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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…)

    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…)

    Museum Week: Behind The Art

    By Helen R Cobby, on 27 March 2014

    'Under Milk Wood' by Paula Rego, 1954, Oil on canvas

    ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Paula Rego, 1954, Oil on canvas

    It’s Museum Week, which is proving to be a brilliant opportunity to get to know new galleries, explore a museum’s history and join in with celebrating the wonderful work that museums do – not to mention the art they have and the imaginative spaces they create!

    There has been a different theme each day – and today it’s ‘Behind The Art’. Here at UCL Art Museum we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to rediscover some of the many female artists that studied at The Slade next door and whose work is part of the UCL Art Museum collections. We’re thinking Gwen John, Winifred Knights and Paula Rego.  (more…)

    The Grant Museum’s Third Birthday

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 March 2014

    History is a funny thing – we can create a boundary in time, hit reset, and restart the clock whenever we like. We did exactly that three years ago tomorrow, when the Grant Museum 2.0 reopened in our current location on 15th March 2011. In truth we are one of the oldest natural history collections in the country – founded in 1828 (or possibly 1827), but it took a while to become more than just a mass of specimens, and only became a Museum with a capital M in 1997. Reset has been hit a number of times in the past 186 years, but here we celebrate the latest counter ticking round to Three.

    The year in numbers
    20624 visitors during normal opening hours (up 25% on last year)
    15999 participants in our events (up 60% on last year)
    5141 school and FE students in museum classes
    2454 university students in museum classes
    216 objects accessioned
    138 blog posts
    16 loans
    12 Underwhelming Fossil Fish
    1 most inspiring museum in the UK
    0 objects acquired

    Silverware
    We may be a dusty Victorian collection in an Edwardian library (more…)

    Focus on the Positive

    By Dean W Veall, on 11 March 2014

    We’ve hosted a variety of events (film nights, game shows etc) in the Grant Museum

    Voting

    Voting

    but none have been quite like Thursday 27th February’s event. That event saw our speakers talking about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, London’s bats, faecal digesters and molecular biology all trying to cajole, convince and in one case bribe the audience to win the £2,000 prize. The event in question was Focus on the Positive.

    (more…)

    Human Evolution – The Story Of Us

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 27 February 2014

    Ever wanted to meet your ancestor?

    Ever wanted to meet your ancestor?

    On Friday 7th March the Rock Room (1st Floor Corridor, South Wing, UCL) will host a special pop-up exhibition featuring rarely seen objects from UCL’s Biological Anthropology Collection, and in particular their collection of early hominin fossil casts.

    UCL’s Biological Anthropology Collection is held by (unsurprisingly) the Biological Anthropology Section of the Anthropology Department. Biological anthropology focuses on the study of primate ecology and evolution, including the study of human evolution.

    In order to study and teach these subjects the department has built up a wonderful collection of over 2,000 bones, casts of bones and fossils, ancient tools and other types of objects (which I like to think of as ‘misc’). These are stored in the department and heavily used in teaching, helping students to bring the subject (back) to life.

    (more…)

    Darwin (or) Bust opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2014

    Charles Darwin would be 205 today. Happy birthday to him. To mark the occasion our Darwin (or) Bust exhibition opens today, showing Darwin as you are unlikely to have seen him before. Darwins have been created out of ants, light, crochet, DNA, his own writings, chocolate and other unusual media, all imagined and made by members of UCL’s Institute of Making.

    The Museum’s historic plaster bust of Darwin was moved from UCL’s Darwin Building when our collection was relocated in 2011. The remaining inhabitants of the Darwin Building were sorry to lose him, and so asked the Institute of Making to help them make a new one, from 3D laser scanning. We already had the 3D data as our very own Mona Hess had scanned him for her PhD on scanning in museums, and an idea blossomed…

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    Rather than just print off a new Darwin bust for the departments of Structural and Molecular Biology and Genetics, Evolution and Environment in the Darwin Building, we all decided to see what happened if we tapped the minds around us at UCL; asking the members of the Institute of Making how they would reinterpret the 3D data to make a new Darwin for the 21st Century. This multi-venue exhibition is the result. A previous post explains the origins of the exhibition more fully.

    The project somewhat snowballed. (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…)

    Bentham, Utilitarianism and Sex

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 5 February 2014

    Bentham later in life.  Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    Bentham later in life.
    Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

    On February 14th (yes, Valentine’s day) I will be giving a short talk at ‘Late London: City of Seduction’, part of the Museum of London’s special events program, on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. I will be introducing the auto-icon, discussing how it was made and talking about some of the legends that have built up around it (head used for a game of football anyone?). I will then relinquish the floor to Professor Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, an expert of Bentham’s life and works.

    So, a dead Philosopher, a mummified head and an articulated skeleton don’t sound very suitable for Valentine’s day do they? And maybe they aren’t, however if you look closer at the philosophy Bentham helped found…

    (more…)

    The Great Darwin BUST UP

    By Jack Ashby, on 27 November 2013

    There are lots of good things about working in a university museum. The best is that there are thousands of people around us whose job it is to have ideas and then come up with a way of realising these ideas. In the museums we know a lot of academics from different fields who we can put in touch with each other when we spot complementary ideas to combine into exciting cross-disciplinary projects.

    A few weeks ago some of our colleagues from UCL’s Institute of Making arrived with someone from Structural and Molecular Biology saying that they wanted to 3D scan our plaster bust of Charles Darwin to create a copy to go in the Darwin Building where UCL’s biologists live (and where the Grant Museum used to be housed). From there a project spiraled into something very exciting.

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum's Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    3D Scan of the Grant Museum’s Darwin bust by Mona Hess (all rights reserved)

    The bust has a bit of history – it is part of the Grant Museum’s collection, and as such when we moved into our current home in 2011 we took him with us (you might have spotted him peeking out a window on Gower Street). The biologists in the Darwin Building were very sorry to see him go. This project will create a new Darwin for them, and will also result in an unusual exhibition, through a competition. (more…)