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  • Archive for April, 2014

    When Two Tribes Go To War. Art & Science ‘curatorship’

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 April 2014

    The University of Cambridge museums and collections are currently running a project Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff. Part of that project is looking at the art & science of curation asking curators what they think is meant by curation. My colleague Nick Booth has previously written about the problems with the word curator now becoming almost meaningless through overuse. I was inspired to write about the differences between “Art and Science” curation for the Art & Science of Curation website.

    When two tribes go to war, they communicate with each other, even if it is only through war cries and violence. However, when it comes to the two tribes of art and science curators, they occupy completely different niches. Even though both sets of professionals have a lot in common- they work in museums (many of which are public), they will have had training in general and fundamental principles of museums and they all work in the museum sector. (more…)

    Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

    In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

    Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

    It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: April 2014

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 April 2014

    Underwhelming fossil fish: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the monthly underwhelming fossil fish blog. Its mission: to explore strange forgotten fossils, to seek out the uninteresting and the frankly plain, to boldly go where no palaeontologist has gone for hundreds of years.

    DO DO DOO DOO DO DO DOOOOOOO. DO DO DO DO DO DO DOOOOOOOO. Etc.

    This month’s underwhelming fossil fish has nothing to do with Star Trek at all. I just always wanted to open a blog like that. This month’s fossil fish, umm fished out of the fossil fish drawers at the Grant Museum, is distinctly uninteresting if I say so myself. It’s only my commitment to the mission of shining the spotlight on underwhelming fossil fish specimens that got me through writing this one. I cried a single glistening tear for the fossil that time and everybody, probably quite rightly, forgot. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 133

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 28 April 2014

    This is it. I’m not going to start wearing one white glove and singing high pitched songs. I mean, this is my last Specimen of the Week blog. Wait, wait, before you start writing petitions and protesting outside the Grant Museum, the Specimen of the Week is continuing, it is just me who is not. Not in a life or death way, I am moving up the ladder and to a new museum, thus tearfully leaving my beloved Grant Museum in the hands of my lovely colleagues. This blog series will also be left in their hands so, fear not, you will still have a fantastic start to every Monday morning. I have chosen the very best specimen in the collection for my last SotW blog (so it’s downhill from here for everyone else. HAH). I really hope you enjoy it. This week’s last-authored-by-Emma Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Curating, collections and two postcard albums

    By Mark Carnall, on 25 April 2014

    Guest post by Stefanie van Gemert (Dutch and Comparative Literature) one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    In this time of new media, we are all curators. We pin our interests on digital gallery walls and make collages out of faces on ‘the Book’. Tweeting and status-updating, we display our collections of Instagrams. I find this idea of self-styling through collecting fascinating. And this is only one of the many reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed working as co-curator on the current Octagon Exhibition Collecting – Knowledge in Motion (#uclkimotion) with Prof Margot Finn and Dr Kate Smith (History), Dr Claire Dwyer (Geography) and Dr Ulrich Tiedau (Dutch department).

    What Moves Collections

    Our curatorial team applied for a bid called ‘Movement’ in Spring 2013. We were invited to explore the many collections at UCL and to display our findings in the new Octagon space. The Octagon Exhibitions are meant to show interdisciplinary research at UCL. As Claire explained in her previous blog: our bid spoke of our mutual interests in material cultures, in colonial heritage and global migration.  But when we saw UCL’s vast collections, our ideas took a different direction. What is on display in the UCL Museums is only the shiny tip of a glorious iceberg of objects, stored in the basements of our campus. We felt spoilt for choice, quickly becoming enchanted by stories of movement related to the objects and collections at UCL.

    (more…)

    On the Origin of Our Specimens: The Chatterjee Years

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 24 April 2014

    The Thirteen’

    The collection of specimens, known since 1997 as the Grant Museum of Zoology, was started in 1827 by Robert E. Grant. Grant was the first professor of zoology at UCL when it opened, then called the University of London, and he stayed in post until his death in 1874. The collections have seen a total of 13 academics in the lineage of collections care throughout the 187 year history of the Grant Museum, from Robert E. Grant himself, through to our current Curator Mark Carnall.

    Both Grant and many of his successors have expanded the collections according to their own interests, which makes for a fascinating historical account of the development of the Museums’ collections. This mini-series will look at each of The Thirteen in turn, starting with Grant himself, and giving examples where possible, of specimens that can be traced back to their time at UCL. Previous editions can be found here.

    Number Twelve: Dr Helen Chatterjee (1995-2006) (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 132

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 21 April 2014

    Scary MonkeyFor those of you who didn’t have a chance to read last week’s Specimen of the Week, or for those of you who did but still can’t quite believe it- this is my penultimate blog in this series. DON’T PANIC- Specimen of the Week shall be continuing, but as of the 5th May it will be written by the other lovely members of Team Grant. As you can all appreciate, Specimen of the Week is probably the most important part of my, or any of our, jobs here at the Grant Museum, and so I do not move on from it lightly. I am in fact moving up the ladder and on to another museum. So enjoy and savour the penultimate Emma-authored Specimen of the Week.

    Uh hum (wipes tear) this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    Egypt on the Stage: A Tale of two Queens

    By Edmund Connolly, on 20 April 2014

    Egypt has had many theatrical incarnations, one of the most famous, and my favourite, being Shakespeare’s epic The Tragedy of Anthony and Cleopatra, which forged a time defying reflection of Cleopatra Philopator, and Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.

    Most probably written around 1606 this play can be studied in conjunction with the preceding Macbeth as a play about monarchy, rulership and conquest. The two protagonists (Cleo. and Mac.) could be compared as a good and bad example of monarch; I like to think Cleopatra is definitely the paragon.

    Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in 1963 film. copyright 20th Century Fox, sourced www.imdb.com

    Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in 1963 film. copyright 20th Century Fox, sourced www.imdb.com

    (more…)

    On the Origin of Our Specimens: The Down Years

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 17 April 2014

    ‘The Thirteen’

    The collection of specimens, known since 1997 as the Grant Museum of Zoology, was started in 1827 by Robert E. Grant. Grant was the first professor of zoology at UCL when it opened, then called the University of London, and he stayed in post until his death in 1874. The collections have seen a total of 13 academics in the lineage of collections care throughout the 187 year history of the Grant Museum, from Robert E. Grant himself, through to our current Curator Mark Carnall.

    Both Grant and many of his successors have expanded the collections according to their own interests, which makes for a fascinating historical account of the development of the Museums’ collections. This mini-series will look at each of The Thirteen in turn, starting with Grant himself, and giving examples where possible, of specimens that can be traced back to their time at UCL. Previous editions can be found here.

    Rosina Down, tenth curator of the Grant Museum collectionsNumber Eleven: Rosina Down (1971-1994) (more…)

    Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 April 2014

    I ask this question to our Museum Studies Masters students every year, and last month put it to our new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students. Despite the difference in the age, background and interests of these two groups, the reaction is the same – anger and horror. I am playing devil’s advocate in these debates, but my own opinion is yes, there are circumstances when everyone benefits from museums lying.

    The lectures I discuss this in focus on object interpretation, and I use a tiger skull as a prop for discussing how to decide what information to include in labels. The choice of a tiger isn’t important – I just need something to use as an example I can attached real facts about natural history and conservation to, but I spend the two hours talking about tigers.

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    At the end of the lecture I reveal that the skull is in fact from a lion. Everything else I told them about tigers is true. Did it matter that I lied? (more…)