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  • 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…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: August 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 28 August 2015

    And now. The end is near. It’s time to face. The final curtain. Lallaalala. De da da da de dada da. De dada dadada of which I’m certain. Hmmm hmm hmmm hmm hmm. Dah dah de dah dah da da. Da de de de and then a highway. BUT MORE, MUCH MORE THAN FISH, WE DID IT OURRRRRR WAY!

    This is a very special underwhelming fossil fish this month, not normally something I do here given the aim of this monthly series of blogs about the Grant Museum’s overwhelmingly underwhelming fossi fish collection is to keep it low key and on the underwhelming side. Even if the series did recently feature on VICE magazine’s Motherboard channel, with bonus IN DRAWER photographs. However, this is my last underwhelming fossil fish of the month blog post as the curator of the Grant Museum. I’m off to pastures new with far less in the way of fossil fish, underwhelming or otherwise.

    But that’s no reason to get too sentimental. So stiff upper lip, wipe away those fake allergy tears and let’s unceremoniously take a look at this month’s underwhelming fish fossil. Stretch your eyes and try to stay awake through this… (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: July 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 31 July 2015

    According to Wikipedia, the rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in three are inherently funnier, more satisfying or more effective than other numbers of things. However, in recent years, scholars have been unearthing a mountain of evidence to suggest that the rule be downgraded to, at best, a rule of thumb, with the more militant scholars going as far to say it should be the curse of three, citing Hobbit films,  the nephews of Donald Duck and Brontë sisters as key evidence. This month’s underwhelming fossil fish was once in three parts but has been stuck together using sticky back plastic and chewing gum expertly and still isn’t very interesting.

    Tentative introduction over, welcome to July’s Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month, a monthly foray into the deeply dull and noteunworthy world of fossil fish from the Grant Museum collection. If I were you, I’d recommend going and making yourself a tea or coffee. That’s a much better use of your time. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month: May 2015

    By Mark Carnall, on 29 May 2015

    It’s only taken a total of 30 months of monthly underwhelming fossil fish, but the series has finally received the overdue recognition that it deserves. The series, which stops to take a look at the less sexy, less interesting and generally underwhelming fish fossils that every natural history museum has in its stores, has been recognised as a tour de force in the museum/palaeo/biology blogosphere. There are so many people to thank but I deserve most of the credit to be honest. I am of course talking about the first ever Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month fan art*. That’s when you know you’ve really made it. Here it be:

    Fossil fish fan art by Jan Freedman

    (c) Up-and-coming-palaeo-cartoonist and Curator of Natural History, Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, Jan Freedman

    This cartoon, showing a bald lady talking to Brian May about fossil fish was first unveiled at last week’s Natural Sciences Collections Association conference, Museums Unleashed, about the power of social media and sums up this blog series in one image. But that’s enough boasting about how underwhelming fossil fish transcend media, we all knew this to be true so without further ado let’s clamp our peepers on this month’s rough in the diamonds. (more…)