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  • Archive for March, 2011

    Can museums make you healthy?

    By Linda Thomson, on 10 March 2011

    For the last three years, an innovative programme of research called ‘Heritage in Hospitals’ has been carried out by UCL Museums & Collections, where museum objects are taken into hospitals and other healthcare settings. Patients are invited to handle and discuss the objects at their bedsides with a researcher, in sessions that typically last around 30 to 40 minutes. Researchers from UCL turn up at the hospital with their boxes of museum objects during afternoon visiting hours and patients are encouraged to select an object and give reasons for why they are attracted to it. Sometimes a participant will select an object on purely visual grounds saying “That one looks interesting” or “I like the colour of this one”. At other times a participant will run their hand over the surface of all of the objects and comment “I like the feel of this one” or “I’ll choose this one because it feels cool”.

    Objects include archaeological artefacts e.g. Egyptian amulets, pots and pottery shards, flint hand axes and knives; artworks e.g. copper etching plates and prints from 1950’s Slade School of Art students; geological specimens e.g. agate and malachite minerals, ammonite and micraster fossils; and natural history items e.g. seashells, eggs, horns and teeth. (more…)

    Trapped in the desert – part one

    By Jack Ashby, on 10 March 2011

    A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 7

    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 Eight

    Having spent the last month in the cool temperate rainforests, alpine highlands and green misty sclerophyll forests of Tasmania working on devil facial tumour disease fieldwork, it was going to take some adjusting to the climate I was expecting camping in the middle of the Simpson Desert. Fortunately it wasn’t a sudden change as it took three days for the team from the University of Sydney to reach camp, 2400km northwest, nearly halfway up the border of Queensland, and the Northern Territory. (more…)

    The Rarest Skeleton in the World?

    By Mark Carnall, on 7 March 2011

    Biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest, bravest, first, last and most venomous. It is not uncommon to come across animal specimens in natural history museums labelled according to their extreme qualities. Regardless of what Freud might have to say about this seeming obsession, drawing attention to the extremes of nature helps to capture the attention of visitors as well as create spectacle around specimens which are otherwise common. Unlike most other kinds of museums natural history museums tend to display the same kind of stuff. You’re almost guaranteed to see the exoskeleton of a Japanese spider crab, the skull and antlers of a giant deer, a taxidermy echidna and a cast of Archaeopteryx in every single natural history museum. Not only do these specimens helpfully illustrate the wonderful diversity of life but they also demonstrate extremes. The largest arthropod (well, largest leg span), largest antlers, weirdest mammal and ‘first’ bird. For example, the Grant Museum displays one of only seven Quagga skeletons known in the world, earning it the impressive title of rarest skeleton in the world. However, I’ve always had doubts about this claim which I hope to explore more with this post. (more…)

    Sympathy for the devil – part three

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 March 2011

    A delayed account of zoological fieldwork in Australia – Part 6

    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.

    Weeks Six and Seven

    Over the past two weeks I’ve described a project involving trapping Tasmanian devils to study Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). My next fieldwork looked at the effect of the devil population crash on other mammals. I had a some time before then so I decided to walk over the middle third of the island on the amazing Overland Track through the mountainous wilderness of the UNESCO World Heritage Area. (more…)

    Designing space

    By Celine West, on 2 March 2011

    In the process of working towards our new model for museum outreach we’ve found some excellent architects to work with. They understand what we’re talking about when we say, perhaps rather vaguely, certainly aspirationally, that what we would like is a small portable space that can house two or three people and one museum object, that is not a tent, that is in some way magic, appealing, thought-provoking, enticing…But limited by the fact it has to be portable (think up and down London Underground stairways), unpacked and erected by one person, perhaps outdoors, not necessarily near a power source, and have UCL branding and images or text on its surface. A Tardis on wheels? But one that isn’t big inside either. Oh and we have not much money.

    Luckily we have Mobile Studio to work out how all these elements can come together into a fabulous whole that isn’t a tent. Or if it turns out to be a tent, it will be the best tent the world has ever known. Mobile Studio have worked with UCL Museums & Collections and Public Engagement before, which really helps this project. (more…)