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    The Unbelievable Truth about Sir Francis Galton

    By Subhadra Das, on 5 November 2015

    I have a motto: If at a loss, take inspiration from a tried and tested Radio 4 format.

    This week it’s The Unbelievable Truth, the panel show built on truth and lies. Each panellist presents a short lecture on a chosen subject and scores points for how many truths they can smuggle past the other players. Panellists win points for spotting truths, and lose points if they mistake a lie for a truth. Seeing as I’m the only one presenting, the lecture is longer than normal and contains 15 truths rather than the usual 5. In the interest of investing in a civilised society, I will be trusting you to keep your own score.

    This week, my subject is Sir Francis Galton, the Victorian scientist and statistician who propounded the term eugenics.

    I've been doing my homework...

    I’ve been doing my homework…


    Francis Galton and the History of Eugenics at UCL

    By Subhadra Das, on 22 October 2015

    The shadow of Sir Francis Galton looms large over UCL.

    Francis Galton is the most famous and influential Victorian scientist you’ve never heard of. He coined the term eugenics and endowed UCL with his personal collection and archive, along with a bequest which funded the country’s first professorial Chair of Eugenics. Mahmoud Arif, a UCL student who attended “Why isn’t my Professor black?” questioned why, by holding this material and naming a lecture theatre after him, UCL appears to celebrate a known racist . Another student, Adam Elliot-Cooper, began his speech at a student protest in the summer by pointing to the Galton Lecture Theatre, which itself was the venue for the first ‘UCL Faces Race’ event last year where Galton and his work featured prominently.

    Sir Francis Galton

    Francis Galton (1822 – 1911) British scientist, statistician and eugenicist.

    As Curator of the Galton Collection, I’ll admit that when I first heard that Galton had been name-checked in these discussions, my first response was “Oh, God, they’re going to want to burn the collection.” (Some Museum Studies degrees can include up to a whole module on ‘Curatorial Paranoia’.)


    Robert Noel and the ‘Science’ of Phrenology

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 9 September 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Dana Kovarik, a UCL student who has been volunteering with UCL Teaching and Research Collections over the summer holiday. 

    1. A contemporary phrenological journal -  'Phrenology Made Easy'. Photo by author.

    1. A contemporary phrenological journal –
    ‘Phrenology Made Easy’.
    Photo by author.

    Having been introduced to UCL’s collection of Robert Noel’s phrenological busts during a literature seminar on Victorian crime (e.g., The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde), I found there was still much work to be done in unravelling the mysteries of the collection.  While the heads have been catalogued and a book by Noel outlining the biographies of each specimen was found at the British Library, details about his life and career were slim.  Upon volunteering, I was tasked by Nick Booth of UCL Museums with conducting a literature review.  This involved finding articles by Noel and writings that reference his work throughout his career (roughly 1834-1880), in addition to mapping the developments of phrenology in Continental Europe during this time.


    The Museum is Where the People Are – vote for us now

    By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 29 April 2015

    PURE EVIL - Roberto Rossellini's Nighmare

    Roberto Rossellini’s Nightmare, Pure Evil


    Old master prints, drawings of flayed bodies, mysterious things in glass jars, extinct animal skeletons, glittery minerals and rocks, amulets and charms from ancient Egypt: UCL Museums and Collections are a treasure trove of the awe inspiring and unusual. But we don’t just think of ourselves as being a collection of objects fixed to one space and place, we believe that the Museum is where the people are and we want to take the spirit of our collections off site for the Museums at Night event on 30 and 31 October. (more…)

    Ask a Curator day 2014

    By Meg J Dobson, on 16 September 2014


    On Wednesday 17th September UCL Museums will be taking part in the Ask A Curator Day event on twitter. This event is growing year on year, and at the time of writing, this week’s event has 520 museums taking part from 36 countries. We know that asking a question in a museum can sometimes feel intimidating, and that we curators can sometimes be hard to track down. There’s so much to do that we aren’t always the most available group of people (though we really do try).  We are taking part in the day as part of our commitment to make our collections as accessible as possible.

    Ask A Curator works like this.  Anyone in the world with a twitter account can tweet a question with the #AskACurator hashtag, and it will be answered by any of the institutions taking part. If you have a specific question for us you can tweet it directly to us @UCLMuseums and one of our staff will do their best to answer you. The Grant Museum of Zoology is taking part using @GrantMuseum, as is the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on @PetrieMuseEgypt.

    In preparation for this I thought I would introduce you to our members of staff taking part…

    Jack Ashby – Jack is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. He is responsible for the strategic direction of the Museum, as well as managing the Museum’s resources. Much of his time is spent on creating opportunities for the public to engage with research going on at UCL. A zoologist by training with a particular interest in Australian mammals, he still spends as much time as he can in the field. He’ll be taking questions via @GrantMuseum throughout the day and from the @UCLMuseums account from 12 – 1 pm. (more…)

    Museum Training for the World

    By Edmund Connolly, on 7 March 2014

    UCL is launching a new project with the British Council to help develop and teach new methods of Museum management. The Museum Training School opened this week and is aimed at mid-career professionals who are aspiring to be emerging leaders in the museum sector.



    Museum life, loves and labels

    By Subhadra Das, on 18 February 2014

    Having spent some time digging around, I’d like to share with you some of my thought processes to build up a picture of the development of the Galton Collection through its object labels.

    Nothing is so helpful to a curator than the work of those others who have worked to document the collection before them. In the Galton Collection, some of this consists of labels attached to objects. As previous blog authors have said, old object labels can help us to work out the provenance of objects in the absence of this information in a complete catalogue.

    For example, objects with this label:

    Galton Bequest label








    The Legend of Petrie’s Head: An Artist’s Response

    By Debbie J Challis, on 16 October 2013

    10 terracotta heads

    ‘Heads of Colour’: Petrie 2013 by Michal BarOr

    Shortly after blogging my response to the ‘legends’ around the head of archaeologist Flinders Petrie, artist Michal BarOr has used these legends, the head itself and Petrie’s ideas about measuring heads , skulls and faces for race ategorising in a work for the display New Sensations.  New Sensations is part of Frieze Art Week and on display in Victoria House on Bloomsbury Square until tomorrow. (more…)

    A “humerus” way to spend the holidays…

    By Alice M Salmon, on 19 April 2013

    Firstly, I need to apologise for the lack of immediacy in writing a blog about the year 8 “spring school” that I ran on behalf of UCL’s Museums and Collections last week. With my teenage years a distant memory, a bit of R and R was required to recover from the energy of 38 constantly excited 13 year olds.

    Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

    Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

    That aside, it was certainly a week to remember! Participants witnessed a barber surgeon in action, analysed animal poo, and created their own alien dissection, all in the name of education.  They discussed the ethics of human display, philosophised over what makes us human, and took great pleasure in analysing the “worth” of a dismembered foot that had been consumed with dry gangrene. (more…)

    Celestial commanding and Solar supplication

    By Edmund Connolly, on 4 April 2013

    With the days lengthening and the bleak Beowulf-like nights withering we can start to revel in getting home from work in glorious sunshine (/grey illumination) and wend our commuter way with the street lights still off. Returning to my theme of spring (and Ancient Egypt), I’m now intrigued by the new affectation in the heavens:  the sun!

    Our sun is about 4.6 billion years old, comprising of 99.86% of the solar system’s mass. Probably the starkest visual image we can experience, the sun has inspired civilizations over millennia, and continues to affect our notion of time, season and even our emotions.