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  • 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…)

    Whose story is it anyway?

    By Alice M Salmon, on 31 January 2014

     This Wednesday, 29 January, UCL Museums and Collections, and UCL Library Special Collections, teamed up with the literary charity First Story to deliver our annual creative writing event. Around 90 students from local London secondary schools spent the afternoon exploring and writing about our collections.

    Students from Lambeth Academy absorbed in their work in The Rock Room, UCL

    Students from Lambeth Academy absorbed in their work in The Rock Room, UCL

    Events like these remind me of how lucky I am to work as an educator in museums. As museum professionals, we spend a long time thinking about how to tell stories (stories of our museums, stories of our collections, stories of our objects, stories of the people that owned said objects,  etc, etc…I could go on) but it is so refreshing to hand the role of the storyteller over to students, who can provide us with a totally fresh take on the collections we know so well.  The results were, quite simply, fantastic. Below is just one example of the quality of work produced from the visit:

    Jack Isaaz –La Grotteri, from King Solomon Academy, was inspired to think about his heaven and hell through  working with the UCL Library Special Collections and, in particular, by Botticelli’s  illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy:

     For it is All that I Need

     Sensations seldom felt grip the air.

     More stains of darker, saturated hues. But still

     All feels grey. Unlike once before, the silence

     Is now silent: sounds of death, dead

     Vibrations permeate the dust that you hear

     And breathe. I can’t bear the nothing that

     I never had. You don’t see for there is nothing

     To observe.

     

    She smiles again once more, though not one thing

     Could ever make one forget such a sight.

     The sun shines on the clouds and as it should,

     It does not shine on us. We are left with

     The fray of the familiar. The cold that embraces us is

     No foe, cooling our skin with its inviting breath.

     I imagine the park adjacent to the grass where I

     Lay down gazing at nothing because it is nothing that

     I’ve become accustomed to. The fun nothings I need.

     

     Raindrops now, stain the tar that bleaches the roads I’ve

     Walked upon my entire life. The buildings are calmed

     As their shadows find homes with the darkening

     Surface. There is no need for thought or speech for

     All is as it should be. I imagine

     Her smile.

     Jack Isaaz –La Grotteri, King Solomon Academy

    To find out more about the work that First Story do you can visit their website: http://www.firststory.org.uk/

    Alice Salmon is a Senior Access Officer in the Access and Learning Team for UCL’s Museums and Public Engagement Department.

    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…)

    And 11 months later

    By Dean W Veall, on 8 August 2013

    Dean Veall here, Learning and Access Officer at the Grant Museum of Zoology. As I pack my panniers and get ready to mount my trusted bicycle for an extended August break back in the rolling hills of the valleys of Wales I thought now would be an apt time to present a reflection on my first 11 months here at UCL and share some insight into the working life at the Grant Museum.

    I started in September 2012, and my only real recollection of that first week was sitting in the Museum in the corner with my back to my new colleagues staring at our green main wall, a wall I came to know intimately over those two weeks in the middle of September we were closed for refurbishment.

    The green green wall of the Grant

    The green green wall of the Grant

    (more…)

    Art Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 10 May 2013

    It seems to be a week for thinking about Art vs. Science this week. Of course the whole idea or art vs. science is a fallacy but increasingly I meet artists and scientists who want to live up to the stereotype of being in either camp and rejecting outright the other one. As a university museum we work very hard to ensure that our collections support the research of the academic community not just here at UCL and it isn’t just science researchers who are ‘allowed’ in.

    Natural history and art have a shared history and for a long time were the same thing. Trace the origins of an interest in the natural world and biology back to its roots and description, observation, inspiration and illustration are natural history. You couldn’t prise the ‘art’ or the ‘science’ bits out of it without undermining the whole endeavor. This tradition continues today, if we think about the Wildlife photographer of the year, the imagery employed by conservation agencies, the latest Wellcome collection exhibition, the works of Mark Dion or even the plates and graphs from  scientific journal papers they can be considered both art and science. Particularly, with the pervasive use of the Internet, visual media is increasingly how we communicate our ideas, agendas and passions. Be it a powerful image that sums up the plight of Orang Utans, a meme that causes us to chuckle over a tea break or the sheer beauty of what is called ‘data porn’, that is, a nice infographic that shows rather than tells the story.

    So on any given day at the Grant Museum we could have visiting scientific researchers who may be measuring the dimensions of a skull or looking for the differences between fossils. Alternatively we could have an artist creating an installation for our Foyer and we’re excited to see the reactions to the museum for our upcoming sculpture season collaboration with the Slade School of Fine Arts. Rarely is there a day where we don’t have an art group or individual artists sketching or photographing specimens on display. All of the above are equally valid uses of museum collections and this post follows a day out for one of our specimens down to the Royal College of Art. (more…)

    Diamonds are Forever

    By Edmund Connolly, on 1 May 2013

    by  Chris Webb

    Although a James Bond reference may be a tenuous link to the Petrie Museum, it is the literal, or rather chronological, duration of the shiny, super-hard compressed allotropes of carbon that had us titillated at the recent timekeeper event. On the evening of the 25th April, we welcomed back our resident Timekeeper Cathy Haynes who was joined by the Creative Director of the Institute of Making, Zoe Laughlin. The Institute is a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world, and incidentally, our neighbours at UCL. The objective: to examine the material world of time and decay, and gain a better understanding of the way the world views time.

    (more…)

    A “humerus” way to spend the holidays…

    By Alice M Salmon, on 19 April 2013

    Firstly, I need to apologise for the lack of immediacy in writing a blog about the year 8 “spring school” that I ran on behalf of UCL’s Museums and Collections last week. With my teenage years a distant memory, a bit of R and R was required to recover from the energy of 38 constantly excited 13 year olds.

    Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

    Reconstructing the look of a plague doctor

    That aside, it was certainly a week to remember! Participants witnessed a barber surgeon in action, analysed animal poo, and created their own alien dissection, all in the name of education.  They discussed the ethics of human display, philosophised over what makes us human, and took great pleasure in analysing the “worth” of a dismembered foot that had been consumed with dry gangrene. (more…)

    Moving Forward: Cultural Heritage Fellowship 2012/13

    By Edmund Connolly, on 9 April 2013

    It is hard to believe we will be playing proud host to our group of 9 Fellows in just a few months’ time. Time has flown and our Fellows have been busy developing their Community Engagement projects using the case studies and skills that were showcased during the weeks spent in the UK at UCL and a group of host museums. Following on from our last post I will now profile out Egyptian Fellows: Sayed Ahmed and Mohamed M. Mokhtar, who both work at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in Cairo.

    Sayed Ahmed CHF 2012/13

    Sayed Ahmed CHF 2012/13

    (more…)

    Kings and Queens and the case of the pink hippo?

    By Edmund Connolly, on 15 March 2013

    Guest Blogger, Christopher Webb

    On Tuesday the 26th February the Petrie Museum played host to a celebration of LGBT history month. The evening, ‘Every good thing’, saw Egyptologist John J Johnston in conversation, as he discussed items chosen from the Petrie’s collection of over 80,000 artefacts from ancient Egypt and Sudan, including figurines, mummy portraits and ceramic. Our special guests from the LGBT community carefully selected their personal choice of object and reflected on what it tells them about life, love and sexuality in the ancient world. The goal of the evening was to further our knowledge and insight into the LGBT experience in the ancient world.

     

    Our first guest, comedian, writer and actor Tom Allen, chose a terracotta head of Alexander the Great, from Memphis. UC49881 (more…)

    QR codes and “Tales of Things” at the Petrie Museum

    By Edmund Connolly, on 13 March 2013

    guest blogger Andie Byrnes

    I was at an object-handling session on the 5th March 2013 and as I had arrived early I took the opportunity get out my phone and play with the QR codes set up next to selected objects.  A project called “Tales of Things” has been rolled out at a number of museums, and the Petrie is contributing. The “Tales of Things” project has been set up to explore the relationships that people form with objects.  So when you see a QR code in the Petrie with the words “Tales of Things” above it, you will know that it is part of the project, and you can participate.

    QR Codes

    QR Codes

    QR (“Quick Response”) codes are two-dimensional bar codes.  Unlike the vertical row barcodes so familiar on books, CDs and groceries scanned through supermarket tills, QR codes are combinations of vertical and horizontal lines arranged in patterns contained within squares.  The one on the left links to an article in the Petrie Museum’s blog. The two major benefits of them are that a) QR codes can be generated by anyone using a standard web application and b) they can be scanned by users from print or screen by smart-phones and tablet computers.
    (more…)