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Museums & Collections Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for December, 2012

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Four

Emma-LouiseNicholls31 December 2012

Scary MonkeyBack in the days when ancient Rome was modern, to them, the Romans had a whole host of gods and goddesses. My personal favourite is Mercury, god of travel. If he exists, he has indeed been kind to me during my life time. I also like him because he is allegedly mischievous, a character trait I can empathise with. New Year’s day however, belongs to a different god. Janus, is reportedly the god of transitions and new beginnings. He also looks after gates, doors, and doorways, though in a more metaphorical than architectural sense I suspect. Janus has two heads, a useful trait that allows him to look both to the future and the past, at the same time. The month of January was so named by the Romans. It marked the beginning of the year and it made sense therefore to use it to honour the god of new beginnings; Janus. Sadly, we do not have a two headed god of new beginnings in the Grant Museum. But we do have another two-headed beasty (and naturally so, not X-Men style crazy genes so) which is a super species worth peering through hangover addled eyes to read about. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

Happy New Year!

KrisztinaLackoi30 December 2012

The entire team at UCL Art Museum wish you a prosperous and Happy New Year! We will return in 2013 with an exciting programme of events and exhibitions so watch this space!

members of the UCL Art Museum team raise a glass of bubbly

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Three

Emma-LouiseNicholls24 December 2012

Christmas Scary MonkeyI cannot believe, age 31, how excited I am that it is Christmas Eve. I have been uncontrollably bouncy all week, for the last three weeks actually, and completely insufferable to all in close contact with me. It’s not the presents I’m excited about…
That’s a blatant lie… let me start again and be more honest.
It’s not just the presents I’m excited about, it is the coming together of my family to talk, play games, have a huge dinner, and just ‘be together’ rather than exercise our all too comfy relationship with the television night after night. At Christmas the streets are decorated, the shop windows look prettier, people are happier, and families make an extra effort to be together, and more importantly, to get on. I love it. It will come as no surprise whatsoever therefore that the Specimen of the Week is inspired by one of the most iconic Christmas animals. This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

How not to do public engagement

RachaelSparks22 December 2012

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in the artefact store, staring down the barrel of a film camera while the cameraman and director stared expectantly back at me. I was supposed to say something bright, pithy, and appealing about our collections, and I was supposed to say it now.

Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect

Pointing at old stuff for dramatic effect


How the rattlesnake’s tail came to Camden Town

CelineWest20 December 2012

Once upon a time there was a rattlesnake, he lived in the high desert of North Western New Mexico. No doubt conceived in love, he was born live, not out of an egg like most other snakes. He grew up big and strong, lithe and supple, with dark diamond-shaped patterns along his back. When he was growing up, he grew larger than his skin so he slipped out if it, shedding the thin scaly coat on the sandy ground and not looking back.

Crotalus atrox by Clinton and Charles Robertson

Crotalus atrox, Western diamondback rattlesnake by Clinton and Charles Robertson


An imaginary conversation with our former curator

JackAshby19 December 2012

lankester in museumIn his role as Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at UCL from 1875-1890, E. Ray Lankester was responsible for the collection which we now call the Grant Museum of Zoology. Lankester was an extremely influential figure in evolutionary biology, and after UCL went on to a professorship at Oxford and then to direct the Natural History Museum. Something else that people like to say about him is that he was described as having “a head like a benevolent biscuit tin”.

When you visit the Grant Museum today you’ll see his influence all over the place – he put together the first formal cataloguing system (though his catalogue is a bit confusing as it includes labels for specimens he wanted to acquire as well as things that actually existed, and there is no way of telling which is which). Although he brought so many specimens into the Museum (including the famous Blaschka glass models), his most famous specimens are of the horseshoe crabs. He used the dissected specimen on display to demonstrate that they were related to arachnids, rather than crabs.

Why am I talking about Lankester? (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Sixty-Two

Emma-LouiseNicholls17 December 2012

Scary MonkeyAlthough this week’s specimen is an amazing looking animal it was in truth, chosen purely because of it’s super cool name which is so much fun to say. It’s scientific name that is. I don’t like to let the cat out of the bag too early as I know you sit on the edges of your seats waiting to hit that button that says ‘more’ which takes you to the big reveal (unless  you use one of the many routes onto this blog which doesn’t facilitate that option) but I’m not sure I’ll be giving too much away by telling you the Scientific name for which this animal was elected Specimen of the Week. Do an impression of a snake as you say this word: Ichthyophis. Icccchhhhthyophissssss. Ah, brilliant. If you don’t already know from that, this week’s Specimen of Week is… (more…)

Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month: December

MarkCarnall13 December 2012

Following on from last month’s inaugural UFFoTM, I’ve received literally* thousands of emails of complaint. Here’s a selection of them:

“Underwhelming? I can see four Phd projects and an international symposium on that specimen alone”

Andrew Scientist

“I was practically whelmed by it. It’ll take less than that to underwhelm me”

Professor Lord T.V. Personality

I’ve taken these comments on board, blue skied it, decided how this will facilitate us moving forward and lowered the bar accordingly. You’ll be begging me for the heady days of Brookvalia. (more…)

Model Translations: The B roll

MarkCarnall12 December 2012

My colleague Nick Booth has already introduced the Octagon Gallery that hopefully a lot of UCL staff and students have noticed on their way from one side of campus to another. In addition to the ‘big egg’ a number of objects from the Grant Museum can be seen on display (including another big egg, a model of an elephant bird egg) but as with most exhibitions there were a lot of objects that for one reason or another didn’t make the cut.

A number of months ago one of the Mellon Fellow curators of the Model Translation exhibition, Antony Hudek, came by the museum and asked if we would loan one of our Blaschka glass models to the exhibition. I mustered my best impression of a dodgy second-hand car salesman and informed him that if it was models he wanted, we’ve got hundreds. We then spent the rest of the afternoon going through the model collections at the Grant Museum. Originally there were 30 or so objects on the long list which had to be whittled down for the exhibition. Here’s some of the objects that didn’t end up in the exhibition. (more…)

There’s no such thing as bad press?

JackAshby11 December 2012

This is a short post about the surprise appearance of the Grant Museum in a story that was completely unrelated.

Before I start, there are some things you should bear in mind:

  • We count the number of times the Grant Museum appears in the press as a measure of our performance.
  • Unless it’s a press story promoting the Museum, we charge for use of our images by publishers, but we have allowed a couple of stock photo libraries to photograph the Museum in the hope that it will spread the word of our existence.
  • For obvious reasons we try and keep track of journalists and photographers who come and visit.
  • We have no control over the internet.


Every month I go to a meeting with all the other people involved with communications at UCL to look over major events and stories involving the University over the past month, and to highlight what’s about to come up. At the last meeting a story in the press concerning the possibility of UCL changing a statute which at present effectively offers academic staff permanent tenure – something the Unions are concerned about, was brought up. This didn’t appear to have much to do with the Grant Museum, until they opened the link on the projector… (more…)