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11 Museum Blogger Questions for #MuseumWeek round 2

By Mark Carnall, on 4 April 2014

best-blogYou may have read my colleague Emma’s answers to 11 Museum Blogger Questions at this link. I’ve been nominated to answer 11 questions as a museum blogger by the formidable Jake McGowan-Lowe, author of Jake’s Bones, and you can read his answers at this link. The idea is to answer 11 questions about writing a museum blog and then like Kevin Spacey, passing it on. Here are my 11 answers to 11 questions.



1. Who are you and what do you blog about?

I am fortunate enough to be the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at UCL. One of the great parts of my job is that I get to blog about err my job which as the curator of a relatively small museum can incorporate different things depending on the hour, day, month and season. Sometimes it’s about the value of natural history specimens and the lack of patronage, sometimes it’s about how we could be doing better as a sector, sometimes it’s about our collections, a lot of the time it’s about how weird language is and sometimes it’s about the future of museums.

2. Why do you blog about museums?

One of the reasons I blog about museums is because the public perception of them, a perception perpetuated in news coverage, literature and film, is that they are quiet and dusty spaces put together by eccentric people who work behind the scenes. Although there is truth to some of it, museums can be so much more and do so much more especially at the Grant Museum where we try to maximise the use of the collections through our public events, our exhibitions and through our online presence such as this blog right here. Blogging can give a lot of the one off ‘happenings’ a bit more of a legacy. There’s a mindset in museums that I think needs to be broken and that’s for museum staff to be overly modest, but actually it’s the staff not the stuff that make museums interesting and inspiring places. Lastly, not only do I work in museums but I consume museums too so it’s a great way to reflect and share on what I enjoy and don’t enjoy about other museums.

3. Share a museum selfie?

Mark Carnall, Curator of the Grant MUseum of Zoology holding the old museum sign Okay technically I didn’t take this myself but it’s an image I’m quite happy about. This was when the sign for the old museum came down before we moved to our current location three years ago.

4. Which is your favourite museum?

To cop out, this changes depending on the last museum I went to and with changing exhibitions. Unpatriotically, some of my favourite museums are the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Musée Fragonard d’Alfort in Paris and Museum voor Natuurwetenschappen in Brussels. Currently, my most favourite museum is one I only recently discovered, Natuurhistorisch Museum Boekenberg in Antwerp, Belgium. It’s a relatively small natural history museum in Western Europe’s largest man made cave, apparently. As well as some nice natural history, archaeology and ethnographic collections it has a river running through it and is closed and taken over by a bat colony off season when it gets too cold. As a curator, dealing with a museum that has a river running through it must be… challenging.

5. Do you think you’ll still be interested in museums in 20 years time?

Actually this is a very timely question. As part of an English assignment at secondary school, and this will date me, all the way back in 1994 I had to keep a journal to be sealed away and only opened after 20 years. Fortunately, my mum kept hold of it and sent it to me. Amongst a lot of cringe worthy material was this excerpt.

Image from Mark Carnall's journal 20 years ago

NOT BECAUSE OF THE FILM. What a snob. Interesting note: to date I still can’t spell Jurrassic, Jurasic. Oh whatever.

So yep. I was interested in natural history back then and I imagine I still will be in 20 years time and there’s no better place to get to grips with it other than through museums.

6. What is your earliest museum memory?

I was very lucky growing up, my parents dragged us around countless museums, historic houses, castles, heritage centres and other cultural sites. It wasn’t until recently that I realised that they did it for me and my siblings. One of my earliest museum memories is eating a picnic with my family near Dover castle and my brother taking photos of us with a camera. This was back in the day when you had to take what archaeologists call a ‘film’ to be developed. All the photos were extreme close-ups of my brother’s fingers.

7. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?

The last museum I visited was Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I was actually there for a meeting but was given a in front of and behind the scenes tour by one of their curators. The last time I’d been to OUMNH was on a team outing and the entire ceiling was being refurbished so it was great to see it open again. One of my favourite new things that I saw there was a case called ‘Losers’ about the bird species declining in Oxfordshire. I tweeted about their whales being rehung and spelled whales as Wales like a consumate professional zoologist would.

 8. Which post on your blog was the hardest to write?

One of my problems when I write blogs, as my poor long suffering colleagues who proof them before they get posted will testify, is that I start writing one thing and end up writing something completely different in the end. I’ve got a whole stack which are written but need thinking about as at the moment they are large meandering pieces that aren’t really as snappy or as succinct as they need to be. I hugely enjoy writing Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month every month but that can be very hard to write as sometimes there appears to be nothing to say about the particularly underwhelming specimen I pull out of the store. Fortunately, touch wood, I always discover something that I hope is interesting about each one.

9. If you could build a museum, what kind would it be?

It would be a museum that documented every single object that came into the collection to the nth degree , when it came in. One of the biggest challenges for older museums and natural history museums in general is that all the key information that makes objects and specimens usuable today; the whos, whys, wheres, whats and hows often weren’t recorded so maximising the use and value of the collection involves a lot of detective work but far too often there are dead ends. That’s the curator side of me coming out there.

10. What is the most popular post on your blog?

The most popular blog I’ve written is how to tell an archaeologist from a palaeontologist a blog post about the ever present confusion between what all the ‘ologists’ do. I’m quite proud of that one as it served as a public service announcement of sorts as well as a tongue in cheek poke at the tribalism of subject specialisms.

11. How would you get more children to visit museums?

This is an interesting question, this is something I don’t think natural history museums suffer from. In fact I think more problems stem from the perception that an interest in natural history, particularly animals is something ‘meant for children’. Quite what happens to people’s interest in natural history as they grow up I don’t know but I love contributing to the Grant Museum’s events for adults, many of whom, still have that love for animals and wildlife inside them but that’s been lost somewhere along the way.

Mark Carnall is the Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology

Next nominated blogger, here’s what you have to do:

Answer the 11 questions I have listed for you below (you can adapt them slightly to fit your blog if you wish).

Make sure you include the BEST BLOG image (see the top of this page) in your post, and link the blog back to me, or this blog post.

Think of who to nominate next, I’d recommend two or three though it is up to you, and either give them the same 11 questions or change them however you wish.

I will nominate Suse Cairns AKA Museum Geek and Beulah Garner. My questions to you both are:

1) Who are you and what do you blog about?

2) Which post on your blog did you have the most fun writing?

3)  Would you say blogging has helped or hindered your career?

4) Why do you work in a museum?

5) Has anyone written a blog post (museum or otherwise) you wish you had?

6) What’s your favourite museum?

7) What would your top tip be for someone thinking about working in museums?

8) Please share a museum selfie.

9) What’s the most fun you’ve had at a museum?

10) Who is your museum hero (in the gender neutral use of hero)?

11) What do you tell your family you do for a job?

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