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  • Archive for the 'Jeremy Bentham' Category

    Conservation of Public Art in the UCL Wilkins Building

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 11 March 2016

    Have you ever noticed – as you hurry off to class, the library or an event – that UCL’s campus is filled with works of art?

    The Wilkins Building, at the heart of the UCL Bloomsbury campus’ main quad, is particularly rich in sculpture. Outside the building, of course, are the iconic lead athletes on the steps below the dome.

    Lead statues of the Capitoline Antinous and the Discophorus, Wilkings Building

    Lead statues: Capitoline Antinous and Discophorus, Wilkins Building

    These figures have a fascinating history and I will write more about them another time.

    Inside the Wilkins Building, there is an abundance of works on permanent display too. Adjacent to the Jeremy Bentham auto-icon are two large, ancient Egyptian limestone lions in excavated by Sir Wm.M.F. Petrie. There are a number of 19th and early 20th century sculptures on either side of the Octagon Gallery; wall paintings in the Whistler Room (soon to be opened to the public); and upstairs, within the library, a myriad of sculpture in and around the 1st floor Flaxman Gallery. (more…)

    Bentham the feminist?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 3 March 2016

    Recently I was helping an artist, Kristina Clackson Bonnington, with some research into the collections I look after. Kristina is working on an event for this year’s International Women’s Day, and is starting to plan for the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK (2018). While discussing her project I thought it would be interesting to see what Jeremy Bentham’s thoughts on women’s rights were. I’m very pleased to say that he had some modern sounding ideas…

    As with all my questions relating to Bentham’s life and works my first port of call was the friendly people at the Bentham Project. Their initiative ‘Transcribe Bentham’ is working to publish all of Bentham’s manuscripts and is finding now information all the time. One recent manuscript they sent me is pictured below, and rather wonderfully shows Bentham arguing for the use of gender neutral pronouns.

    Bentham Manuscript - Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

    Bentham Manuscript – Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

    When both sexes are meant to be intended, employ
    not the word man– but the word person

    26 When both sexes intended employ person not man

    Let it be understood that when the word person is
    thus employed he the pronoun masculine includes the female
    sex as well as the male (more…)

    Some More Favourite PanoptiCam Views

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 19 November 2015

    My last ‘Favourite PanoptiCam Views‘ blog post was way back in June, so an update is long overdue.

    Summer is usually a quiet time for the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. There are less staff and students around and, although he does receive a regular stream of visitors, summer is often a time to pause and take stock of the past academic year. Infact it is very easy to forget just how busy UCL can be when the students return, however when the new academic year starts again…

    'Looking at me, looking at you' - one regular summer visitor to the auto-icon gets into the spirit of the PanoptiCam Project.

    ‘Looking at me, looking at you’ – one regular summer visitor to the auto-icon gets into the spirit of the PanoptiCam Project.

    The start of term witnessed some long queues for registration...

    The start of term witnessed some long queues for registration…


    Who turned out the lights on Jeremy Bentham?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 9 November 2015

    The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham is 183 years old and counting. Over this time it has attended parties and UCL council meetings, had its heads (wax and mummified) stolen by students, twice visited Germany and also taken a ride in a red Morris Marina. It’s fair to say that Jeremy Bentham has led an active after life, and UCL Museums are committed to ensuring that it survives for another 183 years and more.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    During recent conservation work it has become apparent that although the auto-icon appears safe and secure it is actually subject to a very damaging environmental factor – high light levels (Cue dramatic sounds and possibly someone screaming in the distance).

    Ok so actually of all the risks the auto-icon faces this doesn’t sound like a particularly bad one, especially compared to fires, wars, insect infestation and the afore mentioned head thefts (all of these the auto-icon has survived at one point in its life). But high light levels are a huge danger to the auto-icon, and can cause irreparable damage.


    A Conservation inspection of Jeremy Bentham’s Mummified head

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 September 2015

    I’ve wanted to write blog specifically about Jeremy Bentham’s head for a while now. ‘Can I see the head?’ is one of the most common questions I get asked. I’m not sure why it has such fascination for people – perhaps as our manager of the Grant Museum recently tweeted when he met him, ‘Face to face with one of the world’s greatest philosophers’, how often do you get to say that? Is it that we want to be able to look someone famous in the face, even if they’re dead? Or is it just that a mummified head is unusual?

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Side view of the head of Jeremy Bentham.

    Last week Bentham’s head came out from the safe it is usually stored in for a full inspection by one of our conservators, Emilia Kingham. We regularly inspect the head, to ensure it remains stable. It’s survival for the future is our main concern! The inspection (and Buzzfeed story) generated a lot of interest and questions. For the story Emilia and I were sent a list of questions, which I thought were all very interesting and worth posting on our blog. The answers are from us both.

    Enjoy! (more…)

    Some favourite PanoptiCam views

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 10 June 2015

    Several months ago saw the launch of the Panopticam Project, a joint UCL Centre for Digital HumanitiesUCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Bentham Project and UCL Museums project.

    The Panopticam (see what we did there?) involved the installation of a webcam on top of the auto-icons box to give us a Bentham eyed view of the world. The camera takes a photo every 5 seconds (shown whenever the red light flashes on the camera) which updates the photo on the website here. At the end of each day all the photos are joined together to form a time-lapse recording of the days events, which are made available on YouTube, check out this one from 6 minutes in to see UCL Dance Soc is action. Finally every hour (at 1 minute past) the view is tweeted by @Panopticam.

    It’s been going for about 3 months now, and recently the project blog decided to show some choice images from the project so far – I thought I’d follow suit and share some of my favourites with you too.


    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg and I hard at work.

    UCL PACE Marketing Manager Meg Dobson and I hard at work.


    Student engagement.


    Is the auto-icon wearing underwear?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 30 March 2015

    A year or so ago a colleague drew my attention to a Jeremy Bentham related sketch by the ever excellent Horrible Histories BBC programme. Amongst the many Bentham inventions it highlights (including words such as ‘maximise’, ‘minimise’, ‘international’ and appropriately enough ‘eccentric’) was one I’d never heard of before – Jeremy Bentham invented underpants.

    Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

    Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

    As you can imagine, this is popular with school groups visiting the auto-icon, and along with his mummified head tends to be the fact school kids remember.


    The History of Varsity

    By Edmund Connolly, on 17 March 2014

    The last weekend saw some fantastic weather and some even more celebratory UCL sport. From the 7th March UCL has been part of the London Varsity Series playing against the rival London College, Kings, in a series of six sporting events. For many, sports and college varsities evoke an idea of elitism and aggressive competition, but I must say I disagree and support the idea as a way of encouraging inter-collegiate relations and development.

    Varsity teams, copyright UCLU

    Varsity teams, copyright UCLU


    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.



    Bentham, Utilitarianism and Sex

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 February 2014

    Bentham later in life.  Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    Bentham later in life.
    Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    On February 14th (yes, Valentine’s day) I will be giving a short talk at ‘Late London: City of Seduction’, part of the Museum of London’s special events program, on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. I will be introducing the auto-icon, discussing how it was made and talking about some of the legends that have built up around it (head used for a game of football anyone?). I will then relinquish the floor to Professor Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, an expert of Bentham’s life and works.

    So, a dead Philosopher, a mummified head and an articulated skeleton don’t sound very suitable for Valentine’s day do they? And maybe they aren’t, however if you look closer at the philosophy Bentham helped found…