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  • Whales on the Road

    By Ruth Siddall, on 6 July 2017

    This weekend, 8th and 9th July, the Grant Museum is running an event of massive proportions – the Whale Weekender – when the public is invited to come and rebuild and clean their whale skeleton. Long before it came to the Grant Musuem, the whale in question begun life-after-death, in 1860, when it was sold to be toured around the country as a whole carcass. That particular venture did not go very well for anyone involved.

    This post is about dead whales touring the country on the back of lorries. There are not many things these days that provide pretty much no hits when Googled, but this subject seems to be one of them. You may well be asking why I would be Googling ‘Whales’ ‘Lorry’ ‘Supermarket Car Park’. Here is the answer…

    I was talking to my colleague Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum, about their upcoming #WhaleWeekender extravaganza, and he mentioned the incredible history of their specimen and its intended national tour. I told Jack that I remembered seeing a whale in the back of a truck when I was a kid in Salford in the early 1970s. Jack looked at me like I had said 1870s. On reflection there is certainly a circus side-show, freak-show element to this experience. Until speaking to Jack, I have not thought about this for years. (more…)

    Help us build and clean a whale skeleton

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 July 2017

    Some of the whale's backbone, in one of our stores.

    Some of the whale’s backbone, in one of our stores.

    This weekend we will be attempting to rebuild our largest specimen – a northern bottle-nosed whale skeleton. And we would like you to help us do it.

    The specimen’s story begins in 1860 when it was originally collected in Somerset, when an expedition set off across the Bristol Channel in pursuit of “two great fish” (as they were described by the local newspaper – whales are, of course, mammals) – one of which was brought back to land. After a period “on tour” as a whole carcass, the prepared skeleton was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the Weston Super-Mare Museum. It eventually came to the Grant Museum in 1948, but it had been dismantled into its separate bones. (Its full, remarkable story, including the use of entirely inappropriate whale-murdering equipment, misguided entrepreneurship, rancid carcasses, financial ruin, and the unusual tasks the wife of a 19th century curator might find herself doing, can be read in a previous post).

    At over eight metres long in life, different parts of the skeleton have been stored in different cupboards and cabinets across the Museum and its storerooms. (more…)

    Museums and Virtual Reality: VR in the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 15 February 2017

    Guest post

    VR:Cell being tested in the Grant Museum

    VR:Cell being tested in the Grant Museum

    For those of us who had the opportunity to work with Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR), 2016 was a most exciting year. Notably, a range of new headsets finally reached consumer market and a number of interesting, new applications looked poised to mainstream these technologies. We even saw the world’s first revolutionary AR game in the form of Pokémon Go entering many locations worldwide and arriving to this very place, the Grant Museum of Zoology. It is also becoming apparent that VR and AR are not just opening new opportunities for how we entertain ourselves, but also how we connect, share, and learn, by transforming how we look at content.

    VR and AR are emerging as a valuable medium in learning and public engagement

    A number of articles, studies and conference presentations have already described the great success of 3D-immersion brought about by VR and AR technologies in hundreds of classrooms in educationally progressive schools and learning labs. Considering that today’s museums are interactive learning environments that encourage engaging with material, VR and AR should be ideally placed to bring museum objects to life and create more dynamic, interesting exhibits and displays. (more…)

    This Spring at UCL Museums

    By Dean W Veall, on 12 January 2017

    Focus on the Positive eventHello dear reader! Do you want to go behind the scenes at the Print Room at the Slade School of Fine Art? How about sitting in darkness surrounded by dead animals experiencing an audio cinema? Or maybe you fancy celebrating the trowel-blazing (see what I did there) women of archaeology?  Thought so! As luck would have it, here at UCL Museums we have all of that plus much more to keep you entertained over the next few months….

    (more…)

    Meanderings in the Vault

    By Martine Rouleau, on 24 November 2016

    Vault artist in residence Kara Chin and Dr Martin Zaltz Austwick from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis introduce a screening of Magnetic Rose, a Japanese animé that follows four space travelers who are drawn into an abandoned spaceship that contains a world created by one woman’s memories, alongside It’s a Good Life, an episode of the Twilight Zone television series.

    h - Version 2

    This double programme started with an exchange between Kara and Martin about themes found in science, urban planning, art, films and other cultural productions. The essence of this discussion can be found here. Kara Chin is hosting a screening of the Japanese animé Paprika, also discussed here, on the evening of the 29th of November.

    (more…)

    Going under the coat of cats

    By Dean W Veall, on 17 November 2016

    Dean Veall here. Whether it’s our late openings, comedy cabaret Animal Showoff, improvised opera, audio cinemas or film nights our events programme aims to entertain, inspire and surprise audiences. Last Wednesday we worked with researchers from UCL and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) to present an event that gave audiences a unique insight into cutting edge research on the evolution of cat anatomy and movement. In Wild Cats Uncovered we took members of the public behind the scenes into the dissection room to discover more about one of the natural world’s fastest predators.

    Team cat performing the cheetah post-mortem in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre at the RVC

    Team cat performing the cheetah post-mortem in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre at the RVC

    (more…)

    Some favourite magic lantern slides

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 14 March 2016

    This is a guest blog written by Bethany Gugliemino, a Museum Studies MA Student on a work placement with the UCL Teaching and Research Collections. 

    Hello! My name is Bethany and I’m a museum studies student here at UCL. I’m currently completing my work placement with the UCL Science and Engineering Collections, specifically working on the collection of magic lantern slides held in the Electrical Engineering collection. You may remember reading about these slides before on the blog when a previous intern began cataloguing the collection. Since those posts covered what lantern slides are and how they’re made and an overview of the main contents of the collection, I thought I would give you some examples of my favourite slides I’ve found so far.

    Slide EE1497, Electric Light on Thames Embankment

    Slide EE1497, Electric Light on Thames Embankment

    This slide shows an illustration of spectators marvelling at the installation of electric lighting on Victoria Embankment. (more…)

    Conservation of Public Art in the UCL Wilkins Building

    By Susi Pancaldo, on 11 March 2016

    Have you ever noticed – as you hurry off to class, the library or an event – that UCL’s campus is filled with works of art?

    The Wilkins Building, at the heart of the UCL Bloomsbury campus’ main quad, is particularly rich in sculpture. Outside the building, of course, are the iconic lead athletes on the steps below the dome.

    Lead statues of the Capitoline Antinous and the Discophorus, Wilkings Building

    Lead statues: Capitoline Antinous and Discophorus, Wilkins Building

    These figures have a fascinating history and I will write more about them another time.

    Inside the Wilkins Building, there is an abundance of works on permanent display too. Adjacent to the Jeremy Bentham auto-icon are two large, ancient Egyptian limestone lions in excavated by Sir Wm.M.F. Petrie. There are a number of 19th and early 20th century sculptures on either side of the Octagon Gallery; wall paintings in the Whistler Room (soon to be opened to the public); and upstairs, within the library, a myriad of sculpture in and around the 1st floor Flaxman Gallery. (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…)

    UCL students identify mystery specimens in the Grant Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 2 February 2016

    Mystery specimen displayHave you ever seen something in a museum and suspect that the curators have got it wrong? If so, I hope you haven’t been too shy to let the museum know. Speaking for the Grant Musuem at least, we love it when visitors add to our knowledge of the collection, and we don’t ask for “expert” credentials before hearing an opinion. Indeed, a 11 year boy spotted that a specimen labelled “marine iguana” was in fact a tuatara (a lizard-shaped reptile from New Zealand (that is in fact not a lizard)). And couple of years back, a visitor noticed that our famous anaconda skeleton was in fact an African rock python. Some museums might be embarrassed by the idea that some of their objects have been mis-identified, but not us.

    In fact every year we give our UCL bioscience students the chance to challenge our identification as part of the fantastic “Vertebrate Life and Evolution” module. We have just created a display of “mystery specimens” identified by these students.

    (more…)