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  • Dead to me!

    By Pia K Edqvist, on 12 July 2016

    Human remains at the Petrie Museum. It’s time to come out of storage!
    Death is part of life, and for me, death is very much a part of work since I am currently rehousing the human remains at the museum. In February, I attended a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), PASSING ENCOUNTERS: The dead body and the public realm, the purpose of this was to stimulate discussion about death in an open and frank manner. I joined to learn more about how human remains are portrayed in social media and to gather people’s opinions on death. But, I learned much more than that; how a body decays, what different stages of decay smells like (See Fig.1.), and how death and the body have been portrayed throughout history

    Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

    Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

    . (more…)

    Bentham the feminist?

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 3 March 2016

    Recently I was helping an artist, Kristina Clackson Bonnington, with some research into the collections I look after. Kristina is working on an event for this year’s International Women’s Day, and is starting to plan for the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK (2018). While discussing her project I thought it would be interesting to see what Jeremy Bentham’s thoughts on women’s rights were. I’m very pleased to say that he had some modern sounding ideas…

    As with all my questions relating to Bentham’s life and works my first port of call was the friendly people at the Bentham Project. Their initiative ‘Transcribe Bentham’ is working to publish all of Bentham’s manuscripts and is finding now information all the time. One recent manuscript they sent me is pictured below, and rather wonderfully shows Bentham arguing for the use of gender neutral pronouns.

    Bentham Manuscript - Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

    Bentham Manuscript – Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

    When both sexes are meant to be intended, employ
    not the word man– but the word person

    26 When both sexes intended employ person not man

    Let it be understood that when the word person is
    thus employed he the pronoun masculine includes the female
    sex as well as the male (more…)

    Please don’t call us a Cabinet of Curiosity

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2016

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum. Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lanclet

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum.
    Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lancelet

    “Isn’t the Grant Museum wonderful! It’s such a cabinet of curiosity!”

    This exclamation is clearly meant as a rich endorsement of the Grant Museum – it’s obviously intended as a compliment. Nevertheless, it makes me wince.

    Inspiring curiosity and wonder is surely among the highest ambitions a museum could ever have. It’s infinitely more important than making visitors learn something. Curiosity? I am a huge fan. Cabinets? We definitely have some nice ones. Cabinets of Curiosity? No thanks.

    For me, this term implies that our objects are nothing but curios – weird artefacts amassed by some eccentric collector. Erratically accumulated in another time; weird and wonderful titbits intended to impress; to show off the collector’s status and influence – “Gosh, Sir William! Where did you get that ghastly tenrec!?” (more…)

    Happily Never After: A Moral Proposition for the Management of Museum Collections

    By Subhadra Das, on 11 February 2016

    This is a provocation I wrote and presented at ‘The Future of Museums’ Conference, held at UCL in 2014. Having attended a few seminars and conferences in the sector recently, I feel the need to share it with a wider audience. The text appears as I presented it at the conference, with added links for your delectation and miniscule adjustments to diction and syntax to make me sound cleverer.

    Hello.

    My provocation was: “In the future, no object should ever enter a museum collection on the assumption that it will be there forever.” Looking back, that’s pretty tame. What I meant to tell you was that, if I ever get round to writing one, my ideal Collections Development Policy would consist of just 5 words:

    “Burn it. Burn it all.”

    (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…)

    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…)

    New Year, New Resolutions: Museum Conservation Conversations on the UCL PACE Museums and Collections Blog!

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 12 January 2016

    The PACE Conservation Laboratory on UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus serves the needs of UCL’s diverse collections. The objects we have examined and treated in 2015 have ranged from fragile inorganic and organic archaeological materials, small sculpture and other works of art, dry- and fluid-preserved zoological specimens, all manner of scientific teaching models, an array of mechanical and electrical scientific instruments, and much, much more!!

    UC40989 faience shabti, during treatment: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology Museum; UCLAM10026 bronze medal of Prosper Sainton: UCL Art Museum; Z2978 mammoth tusk: Grant Museum of Zoology; Mathematical model: UCL Maths.

    Faience ‘shabti,’ during treatment: Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (UC20989); Bronze medal: UCL Art Museum (10026); Mammoth tusk: Grant Museum of Zoology (Z2978); Mathematical model: UCL Maths.

    These objects have come to our Conservation Lab from UCL’s collections for a variety of reasons. Some need to be cleaned or repaired ahead of use in teaching, research, loan or display. Some present mysteries which close examination and scientific analysis may help unravel. Others have been selected for treatment as part of ongoing programmes to improve the condition of collections currently in storage.

    Each object has a story to tell, and with the start of this New Year, we have made a resolution to share the work we do with our blog audiences. (more…)

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2015

    By Jack Ashby, on 8 January 2016

    Happy New Year!

    2015 was an absolute cracker for the Grant Museum, with our two exhibitions – Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals, and our Artist in Residence Eleanor Morgan’s Glass Delusions – as well as the massive Bone Idols conservation project. Together these helped us break all records for visitor numbers, as well as being voted by the public to win Time Out’s Love London award for being Bloomsbury, Fitrovia and Holborn’s most loved cultural attraction (beating some pretty stiff competion [COUGH/britishmuseum/COUGH])

    As a way of looking back over this monster year, on Twitter over the past week we’ve been counting down the best of 2015’s blog – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year*. Looking back, it’s certain that we’ve had a top year in terms of blogging, with 93 posts from Team Grant. But what were the best posts?

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2015 is… (more…)

    The Great Grant Knit-a-Thon

    By Dean W Veall, on 18 August 2015

    12 hours in the Museum knitting – why – I hear you ask? Dean Veall here and another installment of Museum Events. As part of the Strange Creatures: The art of unknown animals exhibition events series we decided to run an event that took inspiration from co-curator Sarah Wade’s research, and the display of artist Ruth Marshall’s knitted skin of a Thylacine. We set the knitters of London the challenge of knitting some of the strange creatures from our collection. Visitors could bring their own knitting needles to ‘stitch one purl one’ for an hour over lunch or come after work and join in over a glass of wine.

    (more…)

    Looking at Strange Creatures Seminar Day

    By Dean W Veall, on 4 August 2015

    Dean Veall here. Following on from the first blog in the series, Why do museums bother running events?, I’ thought I would work backward highlighting some of our events from the last year presenting them as case studies in an effort to better understand why we here at Team Grant bother running events. Many of our readers are fellow museum peoplpe and I thought our blog would be perfect space to share some of our practice, the lessons I’ve learnt as a practitioner in museum event programming as well as a more permenant record of the event.

    The seminar day was the penultimate event of the series accompanying our Strange Creatures exhibition. Throughout the series we offered visitors the opportunity to engage with some of the themes of the exhibition through various different event formats from our open mic night Animal Showoff and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo film night, to straight up lecture, DINOSAURS! of Victorian London. The seminar was a foray into a programmed series of talks that offered a more academic take on the world of animal representation. It included perspectives of art from the historical to the contemporary with some zoology thrown in for good measure.

    (more…)