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  • 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…)

    Curating the Octagon Exhibition

    By Claire S Ross, on 14 June 2013

    colourfull case object numbers scattered on the floor

    Trying to find the correct object numbers

    Most of the last couple of weeks I have been busy installing the new Octagon Gallery Exhibition, ‘Digital Frontiers: Smart, Connected and Participatory’. It’s been a brilliant experience and I have learnt a lot so I thought I’d talk a bit about the process of creating an exhibition from a first time curator!

    The exhibition opened at the beginning of June 2013.   But it all first started when I applied to exhibit in the new Octagon space.  UCL Museums invited proposals on a theme (in this instance the theme was ‘frontiers’) from across the UCL community.  The proposals were judged by a panel and my application on the theme of ‘Digital Frontiers’ was successful.   The proposal focused on key research areas from UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH) and the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA).  It felt quite strange deciding on a theme without being fully aware of all the potential objects, but it paved the way for an exciting challenge to see how I could fit as many of UCL’s 18 disparate collections into my exhibition theme.

    The first full meeting happened in January when I got together with all the curators and collections managers from the different UCL Museums and Collections and I explained my broad themes and plans for the exhibition.  We had an initial brain storm and I was bit overwhelmed with all the information on objects that could potentially fit the exhibition concept.  I then had one to one meetings with all the individual curators to discuss exhibition ideas and view possible objects, before going away and coming up with a really long list of potential objects.
    (more…)

    Installing the Octagon Exhibition

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 6 June 2013

    Most of last week I was busy installing the new Octagon Gallery Exhibition, ‘Digital Frontiers: Smart, Connected and Participatory’, curated by Claire Ross from the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. The exhibition features a huge range of objects, from a tweeting doorstop (the ‘sheep-pig’) to a drawer of pinned beetles, however most of the objects have come from the UCL Engineering Collections. This is one of the collections I look after, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about what goes into the process of putting together one of UCL’s Octagon exhibitions.

    Exhibition poster showing one of the Engineering objects.

    Exhibition poster showing one of the Engineering objects.

    The exhibition opened on Wednesday 5th June. However the first meeting happened back in September when all the curators and collections managers from the different UCL Museums and Collections get together with Claire to hear about her plans for the exhibition, and to initially brain storm about what we have in our collections that fit with the exhibition subject. This was harder for some collections than others, but happily was relatively easy for me.

    After this initial meeting Claire met all the curators individually to discuss the exhibition and view possible objects, before going away and coming up with a long list of what she wants. In the case of the Engineering Collections it was a very long list…which is great! However this also means that there was a lot of work for me, and others, to do.

    (more…)

    Sculpture Season opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 June 2013

    Today at the Grant Museum, not only have we flung the doors open to the public (as we do six days a week), but we have opened the doors to the Museum – and the museum cabinets – to thirteen emerging artists, inviting them to rethink our collection. Today, Sculpture Season begins.

    We’re consistently thinking how to use our collections in different ways, and while the team here is a creative one (otherwise – boast boast – we wouldn’t keep winning awards) we can definitely benefit from completely different eyes and minds looking at our collection.

    Sculpture Season does just that – thirteen sculpture students from the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL were invited to create works in response to the Museum’s spaces, specimens, science and history. The results are fantastic. Alongside the Museum’s historic skeletons, skulls and specimens preserved in jars, the new works engage with animal/human encounters through re-animated flesh, tunnelling rats and mice, giant worms and body bags.

    The artists have created music technologies, phantom occupations of the Museum’s iPad apps, hand-knitted internal organs and explorations of the excessive masculinity of giant deer antlers. Specimens have been re-ordered, re-labelled and re-imagined. (more…)