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  • Archive for January, 2014

    Whose story is it anyway?

    By Alice M Salmon, on 31 January 2014

     This Wednesday, 29 January, UCL Museums and Collections, and UCL Library Special Collections, teamed up with the literary charity First Story to deliver our annual creative writing event. Around 90 students from local London secondary schools spent the afternoon exploring and writing about our collections.

    Students from Lambeth Academy absorbed in their work in The Rock Room, UCL

    Students from Lambeth Academy absorbed in their work in The Rock Room, UCL

    Events like these remind me of how lucky I am to work as an educator in museums. As museum professionals, we spend a long time thinking about how to tell stories (stories of our museums, stories of our collections, stories of our objects, stories of the people that owned said objects,  etc, etc…I could go on) but it is so refreshing to hand the role of the storyteller over to students, who can provide us with a totally fresh take on the collections we know so well.  The results were, quite simply, fantastic. Below is just one example of the quality of work produced from the visit:

    Jack Isaaz –La Grotteri, from King Solomon Academy, was inspired to think about his heaven and hell through  working with the UCL Library Special Collections and, in particular, by Botticelli’s  illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

     For it is All that I Need

     Sensations seldom felt grip the air.

     More stains of darker, saturated hues. But still

     All feels grey. Unlike once before, the silence

     Is now silent: sounds of death, dead

     Vibrations permeate the dust that you hear

     And breathe. I can’t bear the nothing that

     I never had. You don’t see for there is nothing

     To observe.

     

    She smiles again once more, though not one thing

     Could ever make one forget such a sight.

     The sun shines on the clouds and as it should,

     It does not shine on us. We are left with

     The fray of the familiar. The cold that embraces us is

     No foe, cooling our skin with its inviting breath.

     I imagine the park adjacent to the grass where I

     Lay down gazing at nothing because it is nothing that

     I’ve become accustomed to. The fun nothings I need.

     

     Raindrops now, stain the tar that bleaches the roads I’ve

     Walked upon my entire life. The buildings are calmed

     As their shadows find homes with the darkening

     Surface. There is no need for thought or speech for

     All is as it should be. I imagine

     Her smile.

     Jack Isaaz –La Grotteri, King Solomon Academy

    To find out more about the work that First Story do you can visit their website: http://www.firststory.org.uk/

    Alice Salmon is a Senior Access Officer in the Access and Learning Team for UCL’s Museums and Public Engagement Department.

    Underwhelming fossil fish of the month: January 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 January 2014

    It’s the first underwhelming fossil fish of the month for 2014 and in order to usher in the new year I’ve picked a particularly unspecial fossil fish for your eyes only. If you want to be underwhelmed even more then all the UFFoTM posts can be found under this handy tag. First up though, what does this look like to you?

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-BFvhevMmi1Q/TPr116uuHQI/AAAAAAAAAOI/wg6S_ZMH444/s1600/rorschach-test-dog.jpg

    A pretty butterfly?

    Wow. Well from your response I can tell you have some serious psychological issues that need dealing with. The above image isn’t actually a fossilised Rorschach inkblot (named after the comic book character with the same name in the Watchmen). The keen eyed amongst you will have spotted that it’s actually this month’s fossil fish of the ahem month albeit digitally tweaked. You know you’re in for a treat when the most interesting aspect of it is that it resembles an amorphous splodge and tenuously at that. Read on in the vain hope that it gets better than this. (more…)

    Jeremy Bentham and his new walking stick.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 29 January 2014

    From the start of January until the middle of June Jeremy Bentham’s stick is on display in a different part of UCL, in the Octagon Gallery, as part of the ‘Collecting – Knowledge in Motion’ exhibition.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    While sorting out the paperwork for this in December it struck me just how unfair it was to take an old man’s walking stick away from him for 6 months! After all Bentham had named his stick ‘Dapple’ and so obviously had quite an attachment to it. The least I could do, I thought, would be to find him a suitable replacement.

    (more…)

    If I were a woodlouse

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 28 January 2014

     

    If I were a woodlouse, I would stick to wood,

    And I would only go, where I know a woodlouse should,

    I wouldn’t stick my head, into a bird’s leg-bone,

    I wouldn’t use just anything, in which to make a home,

    ‘Cause the problem you might find, once you’ve wriggled in,

    Is that over time you grew larger, and the bone becomes too thin,

    So even if you turn around, and head back whence you came,

    You may find that,

    You’ve grown too fat,

    And have to die of shame.

     

    Emma-Louise Nicholls is the Curatorial Assistant at the Grant Museum of Zoology

     

    Specimen of the Week: Week 120

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 27 January 2014

    At the Grant Museum we like any excuse to talk about animals and the Chinese New Year always provides an easy subject matter. The list of animals used in the Chinese calendar is on a 12 year rotation cycle. There are tigers, dragons and snakes… I however was born in the year of the, err, rooster. Yay. This year is an animal that has helped to win wars, boost the Olympics event programme and transport both goods and people. However, I think it’s close cousin, in the same genus, but classified as a different species, is a more interesting subject. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Festival of Pots

    By Edmund Connolly, on 24 January 2014

    by guest blogger: Helen Pike

     The Festival of Pots has kicked off with some Ace pots being made by a year 6 school group from Chris Hatton based in Camden –

    These and many other examples of work by a range of community based groups attached to Holborn Community Association have been produced in the last few weeks as part of a 6 month Festival of Pots here at The Petrie.

    One of our school-made pots

    One of our school-made pots

    Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and preservation of artefacts is a character in history who himself needs excavating.

    (more…)

    Is Archaeopteryx a bird or not?

    By Mark Carnall, on 23 January 2014

    Just before Christmas I was inspired by a post by Jon Tennant on his blog, To bird or not to bird… about whether anyone knows whether Archaeopteryx lithographica is a bird or not a bird. Amongst palaeobiologists and biologists Archaeopteryx is the poster organism for evolution and if you’ve ever been to a natural history museum you’ve undoubtedly walked past a cast or two, it is after all one of our Bingo! animals. It was the first fossil that really enshrined the ideas about evolutionary change. Ever since it’s discovery in 1861 (although Archaeopteryx fossils were discovered before then but not recognised as such) it’s almost a rite of passage for palaeontologists to have a ponder or even publish trying to work out the affinities of the animal. Is it a bird? It’s probably not a plane. Is it a reptile? Is it a dinosaur? (and yes smarty pants I know you can be all three).

    The scientific techniques used to work out the affinities of animals only known from fossil remains have developed greatly over the last 150 years yet the answer to this question still seems far from being resolved. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 119

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 20 January 2014

    This specimen needs no introduction but as I need a short paragraph to entice you in, I shall tease you with some enigmatic facts. This species has an intense and masochistic defense mechanism that belongs in a Hammer Horror film from the 1950′s. Its biology seems as otherworldly as the green blood of a Vulcan. Its name may surprise you, but do not be misled, this creature is a Pandora’s box of delicious and disturbing facts. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Black rhino hunting permit- Why are conservationists supporting it?

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 January 2014

    Last Saturday, 11th January 2014, a permit to hunt a black rhino for sport was sold at a US auction for $350,000. Much of the general public was horrified, and the auction house and associated hunting club subsequently received letters and emails of protest ranging from polite through abusive, to actual death threats.

     

    I for one simply can not understand the mindset of someone who would want to kill such a magnificent animal, and for sport, and that makes it hard for me to see the idea as anything but barbaric. However, is there more to it? Is it really a topic with many more branches to be considered in order for an informed and level-headed decision to be made? The permit was to hunt a black rhino (Diceros bicornis), a species listed as endangered and with only around 5000 individuals left in the wild. It would seem on the surface, a terrible thing to do, and yet many conservationists and specialists believe it to not only be acceptable, but that it will in fact help rhino populations. (more…)

    Cairo, Camden and the Cape

    By Edmund Connolly, on 17 January 2014

    by guest blogger: Alice Stevenson
    The logistics of dispersal: one of the documents managing the distribution of object from the 1913 excavations at Tarkhan to the World's Museums. Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL.

    The logistics of dispersal: one of the documents managing the distribution of object from the 1913 excavations at Tarkhan to the World’s Museums. Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL.

    I’ve recently returned from a holiday in South Africa where I had to the chance to not only thoroughly ‘research’ the winelands, but also to explore some collections of ancient Egyptian artefacts excavated by Petrie and his teams that now reside in the Western Cape. Following each field season, after a share of the finds had been retained by Egypt, the harvest of discoveries was crated up and dispersed to those museums across the world that had sponsored the expeditions. Archives in the Petrie Museum record this exodus and list destinations as far flung as Japan, New Zealand and Canada.  One terminus includes what is now the South African Cultural History Museum, which forms part of IZIKO, Museums of Cape Town

     

      (more…)