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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for January, 2011

What’s in the box?

MarkCarnall31 January 2011

The Grant Museum of Zoology is currently relocating premises and during the removal, packing, storage, return and unpacking of our specimens there are always a couple of new discoveries made. Boxes which have sat at the back of cupboards or on top of shelves. Sometimes, boxes are cryptically labeled or disappointingly completely empty. For a curator, these boxes can be a wonderful surprise or in some cases a curatorial nightmare. Here are two such boxes.

Image of a Grant Museum box labeled Specimen Labels


Poisoning cats – Week 1

JackAshby27 January 2011

A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 1

Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia

Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia

From April 2010 I spent about five months undertaking several zoological field projects across Australia. I worked with government agencies, universities and NGOs on conservation and ecology studies ranging from Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease, the effect of fire, rain and introduced predators on desert ecology and how to poison cats. This series of blog posts is a delayed account  of my time in the field.

Week One

Looking down at the world’s most remote city from Kings Park – Perth’s botanic garden and municipal parkland – one could easily think it was Tokyo – sky scrapers and smog, thick smog. But zooming out you notice the river, and the esplanade, and breathing in you realise it isn’t smog but smoke from the burning farmland up in the hills.

Currowongs instead of crows, wattlebirds instead of pigeons, Caspian gulls instead of black-backed gulls and the pelicans and cockatoos instead of nothing really. (more…)

Eye of Ox, Wing of Bat, Leg of Frog… Working in a Witches’ Pantry.

MarkCarnall24 January 2011

Mark Carnall, Curator of the Grant MUseum of Zoology holding the old museum signWorking as the curator* in a natural history museum is a weird and wonderful job and one that solicits baffled stares at social events. A frequently asked question is, “So what does a natural history curator do?”.It is a good question and one that unfortunately doesn’t have a discreet satisfactory answer. The best way to answer it is perhaps via the medium of a (sometimes-depending on your browser Matt brown-) bulleted list.

Only one object?

CelineWest21 January 2011

Part of what I’ve always done at UCL Museums is outreach, taking objects from the collections to groups of people for them to touch and talk about. Children and adults love to get their hands on museum things, whether we’re talking about Ancient Egyptian amulets or a viper’s skull. They like to feel the sharp and the smooth bits, feel the weight in their hands, have a sniff to find out if it smells of itself or only a museum cupboard.

At some point most people ask “What is it?”, which is where I try to resist either giving the answer straight away or saying “What do you think it is?” and instead find other ways of encouraging people to explore what’s in their hands. Think about what material it is, is it bone or stone or wood or wool? What was it used for? Who made it? “Why are there more questions than answers, grandad?” was one of my favourite childhood books. We go on as long as we can before I give any answers people haven’t already worked out. (more…)

Business as usual: UCL Art Collections

SubhadraDas18 January 2011

The Strang Print Room

A working day at UCL Art Collections

Term 2, Day 1

As museum assistant at UCL Art Collections, my job is to help with collections management and other activities in order to ensure the collection operates at maximum efficiency – a big ask given the 2 and a half members of staff (I’m the half! I work 2 days a week), over 10,000 objects and the wide and varied range of activities.

Having come back to work from the holiday closure, I have organized a research visit – a PhD. student from the University of Maryland wants to make an in-depth study of our extensive collection of the works of Winifred Knights – and chased up catalogue orders; a process made sluggish by the traditional practice where everyone tries to accomplish as little as possible before Christmas.

Today sees the start of Spring Term and a highly typical day in the Strang Print Room. Following a lecture in the ‘Works on Paper’ course – a course based at the History of Art Department and run through collaboration with Andrea, our curator – I return the artworks to their normal storage. This is easily one of my favourite parts of the job: there is always a chance of coming face to face with a Dürer or nose-to-nose with a Canaletto. There are more objects to return throughout the day as the Flaxman exhibition which ran last term is being taken down.