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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for July, 2012

The Mechanical Leech – better than the real thing?

JackAshby31 July 2012

One of our team of post-graduate researcher/engagers (see what that’s all about on last week’s post) has been talking about the connection between species in the Grant Museum and a nineteenth century mechanical replica, which was designed as a clinical tool.

It’s on the new Researchers in Museums blog, but to pique your interest here is how Sarah Chaney starts the post off…

“Leeches! Leeches! Leeches!”
So ran one particularly enthusiastic nineteenth century advertisement for the animal that has had the most enduring association with medical history. So much so, that one inspired individual decided to make a mechanical version of the creature. During my public engagement sessions in the Grant Museum, I’ve tried asking various visitors to guess what animal the fist-sized metal box was designed to emulate: no one has yet hit on the right answer, even though I usually stand right in front of the leech cabinet. Shiny, clean and angular, where the leech is squat, wet and slug-like, there would appear to be little comparison between the two.

Indeed, that was the claim of certain nineteenth century leech advocates, who deemed the miraculous little creature itself far gentler than lancet, fleam or scarifier (also called a scarificator: the “mechanical leech” in the illustration, left). The leech secretes a substance called hirudin, which stops the blood from clotting, meaning that one small bite will continue to bleed for around 12 hours after the leech has been removed. I know this well, for, in the pursuit of medical history, I have been leeched not once, but twice, and still have the (tiny) scars to prove it!

You can read the rest of Sarah’s post on their blog here: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2012/07/09/leeches-leeches-leeches/

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-Two

Emma-LouiseNicholls30 July 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Forty-TwoMy name is Emma and I like cookies. I like the giant ones that you have to hold with all your fingers on one hand otherwise the sheer weight of the monstrous chocolatey beast will break it in half as the apex descends towards the centre of the earth through a jealous fit of gravity. I like the soft chewy ones (it’s a treat, my jaw doesn’t want to work hard) and ones with large chunks of chocolate in them that melt as you swish the delectable triple chocolate cookie-ness around in your mouth. It seems to me that all ills can be forgiven when you’re standing staring at a giant cookie that’s yours all yours, just miliseconds from being devoured. I also like sharks. Big ones, small ones, bitey ones, sucky ones (as in ones that suck in their prey, not ones that ‘suck’, which as we all know- sharks do not), grinding ones, filter-feeding ones. They come in blue, yellow, grey, black, silver, with stripes, with spots, with stripes that turn into spots. Sharks just rock. Which do I prefer, sharks or cookies? What about sharks that make cookies? That would be a phenomenon so mind-blowingly fantastic that surely choirs of angels would descend amidst gold auras to sing in their presence. If only such a thing existed. WELL. Hold on to your seats my friends, this week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

Engaging Research and Collections

JackAshby27 July 2012

When we go to museums we normally know the kind of information we’re going to be engaging with. In natural history museums it’s usually facts about species, minerals and environments; in social history museums it’s cultures and people; in archaeology it’s much like social history but older. At UCL Museums we’ve started an experiment that doesn’t fit this model.

We have employed a team of UCL post-graduate students to come to each of our spaces a couple of days a week to engage our visitors with their research. They have each found connections between our collections and their disciplines, but they aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. Their PhD’s range from epidemiology and the history of psychology to rhetoric – none of which spark an immediate link to zoology, for example, in most people. (more…)

It Came From The Stores: The live show

MarkCarnall26 July 2012

An image showing many specimens of mice from the stores

Last Tuesday the Grant Museum ran the event IT CAME FROM THE STORES, the live and expanded version of my occasional blog post series exploring material normally found in the Grant Museum stores. From tiny robotic fish from the future, through mysterious spheres to deliberately infected cow worms. We find that visitors to the museum are surprised to learn that only a small percentage of the collection is on display (only 5%, which is quite good going for a natural history museum) and you can see from the expressions on their faces they are picturing a storehouse a la Indiana Jones filled to the ceiling with relics and treasures of great power. My lecture sought to explain a bit about why we have stores in the first place, why some material will always be store-bound as well as to examine some of the weird and wonderful things that can be found down… down IN THE STORES DUN DUN DUN. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty-One

Emma-LouiseNicholls23 July 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Forty-OneHave you ever looked at something you’ve not seen before and thought “What on earth is THAT?” I pride myself on my zoological knowledge, but no matter how much you know, every day is a school day. When I first started at the Grant Museum I was busy putting a thousand specimens on the floor in the middle of the museum, when I came across something quite unfamiliar. I could tell from its structure roughly what group of animal it was, but had never seen this particular thing before. It was beautiful, fragile and… dirty. (Some building work going on next door had been shaking dust down on to some of our specimens, tsk.) I am happy to say it is now beautiful, fragile and clean. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Grant Museum Objects On Tour!

MarkCarnall18 July 2012

A photo of three objects on loan to Florence Nightingale Museum from the Grant Museum

This dynamic trio of objects are currently on loan to the Florence Nightingale Museum in an exhibition titled BONE. The exhibition, curated by Simon Gould and Rhiannon Armstrong, takes the central premise of BONE and creates a three dimensional spider diagram display of objects that enshrine different aspects of ‘boniness’. Hit the jump for details about the exhibition and let us know if you spot our objects on tour. (more…)

Walking with Gosse

JackAshby17 July 2012

Walking with GosseMany of you will remember Roger Wotton’s excellent Grant Lecture at the end of last year. On 3rd July, Roger chose the Grant Museum to launch his new book Walking With Gosse: Natural History, Creation and Religious Conflicts, which is to be published in August. Philip Henry Gosse was an eminent Victorian Natural Historian and Roger outlined his achievements and the importance of his profound Christian faith in all he did. Henry believed in the literal truth of The Bible and, in a book entitled Omphalos, he tried unsuccessfully to resolve the conflict between geological time and the account of Creation in Genesis. The book was not received well by either the scientific or religious communities and it should not overshadow Henry Gosse’s many other fine books.

Most people know about Henry as a person from his son Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, which details the painful relationship between the two men. Edmund did not share the rigorous religious approach to all things that Henry felt was essential and this led, inevitably, to conflict. Of the two, Edmund is the better known and he was knighted for his services to the Arts, becoming very much part of the Establishment.

Walking With Gosse examines the many contributions to Natural History made by Henry Gosse and his story is interwoven with that of Edmund and with autobiography. The book concludes by discussing the ways in which the issues presented have relevance to debates which are taking place today: on creation and on problems with religious differences. However, it also stresses that we can all share in the wonders of Natural History, whatever our beliefs.

So why launch the book in the Grant Museum? One of the admirers of Henry Gosse’s work was E. Ray Lankester, who succeeded Robert Grant and who further built up the Museum of Zoology. It was Ray Lankester who asked Edmund Gosse to write the first biography of Henry Gosse, before he produced the much later Father and Son. Roger began his talk by making this connection and it brought the story of 150 years ago to life. It’s what the book achieves.

Please visit http://cliopublishing.org/category/natural-history/ to find out more.

Specimen of the Week: Week Forty

Emma-LouiseNicholls16 July 2012

Scary Monkey Week FortyThe specimen I have chosen this week is complex. Not so much in terms of biology, or morphology, but in terms of behaviour. Yes our specimens exhibit behaviour. The colugo for example, is very naughty, as I have mentioned to people before. Our woolly monkey (see image left) is now famous for scaring people, despite his dashing smile. This week’s specimen is enigmatic. If you look at him from the right, you’d think he was sleeping peacefully. If you look at him from the left, he fixes you with an ‘I dare you to come any closer’ expression as his dark pupil stares out from a narrow slit between his eyelids. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…


Specimen of the Week: Week Thirty-Nine

Emma-LouiseNicholls9 July 2012

Scary Monkey: Week Thirty-NineOn occasion we get people phoning us at the Grant Museum of Zoology to ask what kind of museum we are. To some, a sarcastic response may spring to mind in a witty yet placating explanation of the word ‘zoology’, but on closer inspection of the question, one realises that what they are actually asking, is what kind of zoological things we have here. I explain that we are an apple pie of fluid specimens with a generous helping of skeleton flavoured ice-cream, topped with just a sprinkle of taxidermy hundreds and thousands (as in the small chocolatey things, we don’t actually have hundreds and thousands of taxidermy specimens). Taxidermy specimens provide an excellent foray into history and the local zoological knowledge at the time of the ‘stuffing’. I have seen many a specimen in which the taxidermist clearly had no idea of what the animal his/her current empty skin project was supposed to look like. But they form a part of history in themselves. And for ‘good’ taxidermy, they at the very least, provide an aesthetic exhibit. So I’d like to introduce you to one. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

“Who was this woman and why did she have her back to me?”

KrisztinaLackoi4 July 2012

Last month 8 history and history of art students from City and Islington College attended a workshop at UCL Art Museum based on some of the images of African and Asian sitters who appear in the UCL collections. (For a background of the Drawing Over the Colour Line project, read organiser Gemma Romain’s guest blog here.) Read what some of the students thought and felt about the images and the workshop day.

Aimee Nimr, A study of a female figure, between 1918 and 1919, UCL Art Museum SDC6555

by Siobhan Carla

Looking at these sketches makes me think about my heritage a lot, which is oddly why I chose to base this blog on Aimee Nimr. It was mostly bAimee Nimr, A Study of a Female Figure, UCL Art Museum, SDC6555 ecause it was a lot different to what I had seen earlier as it was of a European woman, it had a different feel to it and made me have a different outlook upon it. The woman almost looks scared, maybe insecure and slightly vulnerable which makes me feel sad and, in a way, worried about her. This was portrayed by her slightly arched shoulders and her back to the audience, this made it very mysterious too. Who was this woman and why did she have her back to me? Read the full post here.


Martin E. Burniston, Study of a male nude, standing to right, with right arm resting on hip, UCL Art Museum, 6271 and John Farleigh, Ecclesiastes and the Black Girl, UCL Art Museum, SPC7331

by Sogol Afshar 

I personally found the nude drawings very interesting, as I am more familiar with this style of drawing and sketching, which are mostly drawn from real Study of a Male Nude, standing to right, with arm resting on hip, UCL Art Museum SDC6271life objects or people. However, I believe life drawing is a westernised technique. And the sitter/model could be anyone from any type of background or race. Therefore, unfortunately I couldn’t relate to the drawings. For example, Study of a male nude by Martin Burniston shows an African nude male standing to the right with his right arm resting on his hip, which is a typical, simple pose for a life drawing model. By finding more about Harlem Renaissance and the black movement, the previous paintings depicted civilised African Americans who are in power of their own identity. Whereas, in my opinion the life drawings didn’t carry any sense of empowerment or civilisation as any artist could ask any black man or woman to pose for them. Read the full post here.


Aimee Nimr, A study of a female figure, between 1918 and 1919, UCL Art Museum SDC6555 and Martin E. Burniston, Study of a male nude, standing to right, with right arm resting on hip, UCL Art Museum, 6271

by Lily Evans-Hill

The female figure studies pose embodies a vulnerable position. Her back faces the onlooker and her arms are folded behind her back and we can imagine her armor-less bare front. However, there is a balance of her passiveness as you can see her bold stare. The woman’s face is important in restoring her domination of the page. Her stare suggests she is pondering the scene in curiosity and not in fear. Her pose reminds us of a masculine stance, she has stationed herself with her feet firmly on the ground. Her muscles appear well defined and masculine, the aesthetic that lends to the idea of the woman being dominative. Read the full post here.