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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for October, 2012

Do you use ‘Curate’ when ‘Organise’ will do? Well you shouldn’t…

Nick J Booth31 October 2012

Inspired by my colleague Mark’s excellent blog ‘How to tell an archaeologist from a palaeontologist’ (read it here) I thought I’d dedicate my blog to my own particular bug bear: The use of the word ‘curate’ and title ‘curator’.

I recently went to an interesting music and light show at a theatre in Hackney, which involved 3 different acts playing over an evening. The organisation that put it on describes itself as a ‘cultural organisation that curates, produces and disseminates digital culture’. There were lots of people there and the evening seemed to go well. I’d say it was very well organised. So why did that organisation decide to call it ‘curated’ instead of ‘organised’ or ‘put on’ or any other word?

A sign reading 'Do not disturb, Curating in Progress'

The modern day equivalent of ‘under construction’?

I am going to put it out there early – I think organisations and people do it as a form of self-aggrandisement. I think people chose to use the words ‘curate’ and ‘curator’ because it sounds more high-brow, to some people, than organiser or promoter. Perhaps they think it makes that person sound more intelligent, or gives a deeper meaning to what they do.

Detective Work: Megan’s Missing Leg

Simon J Jackson30 October 2012

Large boxes of assorted bones, marked ‘Miscellaneous’, can be full of interesting surprises (despite inducing dread amongst curators).

Up until very recently the skeleton of a domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), which had been named Megan, was lacking its entire right forelimb. Megan is actually part of a special collection of dog skeletons mounted by their owners and named in Memorial after a loved one. It was beginning to seem that this poor specimen would spend the remainder of its days with only three legs — ‘Canis lupus tripodus’ (of course, I am jesting here). But thankfully this was not the case. Amongst one of these miscellaneous boxes, containing assorted mammalian bones (a marvellous medley including dog, sheep, horse, and shrew remains), I found Megan’s missing limb.

Megan's legs (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Fifty-Five

Emma-Louise Nicholls29 October 2012

Scary MonkeyMany of you may not know Scary Monkey all that well, so let me tell you a little more about him. As his name suggests, Mr S. Monkey enjoys trying to scare people. His maniacal toothy grin does little to hide his mischievous personality (…monkey-nality?) It is no surprise therefore that Scary Monkey’s favourite time of year is not Christmas like most children, naughty or not. It’s not even his birthday, when he gets a special birthday dust. It is, you may have guessed by now, Halloween. Not having fully grasped the point, he says that tricks on you are treats for him, and on Halloween night, when there is a special, spooky, evening event at the Grant Museum, if you look closely you can sense a tiny vibration as he falters slightly in controlling his excitement. Halloween is said to have originated as an ancient Celtic festival, at which folk would set bonfires alight and (my favourite part) indulge in fancy dress. The costumes were intended to ward off roaming ghosts. Whilst we at the Grant don’t tend to wear fancy dress (often), we do, it just so happens, have our own ghost. In fact, we have several. Male and female. They are normally kept safely under lock and key but this week we have brought one out for you (we say you, we really mean to satiate Scary Monkey) and have put it on display in Case 9. See it while you can, for this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Guest blog: Old London Bridge: Recovery from Disaster

Krisztina Lackoi26 October 2012


Old London Bridge: Recovery from Disaster

On Tuesday 9th October David Jones, Paper conservator, UCL Special Collections, curated a Pop-up display ‘Old London Bridge: Recovery from Disaster’. Sections of a 17thC panorama of London before and after extensive conservation treatment were presented and discussed in the context of the Art Museum’s current exhibition ‘One Day in the City’. Below is David’s account of this fascinating object and the process involved in bringing it back to life following severe flood damage.17thC view of the Thames, with severe flood damage

UCL Libraries’ Special Collections hold not only a vast amount of extraordinary bound materials, but also treasures like this London panorama. This is Robert Martin’s 1832 lithograph copied from the Wenceslaus Hollar engraving published in 1647 A View of London from Bankside.

Animals of Ancient Egypt, in WC1???

Edmund Connolly23 October 2012

This year saw another lively and successful Bloomsbury festival with collections, performances, and art installations being opened up for anyone to visit and enjoy. In the melee of such a diverse bunch, the Petrie Museum was mentioned in Time Out for its soundscape interactive which offered visitors the “chance to ‘listen’ to animals from ancient Egypt“. This event for families encouraged children to explore the environment of Egypt, using digital technology, interwoven with the 80,000 piece collection and a hands on chance to make your own animal, based on the sounds and objects experienced. The interactive website follows a team of Egyptian hunters on the Nile facing crocodiles, hippos and lions, using the weapons found within the Petrie Museum to try and be victorious.


An Ancient and Modern hippo


his was a nice, light-hearted event that allowed a younger audience to engage, interact and add to an archaeology collection. As well as this, the event encouraged a new thought process, to think of environment; reallocating the objects within their context of use. Users are posed questions of conservation, such as why are animal carcasses not found, and are then apply their knowledge immediately to draw their own conclusions. Digital Humanities is an ever thrown about term in the museum sector, and the Petrie is certainly a leading figure in this arena. Apps using augmented reality, 3D models and even gesture recognition are creating a whole new way to interact with the collection.


Aside from the digital aspects I am really pleased to see children, and adults, willing to make their own objects for the museum, emulating the ancient models (as above). This may initially seem a little trivial, and certainly our plethora of violently green elephants and pink lions do add a little neon vibrancy to the collection, but the fundamental behind such an activity is the concept of ownership and use of the collection. I consider it an excellent practice to encourage visitors, and workers within the museum to not only look at a collection, but to use it for new purposes. At UCL this is often through the medium of research at school, undergraduate and postgraduate level, but it can also be by creating new pieces, even technologies. I have only been at the museum since 2010 (when I started as a Masters student of the IOA), but a few of my favourite projects such as the Comic Book Workshop in collaboration with Camden University, and Magic Assembly: Magic Assemblage exhibition in collaborations with Central St Martins (UAL), encouraged young students to create new work using the collection as inspiration. I am not suggesting new work is necessarily in a position to replace the old, but as a way of drawing a link between a somewhat alien and separate past and our current environment and sentiments.


Touching Heritage

Nicholas Vogelpoel22 October 2012

Volunteers in the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme, funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant have been taking objects from across UCL’s museums and collections to people in hospitals, care homes and other community health settings for the past couple of months, and facilitating object-handling sessions with participants who would otherwise be excluded from visiting museums.

Patient in object-handling session

The programme is unique not only because of its intentions to actively engage excluded communities in cultural activity, but because it offers volunteers the opportunity to become the facilitators of heritage-in-health sessions. The benefits of object-handling and the potential for improved experiences of health and wellbeing through cultural engagement for participants have been a priority of the heritage-in-healthcare research team at UCL for a number of years. Researchers have found that the kinaesthetic and tactile properties of the objects have the potential to influence and improve experiences of health and wellbeing for participants of a session. (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Fifty-Four

Emma-Louise Nicholls22 October 2012

Scary MonkeyLast week, after 19 hours on a broken down train (give or take), I attended the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol. The sessions were fantastic and ranged from super technical to ‘sit and watch my pretty film footage and then I’ll tell you my secrets’ (my favourite). It got me thinking about what we, as viewers, focus on when we watch these wildlife documentaries. In the case of footage of marine environments, it is often the background players with non-speaking parts that provide much of the atmosphere and, in the case of this week’s specimen, the colour. After spending a little while contemplating this point, I decided I feel they deserve a shout-out. So, staying in the world of marine invertebrates but switching primary colour, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

A Tale of A Whale

Simon J Jackson19 October 2012

Earlier this year Mark Carnall, the Grant Museum Curator, and I uncovered a whale in our collection — well, actually the ‘long-dead’ skeleton of a whale. Initially, we were confronted with boxes of huge vertebrae mixed with ribs — specimens several times the size we are used to dealing with. After putting our detective caps on, we ascertained that most of these bones belong to the same animal as does the huge skull we have in our balcony collection area in the Museum. Going back to the historical records, there is an interesting story behind this specimen, which I thought would be nice to share with you … (more…)

The Spirit of Jeremy Bentham

Nick J Booth19 October 2012

Looking through the  Jeremy Bentham archives I came across an interesting letter relating to a request for help from the Devonshire Inn Chess Club, Oakhampton, Devon.  I have reproduced the letter in full below.


Originally addressed to the President of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

2 June, 1993.

Dear Sir,

I write to you on a rather delicate matter, and seek your professional advice as a medical man.

I have for many years been an admirer of the nineteenth century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who as I am sure you know disapproved of cremation or burial, and suggested instead that the bodies of deceased loved ones should be preserved as an “auto-icon” in a lifelike state and mounted in a public place. He donated his own body to the University College, London, where he now sits in a glass case in the South Cloisters. You can visit him most days between 10.00am and 4.00 pm.

Jeremy Bentham, inspiration for a good letter from Devon.

This brings me to the point of my enquiry. The fact is, our secretary Colonel Polhill is no longer in the first flush of youth. An active member of the M.C.C. for over 20 years, he can still be observed daily walking his dog, and calling in to the Devonshire Inn for a half. He is dearly loved by all, but we are beginning to see certain signs. Quite likely the old soak will outlive the rest of us, but we feel that we need to make some provision.


Getting plastered

Rachael Sparks18 October 2012

Term started a few weeks ago; new students, fresh with the mud of PrimTech on their boots have finally managed to locate their various lecture rooms and labs, and now the serious work of becoming an archaeologist can begin. For the Institute of Archaeology Collections, this means that our objects are once again in high demand for teaching.

Clay slingshots from Arpachiyah in Iraq, a cheap but effective weapon in the right hands. Hundreds of these were discovered, only going to show that sometimes neighbours are after more than a cup of sugar