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  • Archive for the 'Galton Collection' Category

    Celestial commanding and Solar supplication

    By Edmund Connolly, on 4 April 2013

    With the days lengthening and the bleak Beowulf-like nights withering we can start to revel in getting home from work in glorious sunshine (/grey illumination) and wend our commuter way with the street lights still off. Returning to my theme of spring (and Ancient Egypt), I’m now intrigued by the new affectation in the heavens:  the sun!

    Our sun is about 4.6 billion years old, comprising of 99.86% of the solar system’s mass. Probably the starkest visual image we can experience, the sun has inspired civilizations over millennia, and continues to affect our notion of time, season and even our emotions.

     

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/solarsystem/sun_and_planets/sun#default

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/solarsystem/sun_and_planets/sun#default

    (more…)

    The Archaeology of Race

    By Edmund Connolly, on 1 April 2013

    guest blogger: Chris Webb

     

    In recent history there are few contentious subjects that are as notorious as eugenics. There are not many areas of discussion that can illicit such heated debate. Indeed, even the simple task of blogging becomes a semantic minefield, my inclusion of the word ‘contentious’ above, inferring (erroneously) that there are two sides to ‘argue’. However, research into the concept of eugenics, its founding and articulation, is the focus of a new book by Dr Debbie Challis who asks ‘How much was archaeology founded on prejudice?’

    (more…)

    My life in a museum case

    By Subhadra Das, on 15 February 2013

    Only once in my life have I ever encountered an object in a museum display case which delivered such an emotional sucker-punch as to physically stop me breathing.

    One of the fun things about objects in museum collections is the way in which you can appreciate them in the context of your own life, experiences, sometimes even your own body. For example, when looking at the gynaecology specimens in UCL’s pathology collections they are full of resonance for me because I’ve got similar (hopefully considerably less diseased) bits sitting inside me and because my mother was, for over four decades, a gynaecologist and obstetrician. [1] In the Galton Collection, I have classified my hair and eye colour according using the colour scales and devices which were used at the Galton Laboratory.[2]

    The ivory chessmen on display at Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery. Image courtesy Ynys Crowston-Boaler.

    The ivory chessmen on display at Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery. Image courtesy Ynys Crowston-Boaler.

     

    I’ve also experienced those little moments of recognition for things which, even when you see them for the first time, are somehow immediately familiar and speak directly to you. The ones I remember best are the hugely spectacular – like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio – and those that refer to memorable thoughts and experiences. On a visit to Nottingham, I was blown away by these ivory chessmen which sit in a case at Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery and are exactly like the ones described in my favourite novel. I stood gawping at those chessmen for much longer than any other exhibit in the museum, even the fancy modern artworks which were what I had actually gone to see. Running a close second on the same trip was the statue of Robin Hood at the bottom of the hill leading up to the castle, which featured in a documentary about Torvill and Dean, a recording of which I had watched repeatedly and obsessively as a five-year-old.[3]

    Given that I am aware of the evocative power of objects, the emotional (and physical!) winding I mentioned at the start of this blog may have been a shock, but it wasn’t entirely a surprise. The object in question was this, in one of the more innocuous displays at the Design Museum in Copenhagen. Up until that point I had been happily strolling through the galleries taking pictures of chairs – of which they have an extensive typology, going ‘Oooh…!’ at the Japanese porcelain vessels and trying to work out why there was a bottle of Heineken in a case that otherwise only exclusively held antique silverware.

    Then, suddenly, blithely sitting in a case, was this; my Dad’s CD player.

    (more…)

    No lies and some statistics

    By Celine West, on 16 November 2012

    One of the things we do as part of Learning & Access is outreach work with London schools. This is teaching with objects in the classroom, most often with Primary school children. I have been away from work for a while and returning recently I realized this is something I don’t talk about enough so I’m just going to share some numbers with you about outreach that’s happening now.

    In 2 months staff are visiting 23 different Primary schools on 27 different days. They are teaching in 66 classes and are working with 2000 children, children of all ages from 4 to 12 years old.

    The schools are spread across 5 London Boroughs and in this 2 months, staff will have spent about 45 hours in total travelling on London transport to and from schools… (more…)

    Ian Hislop and the Galton Head Spanner

    By Subhadra Das, on 10 October 2012

    Ian Hislop and the Galton Head SpannerAt the risk of sounding celebrity obsessed; one of our objects was on the telly last night!

    A head spanner originally used by the Galton Laboratory and now part of the UCL Galton collection appeared in ‘Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip’ on BBC2. The second in a 3-part self-described ‘emotional history of Britain’ focussed on how the Victorians embraced the stiff upper lip as an empire building tool. Used to take accurate measurements of human skulls, this head spanner, and others like it, contributed to the colonial project of keeping colonials… well, colonial.

    As someone who has relinquished an Indian passport to take on the mantle of Britishness[1]*there are lots of issues I could talk about here, but I’m also a museum curator and so enjoy getting het up about very little things rather than massive philosophical and social issues.

    So, I thought I would 1) write and let you know that you can catch-up with the series on the BBC iPlayer And 2) give you an insight into the practical, professional and ethical aspects of lending an object for filming a documentary.

    It went a little something like this:
    (more…)

    The Noel Collection of life and death masks

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 22 June 2012

    For my first ever solo blog am I am going to talk about a collection that really stood out when I was looking around UCL in my first few weeks, and the interesting ‘science’ of phrenology.

    Examples of masks from the Noel Collection

     

    Phrenology is the study of head morphology and the belief that this is related to a person’s character. Simply put, the lumps and bumps on your head can indicate if you are (or are going to be) industrious or a criminal, a failure or success, a drunkard or teetotal. To many now this seems obviously absurd, and the theories behind it have been widely debunked, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries this was regarded as good science, and was very popular.

    One of the Teaching and Research collections cared for by UCL is the Galton Collection, named after Sir Francis Galton (see here for further details). Galton was well known in his time as (amongst other things) an explorer, a pioneer of meteorology, psychology and phrenology and a statistician. He is particularly remembered today for his work with fingerprints, and amongst the bundles of finger prints held in the collection are those of Prime Minister William Gladstone.
    (more…)

    Nick and Sub are in the building

    By Nicholas J Booth, on 13 June 2012

    Nick and Sub get to grips with UCL's Pathology Collections

    So, what should two new curators expect in their first weeks at UCL Museums?Nick Booth and Subhadra Das are two new curators working with Teaching and Research at UCL. This includes collections in subjects as diverse as geology, pathology and historical science.

    Both of us have experience of working in museum/collections type environments, but as these posts are brand new for UCL, we have had lots of new ground to cover and a steep learning curve to climb.
    (more…)

    ‘Racial Type’ Heads from Memphis, Egypt

    By Debbie J Challis, on 21 September 2011

    Last week the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology put about 50 of the ‘racial type’ heads that Flinders Petrie collected out on display for the first time as part of the exhibition Typecast: Flinders Petrie and Francis Galton. There are over 300 of these in the museum’s collection but this tray is actually labeled ‘racial heads’. They were part of Petrie’s ideas around race and identifying racial groups in archaeology. Petrie thought that these heads were expressly modeled by Greek artists of foreigners. He described them, in his publications as belonging to different ‘racial types’, such as this one UC48501 as being a ‘Kurd’:

    UC48501 The Kurd (73) has the crossed turban which belongs to the Central Asian and Kurd race, but not to the Semitic peoples. Mr Hogarth informs me that the type of the face agrees to that of the modern Kurds, who were well known to the Greeks as the Karduchi. This is the finest piece of modelling among all the heads; the delicacy with which the features are worked, the detail of the ear being pressed forward by the turban, wrinkling it on the inner side, and the spirit of expression put this in the front rank.

    Memphis II, 17

    Petrie only collected the heads and paid for the workers for heads, which means that not only is there little evidence about the rest of the terracotta but that they may also have created fakes for Petrie. Sally-Ann Ashton, Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, argued at an event last Thursday that this head was a good example of a fake head.

    A postgraduate student Katherine Aitchison attended Sally-Ann’ s talk last Thursday and has blogged about the event here. Do pop along to the Petrie Museum and take a look for yourselves!

    Race, Starkey and Remembering

    By Debbie J Challis, on 16 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…)

    The Grave of Francis Galton

    By Debbie J Challis, on 7 July 2011

    Occasionally I leave the museum bunker to give talks about the museum, exhibitions and my research. A few weeks ago I went out to the lovely village of Claverdon in Warwickshire to give a talk on Francis Galton.

    2011 is the centenary of the death of the scientist Sir Francis Galton. Francis Galton's Grave in Claverdon GraveyardLast year the churchwarden Jonathan Evans got in touch with UCL Museums and Collections as they had received funding from the Galton Institute to clean up and conserve Galton’s grave in Claverdon church’s graveyard. (more…)