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  • Spotlight on the Slade – October update

    By Jenny M Wedgbury, on 1 October 2015

    Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis.  By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

    Percy Wyndham Lewis, Stooping Nude Child, 1900, Black Chalk, UCL 6003 (The Estate of Mrs G.A. Wyndham Lewis. By permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a Registered Charity)

    Blog post by Helen Downes, Paul Mellon Centre Research Curator, UCL Art Museum

    UCL Art Museum’s Spotlight on the Slade project is well underway with the first phase of the project: Full cataloguing of the collection of some 1,700 drawings.  Dating from the 1890s to the present day, this collection of largely prize-winning drawings offers a unique insight into student work and teaching methods at the Slade.  Current focus is on the late 19th, early 20th Century and is yielding some interesting findings. (more…)

    Behind the Mask – Research into the Noel Collection

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 2 September 2015

    This is a guest blog written by Bryony Swain, a UCL Student Volunteer who spent most of the last academic year (2014/15) cataloguing the Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks.

    Hello, I’ve been volunteering with the UCL Museums and Collections department and loving it!

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.  Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.
    Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

    I have been cataloguing the excellent Robert Noel phrenological collection, which contains a large selection of plaster life and death masks from the mid 19th century. Phrenology studies the theory that skull configurations can determine character traits, and Noel made his collection to test and demonstrate the validity of this theory and wrote a book with measurements and biographical summaries to accompany them. Today, phrenology is considered a discredited pseudoscience, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was taken very seriously. Noel ordered the masks into different categories to prove that intellectual and moral individuals had a different skull shape to criminals and suicides.


    Specimen of the Week: Week 150

    By Pia K Edqvist, on 25 August 2014

    Scary MonkeyI did not really have a choice selecting the specimen of the week; this as a particular specimen was speaking to me in the corner of one of the display cases, I felt somewhat hypnotised. Firstly because the way it looks; it has an extraordinary appearance consisting of a lattice-like pattern in a somewhat geometric and architectural design, the specimen is very beautiful. Is it actually made of glass? Studying this specimen it has proven to have depth (it lives in the deep sea) but also breadth; its uses are many and its fascinating qualities are still investigated, this animal still raises more questions than provides answers.

    This week Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    A gem of an idea

    By Rachael Sparks, on 26 February 2014

    Dramatically bearded gentleman shows off his classical headgear

    Dramatically bearded gentleman shows off his classical headgear.

    Every collection has its nooks and crannies, and it’s rare for curators to know the full scope of their domain. So every now and again we’ll take a quiet moment to sneak into our stores and explore that neglected corner or unfamiliar drawer, just to see what might be lurking.

    Late last year I was looking for some material for my new conservation volunteers to work on. I’d begun training them in the mysteries of plastazote cutting – that’s making snug little foam housing to hold objects safe – and I wanted some simple starter objects. You know the sort of thing: nice and flat on the underside, so there’s no tricky shaping of the mount to match the curve of the object, and not so fragile that the students get disheartened by accidentally breaking something. We’d already done a batch of cylinder seal impressions (straight rectangular lines, flat as a tack – lovely). But now I wanted to try them on something new.

    So I started to explore the stores in search of inspiration. Here’s what I found: (more…)

    Do Dodo Bones Belong in a Museum?

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 November 2013

    This week the Daily Mail reported that two bones from a dodo were set to sell at auction for £30,000. This would be the first private sale of a dodo bone since 1934*. My first reaction was one of horror. Why is that?

    These are two main reasons why I might deplore this sale:
    1) It should be in a museum.
    2) We shouldn’t put a value on natural history objects.

    I’d like to explore why these might not be reasonable objections.

    It Should be in a Museum: For Science
    This is the reaction I got on Twitter when discussing this story, and it seems reasonable. Valuable natural history specimens that aren’t in museums are lost to science, as I have argued before when discussing Channel 4’s Four Rooms.

    But are these two bones – a femur and partial pelvis – valuable natural history specimens? I’m not convinced. (more…)

    Science Research in a Science Museum?

    By Mark Carnall, on 30 May 2013

    As chance would have it at the same time as we received research interest from the Royal College of Art, colleague Dr Zerina Johanson, researcher in the Earth Sciences Department at the Natural History Museum, had also contacted me about our paddlefish specimens. We have less than a dozen paddlefish specimens in the Grant Museum (fish is the family Polyodontidae, represented today by only two species the American paddlefish Polyodon spathula and the possibly-extinct Chinese paddlefish Psephurus gladius) and fortunately, one of these specimens, matched the specifications for research (in this article I wrote about how ‘usable’ specimens dwindle to tens from thousands depending on the type of research).

    So for the second time in May I was on bodyguard duty to escort one of our specimens down to South Kensington for some scanning, this time for SCIENCE!


    Should or should not museums be places for debate?

    By Celine West, on 5 April 2013

    Last week the Museums Association (MA) published the results of its survey of public attitudes to museums. This survey showed all the good news that museum people love to hear – lots of people love museums, our collections, exhibitions and education programmes. As the report says, people have a strong, positive emotional attachment to museums – interestingly, whether they visit or not (1).

    A summary of the report lists museums’ essential purposes (as viewed by the public), priority purposes, on down through low priority purposes. For example, an essential purpose is “creating knowledge for, and about, society” and a priority purpose is “promote happiness and wellbeing”. This list of purposes ends, however, with a couple of things under the heading “purposes challenged by the public” i.e. “what people think museums should Not be doing” and one of these is “providing a forum for debate”.


    People discussing objects and subjects in the mirrored outreach box called The Thing Is



    Crimes against curators

    By Rachael Sparks, on 13 February 2012

    It’s a Monday, which is always a tough day, as the emails have had all weekend to pile up and all the things you didn’t manage to do last week now need to be done even more urgently this week. So maybe this is a good day to share some of my personal candidates for a museums’ version of Room 101. (more…)

    Prestigious award for UCL Museums & Collections

    By Linda Thomson, on 4 October 2011

    A team of researchers from UCL Museums & Collections has just been awarded a Certificate of Commendation by the Royal Society for Public Health Arts and Health Awards Committee for their ‘Heritage in Hospitals’ project. The award was made in recognition of the excellent and ground-breaking character of the research, and the valuable outcomes for participants. The Committee was particularly impressed by the range and quality of publications arising from this work.

    This innovative programme was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and carried out in conjunction with University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Arts programme. In facilitated sessions lasting around 40 minutes, patients were invited to handle and discuss a selection of museum objects with a view to assessing the impact of this activity on health and wellbeing. If you have any comments or thoughts about this research please get in touch with the project team – we’d love to hear from you.

    For more information about the ‘Heritage in Hospitals’ project go to:

    Or email:

    Dr Helen Chatterjee, Project Leader:

    Dr Linda Thomson, Lead Researcher: