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  • War, Love and Coal: New Exhibition from UCL Museum Studies Students

    By Mark Carnall, on 8 May 2014

    Image of Voices of War Postcard

    Every year Museum Studies Masters students have to create an exhibition as part of their course. This is a guest post by Maya Makker and Sarah McKeon two of the curators of this year’s exhibition Voices of War: UCL in World War One opening in the Institute of Archaeology.

    This term, the UCL Museum Studies students have been developing an exhibition entitled “Voices of War: UCL in World War One”. We decided to ask the question: What was the involvement of UCL students and alumni in the First World War? Our goal was to profile UCL affiliates and use objects to tell their World War One stories. From the onset, one of our primary objectives for the exhibition was to include the voices of women who lived through the war. As we began researching, our content team quickly realised that numerous women at UCL made significant contributions to the war effort in an array of capacities. One such woman was Marie Stopes—scientist, activist, and UCL alumnus.

    (more…)

    When Two Tribes Go To War. Art & Science ‘curatorship’

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 April 2014

    The University of Cambridge museums and collections are currently running a project Curating Cambridge: our city, our stories, our stuff. Part of that project is looking at the art & science of curation asking curators what they think is meant by curation. My colleague Nick Booth has previously written about the problems with the word curator now becoming almost meaningless through overuse. I was inspired to write about the differences between “Art and Science” curation for the Art & Science of Curation website.

    When two tribes go to war, they communicate with each other, even if it is only through war cries and violence. However, when it comes to the two tribes of art and science curators, they occupy completely different niches. Even though both sets of professionals have a lot in common- they work in museums (many of which are public), they will have had training in general and fundamental principles of museums and they all work in the museum sector. (more…)

    Curating, collections and two postcard albums

    By Mark Carnall, on 25 April 2014

    Guest post by Stefanie van Gemert (Dutch and Comparative Literature) one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    In this time of new media, we are all curators. We pin our interests on digital gallery walls and make collages out of faces on ‘the Book’. Tweeting and status-updating, we display our collections of Instagrams. I find this idea of self-styling through collecting fascinating. And this is only one of the many reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed working as co-curator on the current Octagon Exhibition Collecting – Knowledge in Motion (#uclkimotion) with Prof Margot Finn and Dr Kate Smith (History), Dr Claire Dwyer (Geography) and Dr Ulrich Tiedau (Dutch department).

    What Moves Collections

    Our curatorial team applied for a bid called ‘Movement’ in Spring 2013. We were invited to explore the many collections at UCL and to display our findings in the new Octagon space. The Octagon Exhibitions are meant to show interdisciplinary research at UCL. As Claire explained in her previous blog: our bid spoke of our mutual interests in material cultures, in colonial heritage and global migration.  But when we saw UCL’s vast collections, our ideas took a different direction. What is on display in the UCL Museums is only the shiny tip of a glorious iceberg of objects, stored in the basements of our campus. We felt spoilt for choice, quickly becoming enchanted by stories of movement related to the objects and collections at UCL.

    (more…)

    Why Twitter is good for museums – making discoveries

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 April 2014

    Using Twitter as a way of building a community of support, engaging people in content and shedding light on life behind the scenes in museums (that we don’t just dust stuff) is too obviously demonstrated by the real world to be spending too much time discussing. Not to mention the power to market events and exhibitions quickly and cheaply – assuming don’t over-use social media as a marketing tool.

    On Monday I conducted two pieces of “research” on our collection which sprung up out of the blue and would have been very difficult to solve without turning to our Twitter followers to tap their collective brain to find a quick answer. Both of them were on specimens that begin with “H” and end with “Bill”. Weird.

    Tweeting Turtles

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    Hawksbill turtle showing his interesting eyes LDUCZ-X1177

    (more…)

    Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 February 2014

    Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

    What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

    (more…)

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2013

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 January 2014

    Happy New Year!
    As well as looking forward to the exciting things we hope to do in the coming year, it is customary to look back at the past one. On Twitter over the past week I’ve been tweeting the best of 2013′s blog – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year.

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2013 is…

    Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum?

    Perhaps suggesting that there are many people interested in the incredibly amazing careers in museums, yet are aware of the fact that finding a way in is easier said than done.

    The Top Ten in full: (more…)

    Friends of the Grant Museum Annual Trip: Royal Institution & Linnean Society

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 12 December 2013

    Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

    Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)


    Each year we organise an outing for the members of our Friends programme to visit other museums and attractions. Annual trips are a great way for us to meet the Friends of the Grant Museum and for them to meet other Friends. We try to visit places that aren’t normally accessible to the public or go behind the scenes. As the organiser of this year’s event I got to tag along.

    This year we visited the Royal Institution, home to eminent scientists such as Michael Faraday, and the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society. Here are a few of the things I discovered that day. (more…)

    Natural history under the hammer

    By Mark Carnall, on 4 December 2013

    Recently there have been a spate of high profile auctions of natural history specimens raising many issues about ownership, the value we should or shouldn’t put on natural history and the relationship between professional scientists, museums, amateurs and private collectors. My colleague Jack Ashby wrote about the recent dodo bones that were auctioned. Colleagues Dave Hone and Mark Graham give a balanced view of the recent sale of a Diplodocus skeleton over at the Guardian. The ‘duelling dinosaurs’ fossil was estimated to reach $9 million at auction in New York and last year the controversial proposed sale of an allegedly illicitly smuggled Tarbosaurus skeleton caused much debate.

    I thought I’d add my thoughts on the subject here, in particular about the relationship between collectors, museums and ethics. (more…)

    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…)

    Passionate enthusiastic scientists – just another way of saying Geek?

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 November 2013

    Last week I went to a presentation at the Zoological Society of London about the impact on museum visitors of meeting real scientists. The speaker, Amy Seakins, is just finishing a PhD which examines this topic, specifically on visitors to the Natural History Museum (NHM) who encounter real scientists through the excellent Nature Live programme.

    Among the many interesting findings were her results on how the visitors’ concepts of what “scientists” are like changed after seeing them speak. Seakins asked them to describe what they think of scientists before and after the events.

    Scientists are Geeks
    Before, the common theme from the answers was that scientists are socially awkward boring geeks fixated on their single topic. These are obviously negative constructions. If this really is how the average person (who is engaged enough in science to visit a museum about it) sees us then there is a problem. Thankfully it’s a problem that formats like the NHM’s Nature Live can fix… (more…)