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  • We’ve Added 600 New Labels, But Can we Label Everything?

    By Jack Ashby, on 6 August 2014

    The answer to that question is no, we can’t label everything. We’ve just installed 600 new labels in the Museum, as a result of visitor feedback. But have we got the balance right?

    Some of the 600 new labels being unpacked

    Some of the 600 new
    labels being unpacked

    There are about 6000 animal specimens on display in the Grant Museum (which, incidentally, is more than is on display at the Natural History Museum), including about 2300 in the Micrarium. The room is only about 250m², and this means our displays are very densely packed. We are hugely keen on specimens at the Grant – providing close access to real objects is one of our biggest selling points. For this reason (and also because we don’t have a lot of storage space), we put as much out on display as is logistically possible.

    Drawbacks of dense displays

    As much as people tell us they think of the Grant Museum as a room crammed with amazing rare things creating with an atmosphere that promotes exploration, filling every spare gap with objects does have its downsides. Some people think that displays should give each object its own space to breathe, allowing people to concentrate on them, but we’ve made the decision to go in a different direction. Plenty of other museums use this sparse display philosophy – but if you want to be immersed in a real and different celebration of objects, come to the Grant Museum.

    The major drawback of jam-packed cabinets is that there isn’t a lot of room for labeling. (more…)

    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…)

    Looking Through the Eyes of an Orangutan

    By Alice M Salmon, on 25 October 2013

    I am going to start this blog off by openly admitting that I am breaking social media convention by blogging about an event that took place nine months ago. *audible gasps*. Yes, I do really mean nine months ago. However, there is good reason for this. In February this year, UCL’s Museums and Collections, and the Library Special Collections, worked in collaboration with the UCL English Department and literary charity First Story, to deliver a creative writing day  for 100 students from local non selective secondary schools.  Today, the schools’ poetry anthologies have landed on my desk and they are definitely worth blogging about.

    A selection of poetry anthologies by The First Story Group

    The anthologies by First Story Group that are happily sitting on my desk.

    (more…)

    Petrie Menagerie: The Aquarium and Reptile House

    By Edmund Connolly, on 30 August 2013

    Our animal companionship has grown, with horses meandering along Egyptian groves, alongside languid hippos and regal lions. Returning to our first specimen, the hippo, we will dive once more into the waters to cavort in an aquarium of fish and chill in the boreal shades of a reptile house.

    Petrie Menagerie #5: The Aquarium and the Reptile House

    Egypt has two major water sources: the Nile which acts as a spine for the country, running down into Africa, and the Mediterranean sea. Both were essential for the trade routes, travel and artefacts that Ancient Egyptians are so famous for. In addition, these important bodies of water held swarms of fish, which were a key element of the Ancient Egyptian diet. Reptiles appear in Egyptian iconography principally as snakes, scorpions and crocodiles[1] in a host of iconographic, religious and spiritual incarnations.

    An Egyptian flat fish

    An Egyptian flat fish

    (more…)

    Petrie’s Menagerie: The Horse

    By Edmund Connolly, on 16 August 2013

    Last week’s animals weren’t as exotic as their forerunners, and we will be looking at another recognisable animal for both Ancient Egyptians and Victorian Londoners. As promised, this week will be examining the horse, perhaps a not so obvious element of an Egypt based menagerie.

    Petrie’s Menagerie #4 The Horse

    Man’s best friend may be a dog, but man’s most useful friend is probably the horse and I won’t insult my readers by describing one.

    “With the harnessing of its strength and swiftness to provide mobility, the horse transformed human existence”

    Lawrence, 223.

    Icelandic ponies, I spent a few holidays riding these shaggy beasts around France. copyright wikipedia.org

    Icelandic ponies, I spent a few holidays riding these shaggy beasts around France. copyright wikipedia.org

    (more…)

    Petrie’s Menagerie: The Hippopotamus

    By Edmund Connolly, on 26 July 2013

     

    The link between the Petrie collection and Egypt is pretty obvious, founded in 1892 the collection incorporates roughly 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese objects ranging from human remains to socks. The collection is still viewed and used by thousands of visitors a year, but I am intrigued by the Victorian audience, what would they have made of this collection? More precisely I am researching[1] the animals on display in the Petrie collection and how they may have been received and the vibrant history they were thrust into when brought to London. This series of 7 blogs will include material from the Petrie collection and archive, as well as some cross-collection references.

    Specimen #1: The Hippopotamus

    The name comes from the Greek (ἱπποπόταμος) meaning river horse, personally I see it more as an oversized pig, but hey who am I to argue with the Greeks, these aquatic equestrians are a common feature of children’s media[2] and the Africa vista. Egypt is the northern-most point that the Hippo is found naturally, gallivanting around in the Nile’s cooling waters.Hippo-3

    (more…)