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  • Project Pickle – Conserving our Specimens Preserved in Fluid

    By Emilia L Kingham, on 1 August 2016

    Fluid preserved specimens newly conserved

    Fluid preserved specimens newly conserved

    Over the past year, UCL Museums’ conservation team have been focussing our efforts on the the specimens preserved in fluid at the Grant Museum. We’re calling it Project Pickle*.

    Before we could start conserving the objects we had to establish the scale of the task, so we could decide how to plan the work. We went through the entire fluid specimen store, surveying a whopping 3,787 specimens to determine what treatments each of them needed.

    This initial phase took many months to complete and involved the help of student volunteers and a student placement. The result of that survey means that we can now quantify how many specimens are in good, fair, poor or unacceptable condition with the aim to prioritize conserving the specimens in the worst condition.  So why do fluid preserved specimens need conservation and how do they get to be in an ‘unacceptable condition?’

    (more…)

    Dead to me!

    By Pia K Edqvist, on 12 July 2016

    Human remains at the Petrie Museum. It’s time to come out of storage!
    Death is part of life, and for me, death is very much a part of work since I am currently rehousing the human remains at the museum. In February, I attended a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), PASSING ENCOUNTERS: The dead body and the public realm, the purpose of this was to stimulate discussion about death in an open and frank manner. I joined to learn more about how human remains are portrayed in social media and to gather people’s opinions on death. But, I learned much more than that; how a body decays, what different stages of decay smells like (See Fig.1.), and how death and the body have been portrayed throughout history

    Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

    Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

    . (more…)

    Magic Lantern Slides and Historypin

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 12 July 2016

    This is a guest post by Bethany Gugliemino, a Museum Studies MA Student carrying out her placement with the UCL Teaching and Research Collections.

    Hello! In my last post, I told you a bit about my work with UCL’s magic lantern slide collection and shared some of my favourite slides. Today, I want to show you where you can see more of this collection and even help us identify some of the more mysterious content.

    As I’ve been cataloguing the slide collection over the last few months, I’ve created a separate list of slides that show an identifiable (or potentially identifiable) location somewhere on earth. This is a shorter list than you might think, since so many of the slides are lecture notes, graphs, and diagrams of scientific equipment. Working with this list, I’ve begun uploading images of these slides to the website Historypin. This site allows users to upload historic images and pin them to a specific location and to create collections and tours of different subjects.

    You can see UCL’s collection of images on Historypin here. Zoom in or out on the map on the left and adjust the date range to filter the slides that appear in the gallery on the right.

    UCL’s slide collection on Historypin

    UCL’s slide collection on Historypin

    So far, there are images ranging from Alexander Graham Bell’s family home in Canada to officers inspecting a wireless radio installation in St. Petersburg. (more…)

    The Rock Room is Getting a New Home

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 7 April 2016

    The Rock Room.

    The Rock Room.

    A Geology Museum has existed at UCL since 1855 (UCL was founded in 1826), 14 years after  the first professor of Geology, Thomas Webster, started at UCL. However geology has been collected for longer – the first recorded donation of geology specimens to UCL came in 1828 from a Mr. Davies Gilbert. Today the collection consists of over 100,000 specimens, from microfossils to large trace fossils, and ranging in age from c4.5 billion year old meteorites to relatively recent fossils (including my favourite fossil crab).

    The Rock Room has been in its present location since 1908, (more…)

    A Honey Pot for Springtime!

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 31 March 2016

    As a Conservator, I often think of how privileged I am to be able to handle and examine museum objects, up close and personal. Not all objects move me, but at the moment I am very pleased to be working on this one:

    UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

    UC65361, Ceramic bowl from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL. Height 7cm, diameter 10.5cm.

    (more…)

    Some favourite magic lantern slides

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 14 March 2016

    This is a guest blog written by Bethany Gugliemino, a Museum Studies MA Student on a work placement with the UCL Teaching and Research Collections. 

    Hello! My name is Bethany and I’m a museum studies student here at UCL. I’m currently completing my work placement with the UCL Science and Engineering Collections, specifically working on the collection of magic lantern slides held in the Electrical Engineering collection. You may remember reading about these slides before on the blog when a previous intern began cataloguing the collection. Since those posts covered what lantern slides are and how they’re made and an overview of the main contents of the collection, I thought I would give you some examples of my favourite slides I’ve found so far.

    Slide EE1497, Electric Light on Thames Embankment

    Slide EE1497, Electric Light on Thames Embankment

    This slide shows an illustration of spectators marvelling at the installation of electric lighting on Victoria Embankment. (more…)

    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…)

    A Curator’s Adventures in Documentation Land

    By Subhadra Das, on 25 February 2016

    We all know that museum catalogues lie. I have made it clear that I’m a firm advocate for the agency of museum practitioners. No element of museum practice happens magically by itself in a vacuum, it is enacted by those of us privileged to work with collections. When you start to look at how museum staff present information to each other and to our audiences, though, it becomes clear that our catalogues have been doing a lot of the talking for us. This begs the question, which speaks louder: curatorial actions or the words in digital catalogues? This week’s guest blogger, Ananda Rutherford, explores this question through the looking glass of the Galton Collection online catalogue.

    One of the most controversial collections at UCL is, of course, the Galton Collection. Francis Galton, with his notorious interest in improving humans by selective breeding, or eugenics – the term he coined – is a problematic figure, and preserving a collection of artifacts associated with him for posterity and within the context of the modern university, is troubling. Every element of the way in which he and his collection are presented requires careful consideration.

    Over the past year I have been working on the documentation of the collection with the curator, Subhadra Das. I selected the Galton Collection online catalogue as the focus of a case study for my doctoral research. Subhadra and I have been carrying out various practical tasks to improve the collection’s documentation – or filing as it is also known – and any number of other post-it based displacement activities under the guise of “creating order”. Luckily, we are both in agreement that stationery is the cornerstone of all great intellectual inquiry.

    The working title of my research topic has been “What’s missing (from museum object records)?” but inevitably the question has shifted and multiplied – why is information missing, what information about objects do we expect to see, what do museum documentation professionals record and why, if they know other things why don’t they reference them?

    (more…)

    Putting human remains on display – people as animals

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 February 2016

    Last week we added a human specimen to our display of animal brains. Why wouldn’t we?

    The real question is why hadn’t we. And the answer is that we weren’t allowed to. The Human Tissues Act (2004) controls how human bodies, organs and tissues are used. Different licenses are required to store, teach with or display human specimens. Until recently, we didn’t have any of these licences for the Grant Museum, which affected what we could include to represent Homo sapiens in our displays.

    A human specimen (centre) has been added to the Grant Museum's brain comparative anatomy display

    A human specimen (centre) has been added to the Grant Museum’s brain comparative anatomy display

    How museums display humans

    There are many ways in which a human might find themself in a museum after they died. (more…)

    Please don’t call us a Cabinet of Curiosity

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2016

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum. Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lanclet

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum.
    Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lancelet

    “Isn’t the Grant Museum wonderful! It’s such a cabinet of curiosity!”

    This exclamation is clearly meant as a rich endorsement of the Grant Museum – it’s obviously intended as a compliment. Nevertheless, it makes me wince.

    Inspiring curiosity and wonder is surely among the highest ambitions a museum could ever have. It’s infinitely more important than making visitors learn something. Curiosity? I am a huge fan. Cabinets? We definitely have some nice ones. Cabinets of Curiosity? No thanks.

    For me, this term implies that our objects are nothing but curios – weird artefacts amassed by some eccentric collector. Erratically accumulated in another time; weird and wonderful titbits intended to impress; to show off the collector’s status and influence – “Gosh, Sir William! Where did you get that ghastly tenrec!?” (more…)