blog followers (that’s you fantastic lot). But first, before I am ripped apart in a gladiator-esque fashion, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself; Hi all, I am Rowan. I am currently acting as Visitor Services Assistant on a temporary basis, so my time with you shall be unfortunately short yet sweet. So do drop in and you can see me at the front desk fumbling around in childlike wonder at all the amazingly weird thingies the Grant Museum has to offer.

    I’ve decided to choose a specimen who will always hold a special place in my heart, having been paired with this sullen looking creature during one of my zoological assignments this year (I’ve just finished the second year of my UCL Natural Sciences degree). One of us was tasked to identify the other, yet I’m still unsure as to who (between me and this fine critter) actually did any effective identification as I spent most of my time confusedly prodding and pestering this specimen; a scientific method which I can only professionally describe as “faffing around”.

    Sadly, this specimen is a little lonely having been blessed with an underwhelming greyish-brown and mistakenly ugly appearance. Unfortunately, being tucked away in a quiet corner along with the rather garish cephalopods, annelids and tapeworms (I’m sure they make wonderful neighbours) doesn’t quite help their romantic situation either.

    Without further ado, this specimen of the week is…. Read the rest of this entry »

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: June 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 June 2014

    It’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month again. That wonderful time of the month where we take a look at one of the underwhelming fossil fish specimens in the Grant Museum collection. By staring at and reading about unloved, unspectacular fossil fish specimens I hope to increase global fishteracy as well as explore the question, why do we have material like this in museums? What is the point? What is the value? Maybe we also learn something important about ourselves. Something like, ‘I don’t find bad fish fossils particularly fascinating’. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s the journey not the destination that matters right?

    That’s enough my-little-pocket-book-of-zen. It’s time to unveil this month’s specimen. The sound of anticipation is absolute silence (is it still a sound?). Some of the recent entries have been labelled in the national press* as ‘slightly whelming’ and ‘not as bad as I’d imagined’ so I dug deeper into the fossil fish drawers to bring you something particularly unspecial. No thanks needed, I thank YOU.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 142

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 June 2014

    Scary Monkey For someone who spends as much time as possible with wildlife I could be accused of being a bit wimpy about it on occasion. Things that are poisonous, slimy, smelly, flappy or pointy don’t worry me much, but when I might encounter things that are really big or really bitey I have been known to back off a bit. Many would argue that this is mostly sensible, but I have been with friends who lean out of the jeep to the tiger or follow the grizzly bear footprints, when I would lean into the jeep or walk away from where the bear tracks lead. Things don’t have to be big AND bitey to incite the conflictual desire to be around wildlife and the fear of it killing me; just being big will do.
    This week’s specimen is big AND bitey. It’s the animal I have to think about the most regularly as I spend a couple of months a year on fieldwork in tropical Australia; it makes collecting water or crossing rivers a bit of an adventure.
    This week’s specimen of the week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Museums on Prescription project will explore the role of museums in social prescribing

    By Helen J Chatterjee, on 23 June 2014

    In July 2014 at UCL we will begin a new 3 year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to explore the value and role of museums in social prescribing.

    Social prescribing links patients in primary care with local sources of support within the community which can improve their health and wellbeing. ‘Museums on Prescription’, or MoP as we affectionately call the project, is the first of its kind internationally, and will research the development and efficacy of a novel referral scheme. The project will connect socially isolated, vulnerable and lonely older people, referred through the NHS, Local Authority Adult Social Care services and charities, to partner museums in Central London and Kent.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 141

    By Jack Ashby, on 23 June 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week Three Zoology is tribal. To the outside world natural historians present a united front: the geologist is my brother and the botanist my friend. But hidden within are genial rivalries. You might find that those noble folk studying the less sexy animal groups carry a certain disdain for the Hollywood animal fanciers. In palaeontology, fossil coral experts cry themselves to sleep at night when yet another dinosaur story makes the newspapers. In zoology, there is nothing more mainstream than primatology. As a mammal nerd I would certainly be considered on the mass-appeal end of the spectrum, but here I present an unfamous species lost in the shadow cast by a much-celebrated primate in a similar ecological niche. This weeks specimen of the week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Specimen of the Week: Week 140

    By Mark Carnall, on 16 June 2014

    Specimen of the Week: Week ThreeIt’s the 140th specimen of the week! That’s nearly three years of weekly Grant Museum specimen goodness! In order to celebrate this sort of milestone, and following on from Stacy’s worm theme, this week’s specimen is (probably) the oldest specimen in the Grant Museum. With a little further ado, representing deep time and a group of animals that despite their name aren’t particularly sexy, bordering on underwhelming (that’s the other blog series- Ed.). This week’s specimen of the week is…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    One Day in the City Festival

    By Helen R Cobby, on 12 June 2014

    One Day in the City Festival at UCL

    Balloons in the south cloisters UCLOne Day in the City Festival taking place on Friday 13th June brings together a celebration of literature, art, music and culture in London. The framework is broad. Nick Shepley, the founder and organiser of the festival, and Teaching Fellow in English Literature at UCL, acknowledges this and says he has not tried to narrow it down to specific themes: “It is about opening out and trying to bring people to something that is a simple celebration of the city, its literature and art, and its cultural richness.” These are areas people work on everyday across various departments at UCL with their own audiences. Nick wants to harness this, and “break down the potential separation of audiences with the One Day festival, encouraging a wider demographic to come along.”

    The festival’s centre will be in the UCL South Cloisters, decorated with a fun and artistic skyline created through lighting and architectural constructions. There will also be a multitude of balloons lining the Cloisters and leading the way to various events. These events will include a debate about taboo language with Inda Knight (journalist and author), Will Self (novelist) and Tim Clare (poet), a Caribbean carnival and seminars on topics related to creativity in London. In the UCL Art Museum there will be a talk by one of the Slade students, Helena Hunter, a poetry workshop and live performances as well as Slade students distributing prints of their work. For a full list, see the One Day website here.

    'Fonte' by Maxima Smith

    ‘Fonte’ by Maxima Smith

    The UCL Art Museum is located in the South Cloisters, so it will be at the hub of the festival’s activities. The remit of ‘One Day’ also links the artwork in the current exhibition at UCL Art Museum to the festival. This exhibition, called ‘Second Person Looking Out’, is the result of this year’s annual UCL Art Museum and Slade collaboration. It features an eclectic range of artwork from time-based media pieces to bronze sculpture and slate engravings. Have a look at my previous blog posts, reviewing the exhibition and talking to Ling the co-Curator, to find out more. Read the rest of this entry »

    Petrie Pottery Project Guest Blog: Reinventing the (Potter’s) Wheel

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 10 June 2014

    Guest blog by Sarah Doherty

    In the seventh in our series of thoughts about the Petrie pottery collction, Dr. Sarah K. Doherty, Ceramicist & Archaeologist for the Gurob Harem Palace Project, Fayoum and Gebel el Silsila Epigraphic Project, near Kom Ombo, Egypt, discusses some dinky little pots dating to the time of the earliest true Egyptian pyramids.

    After you step through the doorway from the UCL’s Science Library into the Petrie Museum you would be forgiven for missing the little pots that I am going to tell you about in this blog. However, bear with me, pots UC17625, 17630, 17632, and 17631 in pottery case P16 may not look like much, but they hold the secret for a new technological revolution that was going on during Egypt’s Old Kingdom (c.2600 B.C.). Each of these miniature vessels is made of Nile Silt, they date to the 4th dynasty (2600-2450 B.C.) and come from the Old Kingdom pyramid site of Meydum (c. 100km south of Cairo). In fact, some of these vessels were part of the foundation deposit of the pyramid temple of Sneferu at Meydum; others are from similar deposits in the mastabas of his courtiers.

    Left to right: UC17630, UC17625, UC17631. Photos: S. Doherty © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

    Left to right: UC17630, UC17625, UC17631. Photos: S. Doherty © Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

    Read the rest of this entry »