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  • Archive for the 'Teaching and Research Collections' Category

    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.


    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…


    Introducing Museums and Wellbeing

    By Maria Patsou, on 22 October 2015

    Hallo! My name is Maria and I am the research assistant for the National Alliance of Museums, Health and Wellbeing based at UCL PACE. Funded by Arts Council England, we’ve launched the Alliance so that information about museums and health can be shared and to provide support for those individuals and organisations working in this area of activity. My main role is to map existing practice, literature, reports and evaluation on health & wellbeing activities in the museum sector in the UK. I also carry out research into health and social care structures and identify key contacts for museum people. I am having an amazing time in this role as I get to work on the wider categories of arts, culture and health, which I have been specialising on for the past few years, through clinical and academic work.

    My object at the Horniman Museum. A tiny Greek Orthodox priest.

    My object at the Horniman Museum. A tiny Greek Orthodox priest.

    Late September was very exciting for museums and wellbeing. I participated in a Horniman Museum training on the use of museum objects for creativity and learning. While going through the Hands-on Base gallery, I accidentally bumped into a Greek Orthodox priest miniature (Picture 1).


    All hands on deck: the Petrie team welcome term

    By Alice E Stevenson, on 9 October 2015

    The rhythm of life in a University museum like the Petrie is set by the academic year. As of 28 September, with the return of large numbers of students, the tempo shifted up a notch. Several notches in fact. Needless to say it is all hands on deck.

    There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.

    There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.


    Fun with Minerals

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 8 October 2015

    This is a guest post by Nadine Gabriel, a UCL student and volunteer with UCL Museums. All photos by the author.

    Hello there, I’m Nadine Gabriel and I’ve been working with the UCL Geology Collections for just over a year. Towards the end of the summer holidays, I was given the chance to audit the thousands of mineral specimens in the Rock Room to ensure that we have a record of what is (and isn’t) in the collection. While auditing the collection, I handled a wide variety of specimens and learnt about new minerals and their classification – I’ve come across so many minerals that I’ve never heard of, even after doing two years of geology. But the best thing about working with the collection was saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every time I saw a nice shiny mineral.

    Heart Minerals - calcite and malachite.

    Heart Minerals – calcite and malachite.

    When I first started working with the geological collections, my audits involved working with Excel spreadsheets and paper catalogues filled with entries from way before I was born. (more…)

    Event – Staring at the Sky – Astronomy at the UCL Observatory

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 25 September 2015

    The Whirlpool Galaxy lies 30 million light-years away.   It was the first galaxy in which spiral structure was discovered in 1845.

    The Whirlpool Galaxy lies 30 million light-years away.
    It was the first galaxy in which spiral structure was discovered in 1845.

    UCL’s astronomical observatory was inaugurated in 1929, and it has been conducting research and teaching students ever since. On Friday 2nd October the Observatory and UCL Public and Cultural Engagement department will host a pop-up event which will feature staff and research students from the Observatory, and hopefully (if the weather behaves) give visitors the chance to make some solar observations with a specialised telescope.

    Astronomy was originally taught on the main UCL site, using equipment in the two domes in the front quad (built 1905-07) together with one on the roof of the Wilkins Building (destroyed during World War 2). However, the light pollution of central London began to cause issues and a new site was required.  A suburban site in Mill Hill site was chosen, in part because it was far away enough from London that the night sky could be observed without excessive pollution. Since then, London has grown, and the Observatory now sits well inside the M25; however it continues to be a great asset for teaching Physics and Astronomy students.

    The Observatory currently houses five telescopes: in order of when they were acquired, the Fry 8-inch refractor telescope (acquired 1930 but originally built in 1862), the Radcliffe telescope (acquired 1938, built 1901), the Allen 24-inch reflecting telescope (1974/75) and two modern, computer-controlled C14 telescopes (acquired 2006 and 2010).

    The 8-inch refractor Fry telescope.

    The 8-inch refractor Fry telescope.

    The Observatory made news recently when a team of students, being trained by Dr Steve Fossey, spotted a supernova (exploding star) in nearby galaxy Messier 82 (also known as the Cigar Galaxy). Images of the galaxy (with supernova) will be available on the day; they will also form part of an accompanying exhibition in the South Cloisters, of images taken at the Observatory, running from late September.

    The pop-up event will be open (rain or shine) between 11.30am – 4.30pm on Friday 2nd October, in the Wilkins North Observatory (in the front quad on campus).

    Nick Booth is curator of Teaching and Research Collections. 

    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.


    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…)

    Behind the Mask – Research into the Noel Collection

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 2 September 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Bryony Swain, a UCL Student Volunteer who spent most of the last academic year (2014/15) cataloguing the Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks.

    Hello, I’ve been volunteering with the UCL Museums and Collections department and loving it!

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.  Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.
    Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    I have been cataloguing the excellent Robert Noel phrenological collection, which contains a large selection of plaster life and death masks from the mid 19th century. Phrenology studies the theory that skull configurations can determine character traits, and Noel made his collection to test and demonstrate the validity of this theory and wrote a book with measurements and biographical summaries to accompany them. Today, phrenology is considered a discredited pseudoscience, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was taken very seriously. Noel ordered the masks into different categories to prove that intellectual and moral individuals had a different skull shape to criminals and suicides.