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News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Archive for the 'Jeremy Bentham' Category

Museum Training for the World

By Edmund Connolly, on 7 March 2014

UCL is launching a new project with the British Council to help develop and teach new methods of Museum management. The Museum Training School opened this week and is aimed at mid-career professionals who are aspiring to be emerging leaders in the museum sector.



Bentham, Utilitarianism and Sex

By Nick J Booth, on 5 February 2014

Bentham later in life.  Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

Bentham later in life.
Photo courtesy of UCL Art Museum.

On February 14th (yes, Valentine’s day) I will be giving a short talk at ‘Late London: City of Seduction’, part of the Museum of London’s special events program, on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. I will be introducing the auto-icon, discussing how it was made and talking about some of the legends that have built up around it (head used for a game of football anyone?). I will then relinquish the floor to Professor Philip Schofield, head of the Bentham Project, an expert of Bentham’s life and works.

So, a dead Philosopher, a mummified head and an articulated skeleton don’t sound very suitable for Valentine’s day do they? And maybe they aren’t, however if you look closer at the philosophy Bentham helped found…


Jeremy Bentham and his new walking stick.

By Nick J Booth, on 29 January 2014

From the start of January until the middle of June Jeremy Bentham’s stick is on display in a different part of UCL, in the Octagon Gallery, as part of the ‘Collecting – Knowledge in Motion’ exhibition.

Jeremy Bentham's auto-icon.

Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon.

While sorting out the paperwork for this in December it struck me just how unfair it was to take an old man’s walking stick away from him for 6 months! After all Bentham had named his stick ‘Dapple’ and so obviously had quite an attachment to it. The least I could do, I thought, would be to find him a suitable replacement.


A week in the life of a Curator

By Nick J Booth, on 18 September 2013

People often ask me what it is I do for a job. “Well” I answer, “I’m a curator”.

Me in the micrarium at  the Grant Museum.

Me in the micrarium at
the Grant Museum.

“Yes, but what do you actually do?”

“I curate a collection, I help look after it”.

“Yes but what do you ACTUALLY do all day?”

It’s a good question, and one to which the answer is never really that simple. What I ‘actually do’ varies from week to week, and depends upon what I have to do, what I need to do, and what I have time to do. So I thought I would write a blog as a way of answering.

Last week I made a point of recording exactly what I was up to between Monday and Friday, and tried to take a few more photos that I would normally. I should say that I did not particularly plan for this week to be one I blogged about, and I resisted the urge to book in lots of important sounding meetings. I had planned to use a stepometer during the week, to see how far I walked, but sadly couldn’t get my hands on one in time.

So, my week…


Ask A Curator Day

By Nick J Booth, on 17 September 2013

Ask A Curator,  18th September 2013

Ask A Curator Day,
18th September 2013

On Wednesday 18th UCL Museums will be taking part in the Ask A Curator Day event on twitter. The original day was way back in 2010 and this year already has more museums signed up than ever before (525 in 34 countires at time of writing). We know that asking a question in a museum can sometimes feel intimidating , and that we curators can sometimes be hard to track down. There’s so much to do (all that cataloguing…gah!) that we aren’t always the most accessible group of people (though we really do try).  We are taking part in the day as part of our commitment to make our collections as accessible as possible.

Ask A Curator works like this.  Anyone in the world with a twitter account can tweet a question with the #AskACurator hashtag, and it will be answered by any of the institutions taking part. If you have a specific question for us you can tweet it directly to us @UCLMuseums and one of our staff will do their best to answer you. The Grant Museum is also taking part using @GrantMuseum.

In preparation for this I thought I would introduce you to our members of staff taking part… (more…)

Bentham ‘present but not voting’

By Nick J Booth, on 12 July 2013

Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

Jeremy Bentham prepares for the meeting.

Tuesday 9th July marked the day that the retiring Provost, Sir Malcolm Grant, attended his final UCL Council meeting. UCL Museums marked this by doing something a little bit special…

Most people know that Jeremy Bentham, the spiritual founder of UCL, attends every UCL Council meeting. He is always recorded as ‘present but not voting’, except when the Council is split on a motion. On those rare occasions he gets a vote, and always votes in favour of the motion, due to his mischievous personality.

It’s a brilliant story, it has everything: a dead body, academic eccentricity, reanimation of a corpse, ancient tradition…what’s not to love? Except, unfortunately, it’s a myth. One of the many legends that have built up around the ‘old radical’ that I have no doubt that he would have enjoyed. (more…)

The Travels of Jeremy Bentham

By Nick J Booth, on 23 April 2013

We recently updated our Bentham webpages on the UCL Museums site. Among the new features is a conservation page that lists all the known inspections of the auto-icon; a Myth and Legends page that deals with some of the more popular stories concerning the auto-icon; and a new History page. This last one features a couple of pieces of data visualisation that we have tried out. This blog focuses on one of these, a Google map that shows how far Bentham and his auto-icon have traveled.

All the information used here can be found on a downloadable spread sheet on the History Page of UCL Museums website on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. All distances are as-the- crow-flies, and are likely to be an underestimate.

The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham resides in the South Cloisters of the Wilkins Building at UCL. Although he looks pretty sedate now, he only arrived in this location after the Second World War, and has in the past has been to a number of locations in London, and even out of the country (twice).

View Bentham’s Post-Mortem Travels in a larger map



Bentham’s Day Out

By Subhadra Das, on 9 November 2012

On Thursday November 8th, 2012, the UCL Teaching and Research Collections team arranged for the Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham to be removed from its box for cleaning. These pictures document adventures and experiences on the day.


Council of War. When it comes to doing anything to what is arguably UCL’s most iconic object, it is best to have a plan.


The Spirit of Jeremy Bentham

By Nick J Booth, on 19 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.