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  • Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: April 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 April 2016

    Since the last Underwhelming Fossil Fish, we’ve been betrayed comrades. Last month, one of our own, a hitherto underwhelming fossil fish got interesting, as hacks reported. Of course, nobody remembers this news now but the underwhelming fossil fish of the month community was rocked so hard by this betrayal, et tu Tully Monster?, that there wasn’t an underwhelming fossil fish of the month for March 2016, the first ever break in the series. In a touching act of solidarity, appropriately for the series, nobody even seemed to notice. This month, there haven’t been any more turncoats so we can get back to the business of this blog series, that is to celebrate the unremarkable fossil fish in museum collections precisely for their distinctive uninterestingness.

    This month, widely heralded on the Twitter as #TheReturnOfFossilFish, I’ve got a specimen that’s appropriately uncommemorating in any way, unless slightly resembling a bald person’s head whilst they are frowning, is at all commemorative. (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…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: February 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 26 February 2016

    February 2016 won’t be remembered as the beginning of the end because nobody will be here to remember it. The plankton are a-shufflingthe seabirds are a-vanishingthe seas, they are arising and the Arctic is a-heating. Was it this bad growing up? It is getting worse and worse. Did we pass the point of no return already? Are we already in the Age of Stupid? Did our children volunteer for this? Can you honestly kiss them goodnight knowing that they’ll grow up with the same liberties and freedoms we enjoyed or will it be a fight for basic survival like so many already endure today?

    [Note to editor. If the intro is ‘too real’ I could change it to something about croissants being straightened but that’s a harder segue.]

    I tell you who won’t be fighting for survival anymore and that’s underwhelming fossil fish, the ‘stars’ of this monthly series, where we take a break from the harsh realities of life to focus on the uncelebratable fishy fragments of the Grant Museum fossil drawers. Why, you ask? Well. It passes the time if nothing else, the most precious resource you have. But who are you kidding? You got this far, you clearly don’t have much pressing on.

    This month’s fossil fish is technically naked so I’d advise having a spreadsheet open in another window that you could Alt+Tab to, to save the blushes of passing colleagues. (more…)

    Look Again…UV Been Mistaken: A Case of Collection Mis-labelling

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 4 February 2016

    This is a guest blog by Felicity Winkley, one of the student engagers who work with UCL Museums. To find out more about the student engagers project please visit their website. 

    Last term, the UCL Student Engagers used objects from across the UCL collections to curate a six week exhibition at the North Lodge, called Stress: Approaches to the First World War.

    The project, as we’ve discussed previously on our own blog, was an interdisciplinary, co-curated effort, approaching the topic of the First World War through four interpretive themes: physical stress, mental stress, cultural or societal stress, and stress on the landscape.

    One of the objects we chose to highlight the mental stresses caused by the conflict and, by association, the improvements in the way mental health was approached by the end of the war, was a ‘strobe machine’. As part of the physiology collections, catalogued alongside objects like an auditory acuity tester and a set of keys for tapping multiple-choice responses, it was assumed that this light had similarly been used in psychiatric experiments to test participant responses. From our point of view, it also helped that it looked good.

    Physio-40: labelled ‘Strobe Machine’

    Physio-40: labelled ‘Strobe Machine’

    For several weeks of the exhibition’s run, the object was a successful talking point. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: January 2016

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 January 2016

    January 2016 was a big month for palaeontology in the media. This month you may have caught a programme on fossil Mesozoic vertebrate finds featuring one of the most beloved natural historians, some might go as far to say, ‘National Treasure’. No, I’m not talking about David Attenborough and some big dinosaur, that’s the easy route to media coverage. I’m talking about our very own underwhelming fossil fish on Radio 4’s Inside Science programme. If you’re new to this blog series, the humble goal is to increase global fossil fishteracy one underwhelming fossil fish from the Grant Museum collections at a time.

    You might expect that with the boost in coverage, we’d have some timely underwhelming fossil fish merchandise to shill, a calendar perhaps or a pack of underwhelming fossil fish Top Trumps cards. However, as I’ve told numerous producers this week who tried to secure the underwhelming fossil fish of the month film rights, this is not the UFFotM way. We’re going to be ploughing on ahead with yet another uninteresting fossil fish, not one that’s any more or less underwhelming, just another un-noteworthy, comme ci, comme ça fossil. No fuss and especially no muss. (more…)

    The Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks – what we know now.

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 15 January 2016

    Cast of a murderer - Noel-34 - Irmscher. Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    Cast of a murderer – Noel Head 34 – Irmscher.

    The Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks consists of 37 plaster casts made in Germany in the 19th Century. As the name suggests the plaster casts were taken of both the living and the dead, and were collected by Robert Noel (a distant relation of Ada Lovelace) to show the ‘truth’ of phrenology, which simply put was the study of the lumps and bumps in people skulls in the belief that this gave insight into a person’s character. In this blog I aim to tell the story of the collection (as we know it now) and gather links to the various blogs, videos, articles that are available online. Enjoy!

    When I started working at UCL 4-ish years ago we knew almost nothing about the Robert Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks. In its life at UCL it had been on display in the Galton Eugenics Laboratory, the Slade School of Fine Art and (reportedly) at one point it’s been fished out of a skip. Now, thanks to the work of a number of UCL students, we know so much more – the names of the people represented in the collection, what Noel thought of them and the background to Noel himself. They have also been properly conserved and looked after, so they will survive for another 150 years or so. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: December 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 23 December 2015

    Underwhelming Christmas of the yearSilent drawer, lowly drawer!

    All is calm, all is poor(ly preserved).

    Found yon fossil fish, maybe a skull.

    Fragments of scales, so broken and dull,

    Unidentified piece,

    U-hun-identified piece.

     

    2016 is nearly upon us, but before it is, let’s take some time to reflect on the highly disappointing year of underwhelming fossil fish that has passed. If this is your first dip into this blog series then you’re out of luck. This series is an exploration of the frankly dull and uninteresting fossil fish that are found in museum collections the world over. Are they destined to a…erm…. a destiny in a museum drawer? Yes probably. Are they justifiably destined to an eternity in a museum drawer though? Yes, probably. But this series aims to celebrate them because they’re underwhelming because life shouldn’t be all about biggest, brightest and boldest.

    This year has been the least whelming year so far.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 217: annotated green turtle half-skull

    By Paolo W Viscardi, on 7 December 2015

    This week I’ve picked a specimen to talk about that is being used in comparative zoology practicals at the moment. I chose it because it has been helpfully labelled to show each of the bones which fit together to form the remarkable piece of biological architecture that is the skull. So this week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    LDUCZ-X833 annotated green turtle skull

    LDUCZ-X833 annotated green turtle skull

    (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: November 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 November 2015

    The sound of mince pies is in the air. People with awful moustaches are getting a free pass this month. This can mean one of only two things. Either the annual conference of British Pie Awards and The Handlebar Club have booked the same conference venue* or it’s November. Delete as appropriate. What this may mean is that it isn’t October anymore, so it’s time to welcome you to another underwhelming fossil fish of the month, our monthly foray into the world of uninspiring fossil fish. UK museums have thousands if not hundreds of thousands of fossil fish in their collections and they get a hard time. They aren’t used in exhibitions, they don’t feature on lunchboxes, they aren’t the subject of Hollywood films.

    Well, normally that is. This month, due to a mix up at the email sorting office, I’ve been wired a rather interesting and semi-famous fossil fish. You’ll probably instantly recognise it from the photo below. It’s going to be hard to play this one down, this one has been featured on stamps. I know, I’m going to get letters for highering standards. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: October 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 October 2015

    It’s that time of year, the leaves are turning brown, Christmas advent calendars are on the shelves, British people are struggling with the decision to complain about it being too hot or too cold for the time of year because its possibly both but not as clear cut as say summer or winter. But none of that matters to a fossil fish. Even if they were able to blink in life, which most couldn’t, the unblinkable, unblinking eyes of fossil fish care not for such trivial concerns as the changing of seasons. Partly because they’ve been turned to stone. Well, completely because they’ve turned to stone.

    Welcome to October’s underwhelming fossil fish of the month, our monthly foray into the world of underwhelming fossil fish from the drawers and stores of the Grant Museum of Zoology. The unloved, the untreasured, the uncelebratable fossil fish. And so they should be. They’re not very interesting at the best of times. In fact, I wouldn’t carry on reading this, you’ll only be disappointed in 5, 4, 3, 2… (more…)