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  • Why Twitter is good for museums – making discoveries

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 April 2014

    Using Twitter as a way of building a community of support, engaging people in content and shedding light on life behind the scenes in museums (that we don’t just dust stuff) is too obviously demonstrated by the real world to be spending too much time discussing. Not to mention the power to market events and exhibitions quickly and cheaply – assuming don’t over-use social media as a marketing tool.

    On Monday I conducted two pieces of “research” on our collection which sprung up out of the blue and would have been very difficult to solve without turning to our Twitter followers to tap their collective brain to find a quick answer. Both of them were on specimens that begin with “H” and end with “Bill”. Weird.

    Tweeting Turtles

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    (more…)

    11 Museum Blogger Questions for #MuseumWeek round 2

    By Mark Carnall, on 4 April 2014

    best-blogYou may have read my colleague Emma’s answers to 11 Museum Blogger Questions at this link. I’ve been nominated to answer 11 questions as a museum blogger by the formidable Jake McGowan-Lowe, author of Jake’s Bones, and you can read his answers at this link. The idea is to answer 11 questions about writing a museum blog and then like Kevin Spacey, passing it on. Here are my 11 answers to 11 questions.

     

     

    (more…)

    One of our dinosaurs, birds, crabs…. is missing

    By Mark Carnall, on 19 March 2014

    You may have figured from the title of this blog but I’m going to take a bit of time to talk about when specimens go missing from a museum collection. It can be a difficult thing for museums to talk about as most museums operate to care for the specimens and objects that are given in trust to them often for perpetuity, or more practically until the death of our part of the Universe. Currently a lot of my work here involves relocating our specimens following the move of the stores and museum a couple of years ago and trying to work out what happened to a missing specimen involves a bit of detective work, so I thought I’d offer an insight into the process.

    (more…)

    Away daze – or how to make workshop training work for you

    By Rachael Sparks, on 12 November 2013

    UCL Museums and Collections 2007

    UCL Museums and Collections staff enjoying an Away Day at Kew Gardens. No post-it notes were harmed in the making of this photograph.

    Last week, I attended a Collections Trust training event aimed at developing my managerial skills. It was a slick, well-run affair, which I enjoyed despite being in the throes of a terrible cold.

    Now I’m a bit of a training junkie, and go to a lot of these sorts of things. Past highlights of my training calendar include courses on dealing with contentious subjects, museum mount-making, digital photography, and record and archive management, not to mention away days visiting countless museums I’d never previously heard of.

    Something of a gestalt has developed out of all this, and I think I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging in the culture that is the museum workshop event. So here’s my take on the five key ways in which training works for the museum sector, and makes us better and happier employees. (more…)

    The best natural history specimen in the world (did not get thrown on a fire)

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2013

    Last week I saw something that had never occurred to me might be possible to see. Through the years I have learned a lot about this object – I knew where it was, I knew where it came from and I certainly know its place in the pantheon of the history of natural history. We even have a cast of it in the Grant Museum.

    If you had asked me what the best natural history object in the UK was, most days I would tell you it was this one. I had just assumed that seeing it wasn’t something that ever happened, even for people who run university zoology museums.

    The Grant Museum team an a sperm whale jaw at the OUMNH (they're closed for roof repairs)Last Wednesday the staff of the Grant Museum went on an expedition to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), which is closed for roof repairs until 2014. On a visit to the zoology section a cupboard was opened before us, it was filled with skulls, dried fish and a couple of boxes. As the history of this cupboard was explained – it was Tradescant’s Museum – the oldest in the country – it suddenly dawned on me what was in those boxes. And that we were going to see it.

    We were going to see the only soft tissue of a dodo anywhere in the world. (more…)

    And 11 months later

    By Dean W Veall, on 8 August 2013

    Dean Veall here, Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology. As I pack my panniers and get ready to mount my trusted bicycle for an extended August break back in the rolling hills of the valleys of Wales I thought now would be an apt time to present a reflection on my first 11 months here at UCL and share some insight into the working life at the Grant Museum.

    I started in September 2012, and my only real recollection of that first week was sitting in the Museum in the corner with my back to my new colleagues staring at our green main wall, a wall I came to know intimately over those two weeks in the middle of September we were closed for refurbishment.

    The green green wall of the Grant

    The green green wall of the Grant

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    Time, Flies and the Origins of Crowdsourcing

    By Mark Carnall, on 12 July 2013

    Aside from jelly beans, the current Octagon Exhibition, Digital Frontiers, is dominated by objects from the Grant Museum of Zoology. Well, at least in terms of numbers because we’ve loaned this entomology drawer containing over 250 fly specimens. My colleague Nick Booth wrote about his experience of installing the objects from the collections he curates (and his experience was far more leg work than moving this single drawer was) and researching this drawer of flies in order to loan it revealed a lot of interesting information about this otherwise niche collection of insects: in natural history museums entomology collections are normally measured in the millions.

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled 'From Small cabinet 3'  from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    Fly specimens in drawer labelled ‘From Small cabinet 3′ from the Grant Museum entomology collections

    (more…)

    Science Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 May 2013

    As chance would have it at the same time as we received research interest from the Royal College of Art, colleague Dr Zerina Johanson, researcher in the Earth Sciences Department at the Natural History Museum, had also contacted me about our paddlefish specimens. We have less than a dozen paddlefish specimens in the Grant Museum (fish is the family Polyodontidae, represented today by only two species the American paddlefish Polyodon spathula and the possibly-extinct Chinese paddlefish Psephurus gladius) and fortunately, one of these specimens, matched the specifications for research (in this article I wrote about how ‘usable’ specimens dwindle to tens from thousands depending on the type of research).

    So for the second time in May I was on bodyguard duty to escort one of our specimens down to South Kensington for some scanning, this time for SCIENCE!

    (more…)

    Art Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 10 May 2013

    It seems to be a week for thinking about Art vs. Science this week. Of course the whole idea or art vs. science is a fallacy but increasingly I meet artists and scientists who want to live up to the stereotype of being in either camp and rejecting outright the other one. As a university museum we work very hard to ensure that our collections support the research of the academic community not just here at UCL and it isn’t just science researchers who are ‘allowed’ in.

    Natural history and art have a shared history and for a long time were the same thing. Trace the origins of an interest in the natural world and biology back to its roots and description, observation, inspiration and illustration are natural history. You couldn’t prise the ‘art’ or the ‘science’ bits out of it without undermining the whole endeavor. This tradition continues today, if we think about the Wildlife photographer of the year, the imagery employed by conservation agencies, the latest Wellcome collection exhibition, the works of Mark Dion or even the plates and graphs from  scientific journal papers they can be considered both art and science. Particularly, with the pervasive use of the Internet, visual media is increasingly how we communicate our ideas, agendas and passions. Be it a powerful image that sums up the plight of Orang Utans, a meme that causes us to chuckle over a tea break or the sheer beauty of what is called ‘data porn’, that is, a nice infographic that shows rather than tells the story.

    So on any given day at the Grant Museum we could have visiting scientific researchers who may be measuring the dimensions of a skull or looking for the differences between fossils. Alternatively we could have an artist creating an installation for our Foyer and we’re excited to see the reactions to the museum for our upcoming sculpture season collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts. Rarely is there a day where we don’t have an art group or individual artists sketching or photographing specimens on display. All of the above are equally valid uses of museum collections and this post follows a day out for one of our specimens down to the Royal College of Art. (more…)

    Artist at the Grant Museum

    By Sarah R Cameron, on 18 March 2013

    Viewpoint - Sarah Cameron (2013)

    Viewpoint - Sarah Cameron (2013)

    For the past month I have been working on a large mural for the foyer of the Grant Museum. The artwork, titled Viewpoint officially “opens” today.

    I arrive at the Museum at a strangely early hour of the morning, with my over-flowing bag of art materials and an array of tools. I ensconce myself in the foyer, surrounding myself with tubes of paint, mediums, cloths, sandpaper and sandwiches and then set to work in the quiet time before the museum opens.

    Much of my mural painting has been made in situ, which is a new and exciting way for me to work and through this I have found an energy in the way I handle paint that I have been striving for.

    It has been a fantastic privilege to be allowed access to the museum outside it’s normal opening hours and to have a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into a world of scientific investigation and recording that has often been elusive to me. (more…)