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  • Darwin (or) Bust opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2014

    Charles Darwin would be 205 today. Happy birthday to him. To mark the occasion our Darwin (or) Bust exhibition opens today, showing Darwin as you are unlikely to have seen him before. Darwins have been created out of ants, light, crochet, DNA, his own writings, chocolate and other unusual media, all imagined and made by members of UCL’s Institute of Making.

    The Museum’s historic plaster bust of Darwin was moved from UCL’s Darwin Building when our collection was relocated in 2011. The remaining inhabitants of the Darwin Building were sorry to lose him, and so asked the Institute of Making to help them make a new one, from 3D laser scanning. We already had the 3D data as our very own Mona Hess had scanned him for her PhD on scanning in museums, and an idea blossomed…

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    Rather than just print off a new Darwin bust for the departments of Structural and Molecular Biology and Genetics, Evolution and Environment in the Darwin Building, we all decided to see what happened if we tapped the minds around us at UCL; asking the members of the Institute of Making how they would reinterpret the 3D data to make a new Darwin for the 21st Century. This multi-venue exhibition is the result. A previous post explains the origins of the exhibition more fully.

    The project somewhat snowballed. (more…)

    Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 February 2014

    Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

    (more…)

    The Great Darwin BUST UP

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2013

    There are lots of good things about working in a university museum. The best is that there are thousands of people around us whose job it is to have ideas and then come up with a way of realising these ideas. In the museums we know a lot of academics from different fields who we can put in touch with each other when we spot complementary ideas to combine into exciting cross-disciplinary projects.

    A few weeks ago some of our colleagues from UCL’s Institute of Making arrived with someone from Structural and Molecular Biology saying that they wanted to 3D scan our plaster bust of Charles Darwin to create a copy to go in the Darwin Building where UCL’s biologists live (and where the Grant Museum used to be housed). From there a project spiraled into something very exciting.

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    The bust has a bit of history – it is part of the Grant Museum’s collection, and as such when we moved into our current home in 2011 we took him with us (you might have spotted him peeking out a window on Gower Street). The biologists in the Darwin Building were very sorry to see him go. This project will create a new Darwin for them, and will also result in an unusual exhibition, through a competition. (more…)

    Natural History Museum Bingo: Japanese Spider Crab

    By Mark Carnall, on 26 November 2013

    Back in October, I introduced this series (here’s a link to the opening post) about the specimens you’re near guaranteed to see in every natural history museum. We’ll take each specimen in turn and have a look at why they’re a usual suspect for display in a natural history museum.

    Image of natural history museum bingo with Japanese spider crab crossed out

    Legs like pegs, it’s Japanese spider crab. One down, 8 to go.

    The first specimen we’re going to take a look at is the Japanese spider crab. Japanese spider crabs are just one species, Macrocheira kaempferi. Confusingly, there is also a group of crabs, the family Majidae, called spider crabs which doesn’t include the most famous spider crab of them all. Japanese spider crabs are mostly found in coastal waters of southern Japan and have been recorded in waters as deep as 600 m so why do we find them in museums all over the world?

    (more…)

    It’s Australia v England, in battle over Stubbs masterpieces

    By Jack Ashby, on 8 November 2013

    In September I wrote a post about two paintings by George Stubbs – of a kangaroo and a dingo – which had been placed under an export bar to allow time for the National Maritime Museum to raise funds to save them for the nation. This was because they had been sold to an oversees buyer.

    This week we learned that the campaign was successful. Had it not been, the paintings would have been bought by the National Gallery of Australia. They are understandably disappointed. I was asked by The Conversation (“an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community”) to update my article for them, covering the Australian case for their acquisition. (more…)

    Ramsay and the Nobel Discovery

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 25 October 2013

    Sir William Ramsay's Nobel Prize Medal

    Sir William Ramsay’s Nobel Prize Medal.
    UCL Chemistry Collection.

    Sir William Ramsay was arguably one of the most famous scientists of his day. Between 1894 and 1898 he discovered five new elements – helium, neon, argon, krypton, and xenon; commonly known today as the noble gases. Not only was this impressive in itself, but these new elements did not fit onto the periodic table as it existed at that time. This led to Ramsay adding a whole new group to the periodic table. In 1904 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences chose to award Ramsay the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for his discovery of the noble gases. He was the first British person to win this prize.

    2013 marks 100 years since the retirement of Sir William Ramsay from his post as Head of Chemistry at UCL. To mark this UCL Chemistry Collection will be taking part in a very special pop-up exhibition in the Rock Room, UCL’s Geology Museum.

    Between 12.30 – 3pm on November 1st a range of objects relating to Ramsay and his work will be on display. I have picked out a few of my personal favourites…

    (more…)

    Museums Showoff: Celebrating the mundane

    By Mark Carnall, on 18 October 2013

    Earlier this week I was lucky(?) enough to have a spot on the excellent Museum Mile Museums Showoff special as part of the Bloomsbury Festival. For those of you who don’t know, Museums Showoff is a series of informal open-mic events where museum professionals have nine minutes to show off amazing discoveries, their research or just to vent steam to an audience of museum workers and museum goers. My nine minutes were about the 99% of objects that form museum collections but you won’t see on display. They fill drawers, cupboards, rooms and whole warehouses. But why do we have all this stuff? Who is it for? In my skit on Tuesday I only had nine minutes but I thought I’d take the time to expand on the 99% and the problem of too much stuff (particularly in natural history museums) and what we can do with it.
    (more…)

    NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM BINGO!

    By Mark Carnall, on 15 October 2013

    My colleague Jack Ashby alluded to the Natural History Bingo Card in a recent blog post so I thought I’d take the time to present it to the wide world! Natural history museums are funny places. Despite the millions of species of animals and the enormous variation within species between broods, sexes, life stage, populations and seasonal variations you’d expect that you could visit every natural history museum in the World (finances allowing) and never see the same thing twice. You might think that, but the truth is many natural history museums have the same stuff on display whether you’re at the Grant Museum, the Natural History Museum London or in Paris, New York, Prague or Plymouth.

    In fact, some specimens are so common, you can go around a natural history museum with this handy NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM BINGO* and nine times out of ten you’ll have seen most of these specimens before you get to the gift shop. So what gives?

    Natural History Bingo Card

    Click to embiggernate & cut out and Keep! Natural History Bingo modified from the version in Carnall, M.A (2011): Completely Rethinking the Organisation of Natural History Museums: A Taxonomically Arranged National Collection. NatSCA News:21

    (more…)

    Europe’s First Kangaroo and the Grant Museum: Save our Stubbs

    By Jack Ashby, on 4 September 2013

    James Cook’s landing in Australia in 1770 changed the political, social and natural world. With regards to the latter, the animals the expedition discovered, described and exported have had profound effects on people’s experience and understanding of zoology.

    Whilst I believe that the descriptions of Cook’s party’s early encounters with kangaroos were ridiculous, it was these encounters that began Europe’s relationship with Australasian wildlife.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs; oil on panel, signed and dated 1772. Private collection courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures

    A few marsupials in the Americas (opossums) were already known by this point, but a whole continent with entire ecosystems based around them, and including 6 foot kangaroos questions the very nature of mammals. What else could be left unknown? American opossums, with their pouches, would have been interesting discoveries among scientific communities, but they must have been nothing compared to the sensation of the kangaroo in the eyes of the public. (more…)

    Grant Museum Objects on Tour: Lost Labels

    By Mark Carnall, on 1 August 2013

    Lost labels from the Grant Museum.

    Lost labels from the Grant Museum.

    Last week, the exhibition Nature Reserves opened at GV Art, London a group exhibition examining the relationship between how humans interpret and archive the natural environment. Tom Jeffreys, the curator of the show, contacted the Grant Museum to discuss some ideas about how natural history museums archive and organise specimens and these discussions lead to us lending a collection of orphaned labels, that cause me great personal anguish whenever I have to add to this sub collection, to the show.
    (more…)