Museums & Collections Blog
  • Categories

  • Tags

  • Archives

  • Archive for the 'Jeremy Bentham' Category

    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…


    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.


    A week in the life of a Curator

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 18 September 2013

    People often ask me what it is I do for a job. “Well” I answer, “I’m a curator”.

    Me in the micrarium at  the Grant Museum.

    Me in the micrarium at
    the Grant Museum.

    “Yes, but what do you actually do?”

    “I curate a collection, I help look after it”.

    “Yes but what do you ACTUALLY do all day?”

    It’s a good question, and one to which the answer is never really that simple. What I ‘actually do’ varies from week to week, and depends upon what I have to do, what I need to do, and what I have time to do. So I thought I would write a blog as a way of answering.

    Last week I made a point of recording exactly what I was up to between Monday and Friday, and tried to take a few more photos that I would normally. I should say that I did not particularly plan for this week to be one I blogged about, and I resisted the urge to book in lots of important sounding meetings. I had planned to use a stepometer during the week, to see how far I walked, but sadly couldn’t get my hands on one in time.

    So, my week…


    Ask A Curator Day

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 17 September 2013

    Ask A Curator,  18th September 2013

    Ask A Curator Day,
    18th September 2013

    On Wednesday 18th UCL Museums will be taking part in the Ask A Curator Day event on twitter. The original day was way back in 2010 and this year already has more museums signed up than ever before (525 in 34 countires at time of writing). 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 (all that cataloguing…gah!) that we aren’t always the most accessible 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 is also taking part using @GrantMuseum.

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

    Bentham ‘present but not voting’

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 12 July 2013

    Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

    Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

    Tuesday 9th July marked the day that the retiring Provost, Sir Malcolm Grant, attended his final UCL Council meeting. UCL Museums marked this by doing something a little bit special…

    Most people know that Jeremy Bentham, the spiritual founder of UCL, attends every UCL Council meeting. He is always recorded as ‘present but not voting’, except when the Council is split on a motion. On those rare occasions he gets a vote, and always votes in favour of the motion, due to his mischievous personality.

    It’s a brilliant story, it has everything: a dead body, academic eccentricity, reanimation of a corpse, ancient tradition…what’s not to love? Except, unfortunately, it’s a myth. One of the many legends that have built up around the ‘old radical’ that I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed. (more…)