X Close

Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for August, 2011

The Portability Question

CelineWest26 August 2011

As I posted on here some time ago, we have a new way of doing outreach in development. A pop-up kind of kiosk that one or two people can visit at a time, with a member of museum staff and one object inside, with the aim of having a much more intense discussion about the object than in our usual outreach sessions, and, more so, issues connected to it. We’re calling it “The Thing Is…”

The kiosk (not the right word but I’m not sure what the right word is: in practice it’s a very large box, beautiful inside) is going to be a great space in which to work, and it will do its job creating an immersive environment in which people can experience something different from any other encounter with museum objects.

But, this week I’ve had worries, doubts and general collywobbles about its portability.


Rhinos, armed robbery and arsenic

Emma-LouiseNicholls23 August 2011

The Animal

White rhino and young. Photograph by Renaud FulconisLet’s call a spade a spade. If you look at a rhino I mean *really* look at it, go on don’t be shy there’s one right there, it’s a weird looking beast. Its great big head has tiny little eyes and its massive bulk makes it a formidable animal. The most rhino-y feature is of course the horn. A lot of animals have tusks, antlers, or maybe even horns, but no other species stumbling through evolution on a cold Pliocene day thought “I know, I’ll take this horn of mine and pop it onto my nose, hah haaah, that’ll impress the ladies”. No, they are unique. The rhino is a truly remarkable and remarkable looking animal.


So this horn, what’s it all about? Rhino horn is made of keratin. What’s that you say? Look down at the tips of your fingers (or toes if you’d prefer) and (hopefully) you will be looking at some keratin. Some of you may need to remove nail varnish before you can give your keratin a really good inspection. Yes rhino horn is made of the same stuff as finger nails. (more…)

Race, Starkey and Remembering

Debbie JChallis16 August 2011

David Starkey’s comments that ‘whites have become black’ on the BBC2 programme Newsnight on Friday 12 August 2011 have been condemned in most of the media and by many politicians. There are a few who make the valid argument for freedom to say what we like, while others contend that Starkey was referring to a particular form of ‘black’ gangsta culture. The BBC has had over 700 complaints. The black MP for Tottenham David Lammy, whom Starkey described as sounding ‘white’, implied that Starkey should stick to Tudor history. The classicist Mary Beard has pointed out that any historian worth their salt should be able to apply their tools of critique to any period.  In this I concur.

David Starkey on Newsnight

Here I speak personally for myself and not for UCL or for any of my colleagues.

Starkey’s generalisations uncomfortably reminded me of Francis Galton’s letter to The Times on 5 June 1873 advocating that the Chinese move into Africa and take over from the ‘inferior negro’. Galton wrote: (more…)

Meet the moufflon

RachaelSparks15 August 2011

UCL 844 moufflonNever mind the Grant Museum’s much publicised quagga – the Institute of Archaeology has got its own menagerie of strange and rare beasts to enjoy. There isn’t time to explore them all here, so I thought I would introduce you to one of my favourites – a vase in the shape of a moufflon (UCL 844).

A moufflon, I’ve been reliably informed, is a type of wild sheep. In Cyprus, which is where this vessel comes from, it has become a powerful and widely used national image, appearing in a range of contexts from coinage to airline branding. Immortalised in clay, and far less endangered than the real thing, ours looks rather well-fed and sedate, more suited to a gentle amble over the hills than energetically leaping from crag to crag.

Happy? Quagga Day!

JackAshby12 August 2011

extinction in South Africa 1883 Plate CCCXVII in von Schreber, Die Saugethiere in Abildungen Nach der Natur (Erlangen, 1840-1855)

A Quagga

128 years ago today, 12th August 1883, the last quagga died.

And so here I celebrate what we at the Grant Museum, if no-one else, call “Quagga Day”.

How rare it is that the date of the demise of the last individual of a species is known – such opportunities for commemoration should not be missed.

The quagga is no stranger to our blog – this is the third time we’ve written about it since the site was created in January. It is our most blogged about specimen. This is because it is the rarest skeleton in the world (though read our Curator Mark’s post about that claim). The Grant Museum houses one of only seven skeletons in existence. (more…)

Healing Heritage Exhibition

LindaThomson9 August 2011

‘Healing Heritage’ depicts the outcomes of a three-year study into the therapeutic benefits of taking museum objects to the bedsides of hospital patients and health care residents. Over 250 participants handled and discussed selections of museum objects with a facilitator in sessions that lasted around 40 minutes. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the results of the study are explored in a public exhibition now showing in UCL’s North Lodge (just North of the UCL Main Gate in Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT). The exhibition explores the way the research was carried out and what participants thought about the activity and the objects. As a result of museum object handling, participants were distracted from their clinical surroundings and showed increases in levels of psychological wellbeing and happiness. The exhibition dates have been extended until 16th August so if you happen to be passing, do take advantage of this unique opportunity to look at some of the innovative research carried out at UCL. The exhibition is free, has wheelchair access and is open to the public, 9am to 5pm (weekdays only). For further information contact: linda.thomson@ucl.ac.uk

Lost Things?

MarkCarnall4 August 2011

We interrupt normal service with this alternate history blog post. Author Bruno Hare, writer of Lost Kings has been writing a blog which is a fictional account of events surrounding a creature of legend, Felis serpentis, the snake cat. This article is part of that story. In his blog, which refers to events in the book, Bruno has visited the Grant Museum (and various other London museums) looking for remains of the creature – remains which seem to have mysteriously disappeared….

Keeping track of specimens in a collection as old as the Grant Museum can be incredibly difficult at times, especially as the collection started as a teaching collection. In the past, specimens were traded and borrowed on long term loans, the dugong skeleton in the museum had been traded for a “very large” manatee for example. This was well before museums had robust paperwork and concrete codes of ethics. Also, because the Grant Museum collection was a teaching collection, objects were only seen as useful for how they could be used in teaching zoology and comparative anatomy. Not too much care was taken to record the whos, hows, wheres and whys because the objects were seen as teaching aids primarily. (more…)

The Future Took Us: Art Meets Geology

JohnShevlin3 August 2011

The Future Took Us by John Shevlin

The Future Took Us

As an artist the sourcing of materials to make work with is an endless task; a task which has me pounding the streets and surfing the web. After four years of studying fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art I have become particularly adept at sourcing the most obscure and particular items, however, finding thirty fossils for a new installation would lead me to the most interesting place so far!

The newly relocated Grant Museum sits just across the road from the Slade, so when the banners had been strapped to the railings declaring their imminent opening back in March I was eager to get inside and see what they had done with their collection. I have always been a fan. In my first week of arriving at UCL I had visited the Grant Museum and was immediately fascinated and inspired by their collection of stuffed, jarred and pinned specimens. (more…)

The eyes have it

SubhadraDas2 August 2011

The UCL Art Museum Argus

The UCL Art Museum Argus

Spoiler Alert! This blog entry is about a UCL Museums & Collections cross-collections exhibition currently on display in four wall-mounted cases in the North Cloister of UCL. One of the cases contains a montage of 100 images of eyes from works in the UCL Art Museum, and contains a puzzle for you to solve. If you’re within viewing-distance and would like to play the game, look away now. Or, you can read on to discover more…

Say Hello To My Little Friends

MarkCarnall1 August 2011

Image of the new models of Quagga, Dodo and Thylacine in the Grant Museum

These three specimens are the latest addition to the Grant Museum collection. Before the museum moved, model maker Tom Payne came into the museum and asked if there were any models he could make for the museum.  After some discussion we decided that we’d like to have little life models made of three of our highlight specimens, the quagga, thylacine and dodo. We reference these three specimens a lot but unfortunately, to the untrained eye the skeletons look much like a horse, a dog and a box (now two boxes) of bones.  In particular the quagga and thylacine have interesting fur colouration so we wanted to display this and quagga and thylacine skins are in rather short supply these days. (more…)