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Recreating sensory experience: How haptic technology could help us experience art in new ways

By f.taylor, on 13 July 2020

Inspired by a most unusual 17th-century engraving, in this blog student Ethan Low (UCL Bachelor of Arts and Sciences) explores how haptic technology could help us understand what an artist felt at the time they created their work by recreating their sensory experiences.

For me, and I suspect many other people as well, interacting with an art piece is a process of finding peace. It is a private sanctuary, a quiet place, where you communicate with the artist on the themes of their work. A great deal of this communication is facilitated by knowing the contexts of artworks, in addition to the experiences and personalities of the artists, as told to us by curators.

But what if there is limited information about a certain artwork? Are there other means of opening up dialogues with works we know less about?

Enter Claude Mellan’s enigmatic masterpiece, The Face of Christ, also known as the Sudarium of Saint Veronica. The Face of Christ is a piece which rewards the inquisitive; viewed at a distance, it appears to no different from hundreds of other engravings from the 17th century. The imagery depicts the titular true face of Christ, which according to Christian myth, was imprinted on a sudarium, a sweat cloth for wiping the face, offered to Jesus by Saint Veronica.

The Face of Christ / Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan

The Face of Christ / Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan (1598-1688), UCL Art Museum

Upon closer viewing, I realized an astonishing fact; the entire image is formed by a single spiral line! Variations in line width convey the appropriate shadows in darker spaces much like the more well-known technique of cross hatching. This is complimented by the inscription below the image, which means “the unique one made by one / [like] no other”. Although some have suggested that Mellan was following in the contemporary tradition of creating representations of the sacred sudarium, (Raissis, 2014) not much else is known for certain about the work.

The Face of Christ / Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan  The Face of Christ / Sudarium of Saint Veronica by Claude Mellan

Detail of The Face of Christ by Claude Mellan (1598-1688), UCL Art Museum

Drawing from the concept of embodied knowledge in cognitive science, I am inclined to believe that the full depth of what Mellan felt and thought as captured in his mysterious line may be unlocked through the application of haptic technology (Low, 2020).

This was the primary subject of my Arts and Sciences Final Year Dissertation, supervised by Dr Kat Austen, the reason why I visited the UCL Art Museum early this year to meet with Dr Andrea Fredericksen, where I had my first encounter with The Face of Christ. The unique qualities and enigmatic nature of Mellan’s engraving were the primary reasons why I chose to use this artwork for the project.

Embodied knowledge refers to knowledge that is learnt and conveyed by the body, as an inseparable extension of the mind (Martínková, 2017). Neuroaesthetists Freedberg and Gallese (2007) take this further by suggesting that through embodied practices, we may be able to learn emotions felt by artists of the past.

Copying or mirroring the gestures used in the creation of artworks, they argue, could be a vehicle for us to empathize with long-dead artists. And if we think about it, this is not quite a crazy as it sounds; the motion and pattern of various marks or brushstrokes made by an artist is, after all, directly tied to their physical motion and what they were feeling when making the artwork.

Haptic technology, specifically capacitive touch sensors, was the tool I chose to allow a viewer to learn the gestures used in the creation of The Face of Christ. Haptic technology refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. You can find examples of haptic technology in every day life, including game controllers and joysticks.

Through an audio feedback loop, the device I designed takes in touch inputs from a viewer of the artwork and returns a religious-sounding choral soundtrack when the spiral gesture from the engraving is drawn correctly with a finger (Low, 2020). The spiral gesture was directly extracted from The Face of Christ with the help of a custom python script which made use of various image analysis libraries (Low, 2020).

Demonstration video of the artwork-viewer haptic interface (Low, 2020)

In this way, the device would teach you to trace the exact same line used by Mellan to draw the line of his masterpiece! There is still much to improve upon this very basic technology demonstrator, such as finding a way to convey pressure and associated line width, but the possibilities are certainly exciting. Like other tactile-based approaches to redesigning museum experiences, it is my hope that the technology will contribute to the ongoing effort to introduce more elements of touch and interactivity into exhibits and galleries (Howes, 2014).

Who knows, perhaps someday in the near future, we might even be able to mimic the stippling motion of Monet, or Pollock’s strong erratic strokes. The experience will probably not turn ordinary people into masters overnight, but it will bring us one step closer to seeing and, more importantly, feeling as they did.

References

Cherdieu, M., Palombi, O., Gerber, S., Troccaz, J. and Rochet-Capellan, A., 2017. Make Gestures to Learn: Reproducing Gestures Improves the Learning of Anatomical Knowledge More than Just Seeing Gestures. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 8(1689).

Freedberg, D. and Gallese, V., 2007. Motion, emotion and empathy in esthetic experience. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, [online] 11(5), pp.197-203.

Howes, D., 2014. Introduction to Sensory Museology. The Senses and Society, [online] 9(3), pp.259-267.

Low, E., 2020. What Are The Possibilities Offered By Haptics In Enhancing Understanding Of Artworks? Developing A Prototype Artwork-Viewer Haptic Interface. Undergraduate. University College London.

Martínková, I., 2017. Body Ecology: Avoiding body–mind dualism. Loisir et Société / Society and Leisure, [online] 40(1), pp.101-112.

Raissis, P., 2014. The Veil Of Saint Veronica, 1649 By Claude Mellan. [online] Artgallery.nsw.gov.au.

Available at: www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/340.1997/?tab=about  [Accessed 4 July 2020].

Creating the best festival ever: Gaming, systems and decision making

By f.taylor, on 29 June 2020

 

This month we have been exploring the theme of Games & Play at UCL Culture, from solving the mystery of the ancient Egyptian game of Senet to exploring why we laugh through neuroscience.

As part of this, we spoke with David Finnigan. He is a playright, game designer and member of science-art ensemble Boho and UK interactive theatre makers Coney. For the last decade and a half, they’ve worked with government, business and research institutions to model complex systems and future scenarios.

From 2011-12, Boho were in residence at UCL to develop a new game exploring complex systems.

This is his story about the importance of games and play as a means to introduce people to new concepts, systems and ideas.

Best festival event

What is a system?

A system is made up of many simple parts that are connected – ants in an anthill, neurons in a brain, people in a crowd. Systems are made up of smaller sub-systems, like a muscle cell nested within a heart, and a heart within a circulatory system – and they are all interconnected and linked.

A lot of science tries to understand the world by breaking it down into small parts and looking at those parts in detail. But in the real world, everything is connected. Systems science attempts to understand the parts in relation to the whole.

We are all embedded in systems – like climate systems, social systems and political system. We need to better understand these systems in order to manage them and change them.

The way that Boho looks at systems is to break them down and turn them into games.

Games are systems

A game is a kind of system. Like any system, a game is made of simple parts that are connected – and it’s how they’re connected that is important.

Pull a lever over here and see the consequences over there. Place a token here and see the other players’ responses.

Playing a game can be a useful way to get to grips with a system, to start thinking about it works.

So we set out to create a game that would model a complex system, to give people a sense of how systems behave. We wanted to illustrate some of the interesting dynamics that pop up in complex systems, and ask, ‘how can we better manage them?’

We needed an example of a system, and the example we chose was a music festival.

Music festivals are systems

A music festival is a complex system. It is made up of smaller subsystems, such as:

• Ecological sub-systems (the land the festival takes place on, the flora and fauna, the weather and climate)
• Transport and energy sub-systems (a festival is like a temporary city, complete with all the infrastructure you find in a regular city)
• Economic sub-systems (there are formal and informal trading networks)
• Social systems (the interactions of tens of thousands of staff, artists and festival-goers).

And like many of the systems we are a part of it, festivals are prone to disasters.

So looking at a music festival is a good way to help us think through the challenges facing us in other complex systems.

Best Festival Ever game

The game itself

In Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster, players take on the role of festival organisers. They plan the festival from start to finish, programming the bands, building the festival site, and then dealing with the increasingly high-stakes crises that threaten to overwhelm it.

Each phase of the game looks at a separate sub-system within the festival and illustrates a different aspect of complex systems science: feedback loops, trade-offs, common pool resource challenges, tipping points, phase transitions and resilience.

Best Festival Ever started life for a season at the London Science Museum. It’s since been presented in theatres, festivals, conferences and boardrooms in cities including Singapore, Shanghai, Stockholm, Sydney and Melbourne. We present the game for general public groups, but also for schools, research institutions, businesses and government departments grappling with complex challenges.

Debrief

Playing the game is only the first step. We find that the real insights come in the debriefs and discussions that follow. That reflective space is where people make connections, draw comparisons, and start to feed the experience of the game back into their own practice.

For that reason, we often present Best Festival Ever with a scientist who works with complex systems. We play the game, and then follow it with a Q&A with the scientist where they unpack and discuss some of the concepts within the experience.

These conversations highlight the fact that everyone understands systems. We all get how feedback loops or tipping points operate – it’s familiar to us from our everyday lives. What we do in Best Festival Ever is not to teach people things they didn’t know, but to give them a shared language for things they already understand. That shared language is one of the biggest gifts that systems science has to offer.

Tactility

One crucial feature of the game is that it is entirely lo-fi, or even no-fi. There is no digital technology involved. The game illustrates complex systems dynamics using tactile objects such as wooden blocks, table tennis balls and toy trucks, designed by Gary Campbell.

During the development of Best Festival Ever, we were presenting a test show with a guest audience, reading the script off our Kindles and iPads. We realised the audience were paying great attention to the tablets in our hands, and that they assumed that all the systems in the show were being calculated in these machines. They therefore assumed that the science in the show was too complex for them to understand – that things like feedback loops were the province of computer technology.

When we got rid of the tablets and presented the show using paper and clipboards, the experience was very different. Suddenly people could see that feedback loops and tipping points can emerge from simple agents interacting through simple rules. Lo-fi – or in this case, no-fi – completely changed how people engaged with the work.

With that in mind, I’ve been drawn to representing complex systems through tactile objects wherever possible. Representing a system through a hands-on game is a powerful way to connect with people.

Make Games

If games are systems, then one of the most effective ways to learn about systems is to learn how to make games.

“If you want to learn about systems, don’t play games – make games.”
– Paolo Pedercini

To make a game based on a system, you need to map that system. You need to create a systems model which captures connections and dynamics. How are the different parts of the system connected? What is the shape of their relationship?

You need to consider the system from the perspective of various stakeholders – what do different groups need from the system, and how do they go about getting it? Then and only then can you build a working game.

One of the most satisfying parts of my job is to run game design workshops to introduce people to this practice. We start with some of the core principles of game design, and some simple exercises, then gradually work towards helping them make a quick and dirty prototype of a game based on their own system – whether a business, a community or an ecology.

Reimagining your system as a game can be a circuit-breaker to help you reflect on how it functions. It’s a useful way to thinking through where change might be needed, and what interventions are possible.

It’s also a fundamentally playful way to engage with our cultures, environments and institutions. That mindset of play and experimentation is a profoundly useful tool for us in reimagining our world for drastically changing times.

Best festival ever game

Real world play

So for people grappling with the challenge of managing complexity and engaging with systems (which is probably most of us), games such as Best Festival Ever can be a useful training device. Games can act as a kind of flight simulator for decision-making – letting us try (and fail) without consequences, before we have to make high-stakes choices in the real world.

The fictional music festival of Best Festival Ever is a place to try ideas, to debate and test strategies, to learn to work with colleagues or strangers, and to get to grips with the science of complexity. And also, if possible, to keep Chris Martin from Coldplay from getting crushed in a moshpit riot.

Download our free virtual meeting backgrounds from UCL Culture

By f.taylor, on 22 June 2020

Like many people around the world, the UCL Culture team has spent the last few months collaborating with colleagues via Microsoft Teams. Now you can bring some of our amazing collections into your meetings. Click on the images below to see them at full size and then download them to your computer. You can then upload them to the virtual meeting platform of your choice. Enjoy!

Grant Museum of Zoology

The Grant Museum of Zoology is one of the oldest natural history collections in the UK and is the last remaining university natural history museum in London. Home to 68,000 zoological specimens, the collection is a unique window on the entire animal kingdom. The final image below is from our Micrarium, a beautiful back-lit cave of 2,300 microscope slides.

Grant Museum of Zoology

Grant Museum of Zoology

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

The Petrie Museum contains over 80,000 objects and ranks among some of the world’s leading collections of Egyptian and Sudanese material. Below you can see our collection of Shabtis. They are small figures in adult male or female form created to carry out tasks in the afterlife.

Petrie Museum

Petrie Museum

UCL Art Museum

UCL Art Museum holds over 9,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures dating from the 1490s to the present day. One of the the most important parts of the collection is the unique archive of works by staff and students from the Slade School of Fine Art.

UCL Art Museum

 

Bloomsbury Theatre

Bloomsbury Theatre and Studio is the home of home of cutting-edge performance in the heart of London. You can see our upcoming shows here.

Bloomsbury Theatre

 

William Hogarth and the Idle Prentice at Play

By f.taylor, on 19 June 2020

This post was written by Lisa Bull, MA Museum Studies, Institute of Archaeology.

William Hogarth, The Idle 'Prentice at Play in the Church Yard

Image: William Hogarth,The Idle ‘Prentice at Play in the Church Yard, during Divine Service, plate three from the series Industry and Idleness (1747)

Industry and Idlenessis one of a group of series defined as Hogarth’s “modern moral series”, for which he is arguably most famous.

The series includes A Rake’s Progress (1735), Marriage A-la Mode (1745) and The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751). He produced these works to show how depictions of modern urban life could unfold like a theatrical narrative.

This series was not commissioned; it was created by Hogarth to highlight the moral issues of society at that time that he felt were prevalent and needed attention. These prints were mass-produced due to advancing printmaking technology. Hogarth kept his designs relatively simple with the main message that weak morals led to a life of vice, crime and perhaps death.

Industry and Idlenessfollows the careers of two apprentices: Francis Goodchild, the ‘good’ apprentice and Tom Idle, the ‘bad’ apprentice. The series is 12 plates in total and it compares Idle and Goodchild in terms of their career and character development, but also their physical attributes as well.

What is Hogarth trying to say?

In Plate 3, titled The Idle ‘Prentice at Play in the Church Yard, during Divine Service,Hogarth is highlighting the issue of gambling. Tom Idle is playing hustle-cap in the street, outside a church while others are going inside for the service. He is playing with a group of questionable characters who look dishevelled and unruly. They are using a coffin as a playing table and are surrounded by gravestones and bones. They seem unaware of their surroundings, completely engaged in the game which likely involves money.

Hogarth wanted to highlight to working children the possible rewards of hard work and the risk of disaster if they did not apply themselves. He purposely kept the designs relatively simple to ensure not much explanation was needed, as his key audience was young people.

 

What is hustle-cap?

Hustle-cap is an old English game usually played in the streets, where coins are ‘hustled’ or shaken together in a cap before being tossed. It has been compared to the game of pitch-and-toss which is a general term that refers to games that involve chance, where bets are made in relation to the way in which coins fall (heads or tails) after being thrown.

The game involves guessing how coins (usually halfpence) will land after being thrown in a cap. The person who guesses correctly wins the money. In ‘The Idle ‘Prentice’, Tom Idle is attempting to cheat by hiding some of the half-pennies under the brim of his hat. Two of the characters on the right have seen this. It is suggested that there is betting involved as they are unaware of their surroundings and it looks tense with the expressions and stances of the characters. Additionally, there is a “beadle” (a church official) behind Idle who looks ready to strike him on the back with his cane as punishment for gambling.

 

How to play
The game needs two players or two teams, some coins and a cap.

  • Decide the amount to include in the bet
  • Players decide which side they think most of the coins will face when thrown (up or down)
  • Place the coins inside a cap
  • Shake the cap
  • Turn the cap up onto a table
  • Count the number of halfpence facing-up and down
  • The player who guessed correctly wins all the coins

There may also be a version where players guess how many coins there will be e.g. facing-up and the person who guesses correctly wins the contents of the cap. This would allow more than two people to play.

 

 

Meet our Volunteers!

By Lisa Randisi, on 15 May 2020

In today’s blog, we’d like to introduce you to some people without whom a visit to our museums simply wouldn’t be the same: meet some of our wonderful team of Front of House volunteers! Here they tell all about their favourite artefacts, valuable life lessons, and what they’d do if they got to spend a night at the museum…

Please introduce yourself in a few words:

“I’m Chris, a Welsh Egypt fanatic who’s lived in France and East Africa and has dabbled in Innovation, linguistics, history and the Civil Service!”

Hello, I’m Margaret and I did biology at UCL (which is how I start volunteering). I’m normally in the Grant as it’s my favourite of the museums and just a very cool space to be in. In my spare time, I’m normally playing the cello or reading – I love a good murder mystery! I’ve been volunteering for over three years now and each time I come in, I’ve always had a different experience.”

“Hello! J My name is Sian & hopefully you might have seen me around and about the Petrie Museum as I have been here for over 2 decades now. I’m the one who uses any opportunity to arrive in fancy dress! I’m a full-time self-employed Aromatherapist, Clinical and Holistic Massage Therapist.”

“Hi! My name is Tonia and I am a final year Undergraduate studying Archaeology and Anthropology here at UCL. I’ve been volunteering for just under two years.”

“Hello, I’m April – and before you ask, I was not born in April, it was actually October. I am also 31 and I live in Hertfordshire. I have loved Ancient Egypt since I was quite small: I remember my Granny showing me a travel book written by a painter called R. Talbot Kelly. Apparently he was also her great uncle! The book fascinated me and unfortunately for my parents, I wanted to learn more about the country he went to and painted and that’s where it all began. Since then I have accumulated quite the collection of books and other Egyptian stuff, I have also managed to get myself a degree in Egyptology with the future hope of maybe getting a Masters and PhD. I also have an obsession with dragons, books, video games and Heavy Metal music.”

Why did you decide to volunteer?

“I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptology and love museums. The Petrie has an amazing collection and I wanted to learn more about it. I also wanted to do something that involved working with the public (you never know who’s going to walk through the door next!)” – Chris

“I wanted to volunteer because of a class practical I had in the Grant during my first year. I realised it was such a great place with some very awesome specimens so I wanted an opportunity to come back and spend more time in here.” – Margaret

“My Degree was in Archaeology and History, and Masters degree was in Archaeological Research so when I was a working archaeologist after leaving University I decided to volunteer at the British Museum. About 6 months later I attended an Egyptian Mummy Study Day at the Bloomsbury Summer School (with Professor Joann Fletcher) & they suggested we visit the Petrie Museum in our lunch hour – just trying to find the Museum was an adventure. Back then you had to go through the Science Library and the back door was the front – it was like stepping into a hidden world…” – Sian

“Museums have been a source of fascination for me since I was a child and are what inspired me to study the degree I do. When I saw the opportunity to volunteer with UCL Culture I jumped at the chance! It also gives me a welcome break from university work as well…” – Tonia

Favourite object or specimen?

“My favourite specimen is the humble yet mighty hedgehog! It looks very prickly but has such a soft belly which is something most people don’t think of when they look at it. So it’s nice to have been able to see and touch the secret underside of this adorable animal.” – Margaret

“A steatite seal-amulet depicting the form of a cat carrying a kitten. Aesthetically, I love the detail on such a small object. On a more intellectual basis, the concept of magical or ritual protection against unseen forces has long been a source of interest – especially for the anthropologist in me.” – Tonia

“The board games in the Petrie. I love the way things brings out the “fun” side of day-to-day life in Ancient Egypt. They help bring a civilisation to life, to connect as human beings with people who lived back at that time and remember history isn’t all just about king-lists and dates.” – Chris

“Anyone who has spoken to me knows – the Socks! 🙂 Again as an archaeologist I get way more excited about the preservation of materials that we don’t normally see far more than gold and treasure (which survive well). So first, I simply love that wool has survived. Secondly, I had absolutely no idea that Ancient Egyptians knitted or wore woollen socks; it was really surprising, although in retrospect desert temperatures do drop very low at night.” – Sian

Papyrus with hieratic inscription labelled "Will of Antef Meri"

“Say what, just one? Let me think. I really enjoy looking at the Hieroglyphs, the way they are carved or written so much better than my feeble attempts at drawing them. But I think my favourite object is the Will of Antef Meri, in the Main Gallery on the left of the big table. It is written in the dreaded Hieratic script but what I love about it is that it gives us a glimpse into someone’s life and what he was planning to do with his estate when he died. To actually have a nearly intact will, similar to one that would be drawn up today, is quite surprising. I wonder how many more there are out there.” – April

If you were locked inside the Petrie or Grant museum overnight, what would you do?

“Do my happy dance all around the Petrie museum and finally be able to look at and read every single thing! I have always dreamed of a sleepover to be honest, but I don’t think I’d sleep all night – it’s way too exciting!” – Sian

“I’d devise a new trail / treasure hunt through the collection to entertain myself and future visitors. I’d probably also play a lot of the board games in the Petrie!” – Chris

“If I were stuck in the Grant, I would explore the gallery upstairs first as there’s some very cool specimens up there that we don’t normally get to see. Secondly, I would also go around the museum sketching/photographing as many specimens as I could to compile into my very own personal museum catalogue. “ – Margaret

“I would study up on as many of the objects as possible – it would be nice to have the time to do so!” – Tonia

“Wait – do I get snacks? Because I might have to break out and buy snacks, I’m terrible for buying snacks. And don’t worry, I wouldn’t eat in the galleries! With my parents and I having to stay in all the time at the moment, the noise and constant talking can get a bit irritating, so having an overnight stay in the museum wold be wonderful. Have some snacks, a screen somewhere to watch some Ancient Egypt documentaries and slouch in a sleeping bag or blankets and pillows. It would be a wonderfully quiet night, nothing too exciting.” – April

What do you like most about volunteering in museums?

“The people! Such a variety of personalities with different interests come through museum doors that I genuinely learn something new every day.” – Tonia

“I love working with people, but as an ex-archaeologist I have to say it’s the privilege of working with all those artefacts and seeing behind-the-scenes. I’m as happy as a pig in muck just being in the Museum to be honest!” – Sian

“I think, strangely enough since I am not usually a people person, it is meeting all different kinds of people and having the chance to chat to them around a topic I know about. You get to meet people from all over the world and you get to see a small glimpse into their lives.” – April

“The best part is seeing how enthusiastic visitors are when they come in. In particular, the enthusiasm of some of our younger visitors is very contagious and such a joy to see.
It’s also really great to hear the feedback from people as they leave – they always leave full of awe and wonder which is fantastic to see.” – Margaret

What’s a valuable life lesson that museums have taught you?

“Learning isn’t just about locking yourself away in a study. It’s about getting out and interacting with people who share your sense of curiosity.” – Chris

“Not to assume anything and that people in ancient times usually have a lot more in common with us than we realise.” – Sian

“The museums have shown me that every single person has something they don’t know but can learn about. This shouldn’t be seen as a flaw necessarily but it makes all of us a little bit more human. It means that there’s always opportunities for us to be inquisitive about the world around us and improve our knowledge of it.” – Margaret

“No society or individual has any more or less value than another.” – Tonia

Bonus question: What are you going to spend time doing while on lockdown?

“I’m spending a lot of time reading about Ancient Egypt and about Twin Peaks (I’m afraid I also love that classic early 90s David Lynch melodrama and would recommend as escapism to anyone to help get through this crisis!). I’m also using the opportunity to get back into learning Chinese (along with hieroglyphics I always seem to pick the “easiest” languages!) and into international cuisine (with varying degrees of success).” – Chris

“I am currently unable to work as all my work is people-facing and hands-on. Also most of my clients are in the vulnerable category. I am currently doing what I usually do but for longer – so 3 hours meditation, practise and study instead of 1.5 hours; Tibetan energy healing practice and study; walking 2-6 miles a day; PE with Joe Wicks; gardening; blogging for my business website; advising and providing support for my clients; cooking and reading.” – Sian

“I’m lucky I’m a bit of a homebody anyway, although I am missing my friends and volunteering at the Petrie. Mostly I will be reading my many, many, many books; I’m so behind it’s hilarious. I also plan on continuing with my revision of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I learned tham at university and it has been a while since I’ve translated anything, so I’m re-reading J.P. Allen’s book. I’m also keeping alive my newly sprouted bonsai tree – and coming from a person who killed off a cactus, that is quite an achievement so far.” – April

“I have a mountain of books I have never read and a slightly smaller one of films I have never seen, hopefully I can start to make a dent 😉” – Tonia

“I have two very difficult jigsaws that I want to attempt. I’m currently still at the beginning of the first one so I think the two of them will keep me quite busy for the next month or so. I’m also thinking of tidying up the garden a bit but that might be just some wishful thinking on my part…” – Margaret

Laser cleaning the Petrie Museum’s plaster cast bust of Amelia Edwards

By Lisa Randisi, on 15 April 2020

This week’s blog is written by Graeme McArthur, from our conservation team.

Our museum of Egyptology may be named after Flinders Petrie but it owes a large debt of gratitude to Amelia Edwards. She travelled to Egypt in 1873 for some winter sun and returned a dedicated campaigner for the preservation of Egyptian heritage. On her death in 1892 she left her own collection to UCL and left an endowment for a Chair in Egyptian Archaeology and Philology. The wording all but ensured that the job would go to Petrie. He also gave his collection to UCL in 1915 and the museum was born.

A bust of Amelia Edwards was sculpted by Percival Ball in around 1873 and is held by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 929). A plaster copy was made for the Department of Egyptology at UCL by the British Museum in 1961 and thus ended up in the Petrie’s collection (LDUCE-UC80677).

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How do you move an Auto-Icon?

By Katie Davenport-Mackey, on 26 March 2020

Until recently, the ‘Auto-Icon’ of the eccentric English philosopher – comprising Bentham’s skeleton and wax head – sat in a wooden box in the corner of the Wilkins Building, dressed in 18th century clothing and holding Bentham’s favourite walking stick known as ‘Dapple’.

Bentham is UCL’s most popular museum exhibit, attracting visitors from all over the world. His new home provides greatly enhanced preservation conditions, better visitor access and a place at the centre of the student community.

We asked Christina McGregor, Head of Collections Management at UCL Culture what is involved in conserving and moving Jeremy Bentham.

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Specimen of the Week 392: Hide of the Dragon: Achaemenid Scale Armour

By edwin.wood, on 6 March 2020

Two sets of corroded iron scales laid out in ordered rows

UC74787 Some of the scales from the armour, each pierced by two holes. Copyright UCL Petrie Museum

Scale armour is a form of defensive garment that is made by attaching small scales to a fabric or leather undergarment in an overlapping pattern. The examples in the Petrie collection are all of metal, either copper alloy (Bronze or Brass) or iron. However, examples of rawhide scales are known from sites in Egypt, notably Tutankhamun’s tomb (Dean 2017). This type of armour is one of the earliest forms to be developed and provides a flexible but effective defence that can be easily repaired if it becomes damaged. The armour is effective against a range of attacks, protecting from projectiles, cuts and blunt force impact. When combined with a stiffened or padded undergarment the protective quality of the armour is increased.

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Specimen of the Week 391: The Domestic Cat Skeleton

By Katie Davenport-Mackey, on 17 January 2020

This blog was written by UCL Culture volunteer Jingyuan Zou.

The Grant Museum not only has many fascinating specimens in its collection such as the subfossils of extinct giant deer and dodo bones, skeletons of lions and dugongs, but also many common domestic animals that we may see in everyday life. Many people may be familiar with the appearance of an extinct animal such as saber-toothed cat, however often the skeletons of more common animals are the most unfamiliar specimens viewed from a museum. This week’s Specimen of the Week features one such ‘common’ animal that looks quite different in its Grant Museum guise…

**The Domestic Cat Skeleton**

 

LDUCZ-Z2602 Felis silvestris catus Domestic cat skeleton

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Specimen of the Week 390: The Garpike

By Katie Davenport-Mackey, on 25 October 2019

This blog was written by UCL Culture Museums Volunteer Margaret Peng.

A classic fact about the Grant Museum is that it has more zoology specimens on display than the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. So there is always a new specimen waiting to be discovered by even the most frequent visitor. One such specimen is this week’s Specimen of the Week with its tantalising label telling of swim bladders that can also function as lungs…

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