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  • 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.


    Hello! I’m the new Grant Museum Curator

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 6 November 2015

    My name is Paolo Viscardi and I’m the new Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL.


    I have a background in biomechanics and comparative anatomy, with a particular fondness for bones, which I’ve been writing about since July 2009 on my personal blog Zygoma. In my spare time I am Chair of the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) and I run the science communication event Science in the Pub (or PubSci for short). My passion for communicating science also keeps me busy giving talks and getting involved in all sorts of events and performances, from immersive theatre to providing a scientist’s response to art. (more…)

    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’.)


    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…)

    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…)

    JA Fleming – Discoveries From The Archive.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 24 July 2015

    This guest blog has been written by Kelsey Svaren, a placement student who has been working with us over the past few months. 

    A few weeks ago I spent some time in UCL Special Collections working my way through the 24 boxes of material that John Ambrose Fleming left to UCL. I was able to look at these boxes in the span of four days, and let me tell you that is not an easy feat! Although I spent more time on certain boxes and documents than others, I feel I got a good overall view of what Fleming wanted UCL to have in its possession and can understand how the University’s history is interwoven with that of Fleming’s. During this time, I have been able to make some generalised conclusions about this man; the one who gave us the technology for so many inventions that people find themselves dependent upon today.

    JA Fleming receiving the Kelvin medal. (Image provided by UCL Special Collections Library).

    JA Fleming receiving the Kelvin medal. (Image provided by UCL Special Collections Library).


    Finding meaning in the Thermionic valve

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 26 May 2015

    This guest blog has been written by Kelsey Svaren, a placement student who has been working with us over the past few months. 

    Hi, my name is Kelsey and I am current MA Museum Studies student here at UCL. As part of my program, I am required to undergo a placement where I work on a museum related project. I have spent the last month working closely with Nick Booth, curator of the Electrical Engineering Collections at UCL. I have spent this time researching the numerous thermionic valves in the collection.

    Before I started my placement, I had a vague idea of what a thermionic valve is. I knew that it could be used in technologies, such as radios and telephones, to receive and amplify radio signals. Other than that, I was pretty clueless. Since I have started my placement, I have learned more about thermionic valves than I ever thought I would!

    One of Flemings original experimental valves.

    One of Flemings original experimental valves.

    The thermionic valve is especially important to UCL, because it’s inventor, John Ambrose Fleming was a professor at UCL and helped to develop the Electrical Engineering Department that we see today.


    Specimen of the Week: Week 175

    By Tannis Davidson, on 18 February 2015

    Scary-Monkey-Week-Nine Less than two weeks ago, the first batch of newly-conserved skeletons from our Bone Idols project returned to the Grant Museum after their completed restoration work.

    Reg the Rhino -the largest skeleton in the Museum – was treated in this group and has now been remounted in fine form back on his plinth.

    Homecoming celebrations continued with the unpacking of several smaller primate skeletons such as the juvenile orang-utan, one of the chimpanzees, and this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

    The Return of the Rhino: Conserving our biggest skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 February 2015

    In November, we announced that Reg the (hornless) Indian one-horned rhino skeleton was being dismantled and taken away for an extreme make-over (read Dismantling Reg the Rhino in Ten Easy Steps). Now he has returned in much better shape (specifically, rhino-shaped), prepared for a long and prosperous future in the Museum.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you'lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    The rhino after treatment. We hope you’lll agree he is much more rhino shaped.

    Reg, a Bone Idol

    The rhino was among the first specimens included in our huge conservation project Bone Idols: Protecting our Iconic Skeletons, which will secure the long-term future of 39 of our biggest, rarest and most significant specimens. Some will be cleaned of 180 years of particulate pollutants, some will be repaired, some have new cases built, and some, like the rhino, will be completely remounted.

    What was wrong with the rhino?


    Specimen of the Week: Week 170

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 January 2015

    Scary MonkeyA well known technique in making things desirable is to make them appear unattainable. You want it because you’ve been told you can’t have it. This week I’m employing this strategy to make you fall in love with a specimen. Obviously you can’t have any of our specimens as we’re an accredited museum avowed to care for our collections responsibly, which more or less rules out giving them to the public.

    Not only can you not have this week’s Specimen of the Week, you can’t even see it, and there isn’t much more unattainable than that. This isn’t because it’s invisible to the naked eye (though it is small), it’s because it isn’t here.

    This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)