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  • Curiosities from UCL’s Cabinet

    By Jack Ashby, on 3 May 2017

    Guest post by Rebecca Reynolds

    ‘Curiosities’ seem to be popping up a lot on TV, radio and the web recently – such as in Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity, where guests donate objects to a vast imaginary museum, and Professor Hutton’s Curiosities, the Discovery Channel’s 2013 series exploring quirky museums from around the UK (including the Grant Museum).

    As many will know, these titles take their cue from cabinets of curiosities, collections kept by physicians, naturalists, explorers and wealthy amateurs throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Surviving objects from these cabinets are still on show – one is the Chaucer stone, a piece of flint broken open to show the shape of the poet’s face, in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery; another is Powhatan’s mantle in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; yet another is ‘the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary’ in the Natural History Museum, a dried fern which people loved to believe was half animal, half plant.

    Egyptian cat goddess Bastet from the Petrie Museum. UC30384

    Egyptian cat goddess Bastet from the Petrie Museum. UC30384

    Three objects from UCL Museums ended up in my own cabinet of curiosities, a book published in February this year. (more…)

    The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2016

    By Jack Ashby, on 9 January 2017

    History will most likely look back on 2016 as a reasonably significant year – you don’t need reminding why. It’s probably fair to say that the activities of the Grant Museum will not feature highly in the list of major global events, but nevertheless we like to think we had a positive impact on the lives of our supporters and visitors last year, both physically and digitally.

    Team Grant had plenty to cheer about in 2016: our two exhibitions were based on artistic ways of looking at scientific topics. First was Skullpture, when we invited the Sculpture students from the Slade School of Fine Art to takeover the museum with their responses to our collection and history. Then, with Natural Creativity: Sex and Trickery we displayed a collection of stunning drawings by Clara Lacy depicting the species that are being studied by biologists in the UCL Department of Genetics, Evolution and the Environment: the sexual preferences, sex determination and sexual selection in the animal kingdom.

    In terms of our collections, we reached a giant milestone last year – we finally know where every single specimen stored in the museum space is, possibly for the first time in our 190 year history. We’ve also been focusing our conservation work on our collection of wet specimens, with Project Pickle. We’ve had a really ambitious events programme too, the pinnacle being the dissection of cheetah by a team of five reseachers in front of a huge audience of over 300… It was a busy year.

    As a way of looking back, on Twitter over the past week we’ve been counting down the best of 2016’s blog – the Top Ten most viewed Grant Museum posts of last year*.

    I’ve announced those ranking at 10 to 2 in the charts, and exclusively revealing here that the most popular post of 2016 is… (more…)

    Please don’t call us a Cabinet of Curiosity

    By Jack Ashby, on 12 February 2016

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum. Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lanclet

    Embryological wax model display at the Grant Museum.
    Top: Frogs; Middle: Arthropod, Echinoderm, Human; Bottom: Lancelet

    “Isn’t the Grant Museum wonderful! It’s such a cabinet of curiosity!”

    This exclamation is clearly meant as a rich endorsement of the Grant Museum – it’s obviously intended as a compliment. Nevertheless, it makes me wince.

    Inspiring curiosity and wonder is surely among the highest ambitions a museum could ever have. It’s infinitely more important than making visitors learn something. Curiosity? I am a huge fan. Cabinets? We definitely have some nice ones. Cabinets of Curiosity? No thanks.

    For me, this term implies that our objects are nothing but curios – weird artefacts amassed by some eccentric collector. Erratically accumulated in another time; weird and wonderful titbits intended to impress; to show off the collector’s status and influence – “Gosh, Sir William! Where did you get that ghastly tenrec!?” (more…)