UCL Museums & Collections Blog
  •  
  •  
  • Categories

  •  
  • Tags

  •  
  • Archives

  • Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 April 2014

    I ask this question to our Museum Studies Masters students every year, and last month put it to our new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students. Despite the difference in the age, background and interests of these two groups, the reaction is the same – anger and horror. I am playing devil’s advocate in these debates, but my own opinion is yes, there are circumstances when everyone benefits from museums lying.

    The lectures I discuss this in focus on object interpretation, and I use a tiger skull as a prop for discussing how to decide what information to include in labels. The choice of a tiger isn’t important – I just need something to use as an example I can attached real facts about natural history and conservation to, but I spend the two hours talking about tigers.

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

    At the end of the lecture I reveal that the skull is in fact from a lion. Everything else I told them about tigers is true. Did it matter that I lied? (more…)

    Natural history under the hammer

    By Mark Carnall, on 4 December 2013

    Recently there have been a spate of high profile auctions of natural history specimens raising many issues about ownership, the value we should or shouldn’t put on natural history and the relationship between professional scientists, museums, amateurs and private collectors. My colleague Jack Ashby wrote about the recent dodo bones that were auctioned. Colleagues Dave Hone and Mark Graham give a balanced view of the recent sale of a Diplodocus skeleton over at the Guardian. The ‘duelling dinosaurs’ fossil was estimated to reach $9 million at auction in New York and last year the controversial proposed sale of an allegedly illicitly smuggled Tarbosaurus skeleton caused much debate.

    I thought I’d add my thoughts on the subject here, in particular about the relationship between collectors, museums and ethics. (more…)

    Do Dodo Bones Belong in a Museum?

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 November 2013

    This week the Daily Mail reported that two bones from a dodo were set to sell at auction for £30,000. This would be the first private sale of a dodo bone since 1934*. My first reaction was one of horror. Why is that?

    These are two main reasons why I might deplore this sale:
    1) It should be in a museum.
    2) We shouldn’t put a value on natural history objects.

    I’d like to explore why these might not be reasonable objections.

    It Should be in a Museum: For Science
    This is the reaction I got on Twitter when discussing this story, and it seems reasonable. Valuable natural history specimens that aren’t in museums are lost to science, as I have argued before when discussing Channel 4′s Four Rooms.

    But are these two bones – a femur and partial pelvis – valuable natural history specimens? I’m not convinced. (more…)

    Relight my fire

    By Rachael Sparks, on 2 December 2011

    Ancient vessels have usually gone through a lot before making their way into a comfortable museum store. First they have to survive the dangerous business of production and come out of the kiln intact and as intended. If they pass muster, they then have to make it through being packed up and shipped off to market, near or far. Then there are the ministrations of their new owners to be borne, with all the risks of having chips come off here and there through rough handling. Sooner or later, every amphora knows some clumsy owner is going to end up knocking its handles off. And then into a pit with it, where its carcass suffers further indignities as rubbish is thrown in on top, or into a tomb where the ceiling might fall in and inflict yet more distress. Only to be in danger once more from the swing of the excavator’s pick. (more…)