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  • 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…)

    Book Worm… Darwin’s Notebook: The Life, Times and Discoveries of Charles Robert Darwin written and compiled by Jonathan Clements – A Review

    By Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh, on 12 September 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    Darwin’s Notebook: The Life, Times and Discoveries of Charles Robert Darwin was first published by The History Press in 2009, the year that marked the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin’s birth. It is a biography which is made to resemble a personal notebook by the inclusion of quotations and illustrations from Darwin’s own journals and books. (more…)

    Book Worm… Rat Island by William Stolzenburg: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 31 July 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    Book Worm is our occasional series for reviewing books. Today I bring you my thoughts on William Stolzenburg’s Rat Island published by Bloomsbury in 2011.

    When I was about 13 I read David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo. His telling of the history of island biogeography through the prism of extinction was a great influence on my becoming a biologist. When I came across Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World’s Greatest Wildlife Rescue I was thrilled to return to where Quammen left off.

    According to Stolzenburg, islands harbour 20% of terrestrial biodiversity on just 5% of the land (read Song of the Dodo to learn why). They also account for nearly half of the world’s critically endangered species. One of the main reasons is the damaged caused by introduced species, most notably rats. (more…)

    Culture Vulture: Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind at the British Museum

    By Mark Carnall, on 8 May 2013

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    This is the second of our Culture Vulture exhibition reviews (the first is here) As I mentioned in an earlier article about whether a degree in museum studies was worth it it’s very important for museum professionals in all kinds of roles to not just act as guardians of material culture but also to go out and consume it. Visiting exhibitions is a great way to ummm ‘borrow’ ideas in exhibition design and if an exhibition is doing its job well then you’ll come away with a mind full of new thoughts and ideas.

    I’ve been along to Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind at the British Museum and was excited to see how the museum would interpret a narrative which is equal parts natural history, archaeology and art history. When it comes to academia it seems that humans love to find ways of boxing in disciplines and practices rather than accept that they are all interconnected. This can be seen in the names of departments, museums and the conferences that we attend but in my opinion it’s cross disciplinary interactions that can be the most interesting. Two big camps, traditionally pitched as antagonists are ‘Art’ and ‘Science’. Does Ice Age Art cater for both of these audiences or has one group (you have to carry a card) had more of a say? (more…)

    Book Worm… Kangaroo by John Simons: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 April 2013

    Book Worm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    I’m writing this second review in the predictably punned “Book Worm” occasional series whilst in the desert town of Alice Springs. As I like to match my reading with my surroundings, I’m reviewing Kangaroo by John Simons, published in December as part of Reaktion’s Animal Series.

    What this book seems to attempt to do is tackle the kangaroo from a variety of angles – biological, ecolgical, historical and anthropological. It is extremely generously illustrated (on nearly every page). There is sometimes, however, no obvious connection between the image and the neighbouring text which can make things a bit confusing, particularly when he is describing a specific visual scene without providing the appropriate image. (more…)

    Introducing Culture Vulture… Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men: A review

    By Jack Ashby, on 8 March 2013

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    Culture Vulture: A vulture skull in UCL Art Museum

    We’ve been doing a few exhibition reviews on the blog lately, and after the unprecedented success of the new Book Worm series (launched yesterday) we thought to ourselves “what weak animal based cliched pun can we deliver for a new exhibitions review feature?”. I think you’ll agree that “Culture Vulture” was the only option.

    I went along to Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men. The exhibition is the outcome of an excavation by museum archaeologists of a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital in 2006, which uncovered remains that had clearly been used in anatomical dissection. My interest was obvious – last year at the Grant Museum we put on Buried on Campus – an exhibition about the discovery and research into c7000 human remains unexpectedly discovered buried at UCL in 2010, also found to be have been used anatomically. I wanted to see how a museum with a budget tackled the same subject.

    The answer is: exceptionally well. (more…)

    Introducing Book Worm… Mammals of Africa: A Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 7 March 2013

    Book Worm - that's Grant and a lugworm

    Book Worm – that’s Grant and a lugworm

    We’ve tried a few things with our blog here, but so far book reviews haven’t been much of a feature. That may be about to change with our new predictably punned “Book Worm” feature, and to begin with I’m going for one that really is a bit of an event in zoological publishing – Mammals of Africa, published this month by Bloomsbury, and edited by the legendary Jonathan Kingdon (who also beautifully illustrates the series), David and Merridith Happold, Thomas Butyinksi, Michael Hoffman and Jan Kalina.

    My very favourite book to leaf through, because of my own zoological leanings, is Mammals of Australia (Van Dyck and Strahan, 2008). There is something deeply satisfying in completeness, and this book gives detailed and comprehensive information about every single known species of mammal in Australia. Australia is very big, and so is that book. It weighs more than 6kg. Now imagine putting together such a project for Africa, which dwarves Australia in size and variety of biotic zones. It’s a continent more rich in species of rodent than Australia is in species of mammals (and that is to say a lot).

    Mammals of Africa, therefore, is comprised of six 6kg volumes, each tackling one sixth of the continent’s diversity, extensively covering all 1116 extant known species. This is probably why such an undertaking has never been undertaken before. (more…)

    Extinction: Not the End of the World? at the Natural History Museum, a Review

    By Jack Ashby, on 14 February 2013

    We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

    Last week Curator Mark and I went to check out the new Extinction exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) which tackles the often tackled but rarely dealt with topic of extinction.

    Extinction, as a subject, is a tricky one. Firstly, natural history museums are full of it. We love it. 99% of species that have ever lived are extinct. [non-avian] Dinosaurs are extinct. Mammoths are extinct. Dodos are extinct. It’s bread and butter stuff. So much so that if we try and focus on it too much, it could be hard to make it special. Secondly, whatever museums/conservation organisations/David Attenborough say about modern extinctions, nothing ever changes. (more…)

    A Review, of sorts, of Treasures at the Natural History Museum

    By Jack Ashby, on 24 January 2013

    Treasures is the new permanent exhibition at the Natural History Museum (NHM) which “displays 22 of the most extraordinary specimens that have ever been on show at the Museum”. I’d been excited about it since I first heard about it a couple of years ago.

    As we all know, the best side of most museums isn’t the one that faces the public, and that is definitely true of the NHM, which for obvious reasons can’t display all 70 million objects in its care, or indeed all of the brilliant scientific research it undertakes. I’ve been critical before of the NHM missing opportunities to display real objects in its exhibitions, and so a gallery dedicated to showing what everyone actually comes to museums to see is exactly what I want them to be doing.

    Being lucky enough to do the job I do means that I’m privileged in knowing quite a lot about what the NHM has behind the scenes. Before visiting, I made a list of what I thought the NHM’s treasures are, and ticked it off as I went around: (more…)

    So when is natural history art?

    By Jack Ashby, on 19 September 2012

    Bisected chimp head

    Very obviously science.

    Before I start, just to be clear, I’m not one of those scientists who hates art, or is snobbish about the semi-defined/awe-and-wonder/expressive/cheeky-subversion/I-don’t-care-if-the-viewer-doesn’t-understand kind of thing that some artists get up to. Not at all. I think it’s great. In fact, I work hard to incorporate a lot of art into programmes at the Grant Museum.

    Over the last couple of weeks two of the city’s biggest block-busters finished – Animal Inside Out at the Natural History Museum and Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern. They were both excellent.

    Much has been written about the cross-over between art and natural history, particularly when traditional scientific museum practices are replicated in art. What makes one art and one science?
    The obvious answers relate to the intentions of the artist and the interpretations of the viewer. (more…)