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The Unsung Heroes of UCL Museums and Collections

ucwehlc6 July 2021

During 2020 and 2021 while UCL was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, UCL Culture’s curatorial team worked with students from the Institute of Archaeology’s MA Museum Studies on our first-ever virtual work placements. These projects, which included archive transcription, documentation and object label writing, provided opportunities for the students to gain practical curatorial skills to prepare them for their future careers while undertaking valuable work towards better understanding the collections.

This blog was written by Nicky Stitchman, UCL MA Museum Studies

As part of my MA in Museum Studies, I undertook a work placement with Hannah Cornish, Science Curator at UCL. My brief was to discover the different locations of UCL’s museums and teaching collections from the university’s origins in 1828. Ferreting out information from primary and secondary sources and finding maps that showed the movement of the various museums as the university expanded was fascinating, but I found myself drawn to people behind the museums. I am not talking here about the headliners – the Flinders Petries or Robert Grants of this world – but rather the curators, assistant curators and demonstrators who would have done most of the day-to-day tasks such as cataloguing, labelling, teaching, and physically moving the artefacts and objects within the collections. 

James Cossar Ewart at the Grant Museum 

J Cossar Ewart was the first professional, rather than professorial, curator of both the Anatomical Museum and Comparative Anatomy/Zoology Museum between 1875-1878. He was appointed after the retirement of William Sharpey (curator of the Anatomical Museum) and the death of Robert Grant (professor of comparative anatomy). In the official records, it was Professor Lankester, Grant’s successor, who refitted and rearranged the Museum of Zoology over this period but Ewart was instrumental in making the zoological preparations and was also known to have helped organise and take the subsequent practical classes that Lankester introduced to UCL. 

Black and white image of the head and shoulders of James Cossar Ewart

James Cossar Ewart worked at the Grant Museum 1875-1878. Image in public domain

After Ewart, there was a change in the running of the two largest museums at UCL at that time, with a separate curator appointed for the Museum of Anatomy, while the Zoological Museum (now the Grant Museum of Zoology) was titularly run by the Head of Department with a curatorial assistant.

Shattock and Stonham: Anatomy and Pathology

Mr Samuel Shattock succeeded Ewart as the Curator of the Anatomical and Pathological Museum. He had originally shown up in the records as a Mr Betty which caused me some confusion at the time, until I discovered that he had decided to change his name to prevent the extinction of the Shattock family name!  Shattock never qualified as a physician but dedicated his life to pathological medicine. He was responsible, alongside Dr Marcus Beck, for a descriptive catalogue of the surgical pathology preparations at UCL. His successor Charles Stonham also worked with Marcus Beck on Part II of this catalogue and then in 1890 produced another medical pathology catalogue, which can be found online at the Wellcome Collection. In the preface to this catalogue, Dr Barlow and Dr Money acknowledge the work of Charles Stonham, and state that it is ‘to him the preparation of this work is almost entirely due’.

Black and white image of Charles Stoneham in military uniform sitting on a wooden chair holding a riding crop

Charles Stonham Curator of the UCL Anatomical and Pathological Museum (copyright UCL CC By 3.0)

Stonham was also responsible for the division of the pathology from the anatomy collection and its rehousing within the museum. He is also remembered on the UCL Roll of Honour as not only was he an instrumental figure in the London Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, but he volunteered as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during WWI and died on service in January 1916 aged 58. 

Margaret Murray and the Petrie Museum

The dedication of many assistant curators at UCL is very clear. The redoubtable Margaret Murray (pictured here), who worked alongside Flinders Petrie for many years, was effectively in charge of the museum’s collections during Petrie’s many excavations in Egypt and the Levant. It should also be remembered that the Petrie Museum of Egyptology and the Department itself was founded on the collection and endowment of Mrs Amelia Edwards, who favoured UCL due to the early admission of women into the College.

Black and white image of Margret Murray wearing a lace shawl, seated and holding a book

Egyptologist Margaret Murray (Image in public domain)

 

Edith Goodyear and the Geology Museum

One of the first women to be involved in UCL’s museums was Edith Goodyear who was appointed as the Assistant in the Geology Museum in 1904 and subsequently remained in the department until the Second World War. Edith worked alongside Professor Edmund Garwood, reorganising the museum, teaching, and researching papers. A room in the Lewis Building was named for her, along with the First Year Student prize within Earth Sciences. It is also worth noting that in an age of inequality, the 1916/17 council minutes show Edith was paid £150, the same as her male colleague Dr J Elsden. 

Keeping it in the family: Mary and Geoffrey Hett

1917 also saw the appointment of Mary L Hett as Assistant in the Zoology Dept on the same salary of £150, where she remained until she took up the post as Professor of Biology at the Hardinge Medical College, Delhi.  She had followed her brother Geoffrey S Hett to UCL where he held the post of Curator of the Anatomical Museum from 1907-1910. Like his sister, he had a great interest in the natural world and was an authority on both British birds and on bats. Geoffrey became an ENT Specialist and during his time at UCL completed valuable research on the anatomy of the tonsils. Like his predecessor, Charles Stonham, he also served in World War I and used the skills learnt at UCL to treat head, and in particular, nasal injuries during this period. 

The stories of the men and women who studied and worked at UCL museums over the years are many and various, and these are just a sample of those whom I have met in my research for the Mapping UCL Museums Project. We may never be able to give the Curators and Assistant Curators the recognition that their work and dedication deserve but in introducing these few to you, I hope to have redressed the balance very slightly in their favour!  

Hello! I’m the new Grant Museum Curator

ucwepwv6 November 2015

My name is Paolo Viscardi and I’m the new Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL.

PV_Case19

I have a background in biomechanics and comparative anatomy, with a particular fondness for bones, which I’ve been writing about since July 2009 on my personal blog Zygoma. In my spare time I am Chair of the Natural Sciences Collections Association (NatSCA) and I run the science communication event Science in the Pub (or PubSci for short). My passion for communicating science also keeps me busy giving talks and getting involved in all sorts of events and performances, from immersive theatre to providing a scientist’s response to art. (more…)

Do you need a PhD to be a curator?

Nick J Booth25 November 2014

During the ever excellent ‘Ask a Curator Day’ (search #AskACurator on twitter) I noticed a number of questions along the lines of ‘How do I become a curator’ / ‘what qualifications do I need to become a curator’. Many asked about whether a Masters in museum studies is sufficient. This is an ongoing debate on this blog and I suspect the question has no firm answer; however one response to this question from a national museum here in the UK caught my eye…

‘Museum Studies graduates do find curator jobs but increasingly employers are looking for PhD training in a speciality area.”

A photo of a man in a suit and glasses blanacing one legged on a table

Once upon a time this was
the first Google Images result for ‘Curator’.

This is an interesting answer, and I am sure it is correct for national museums (or that one in particular at least), however I do not believe that it is correct for many, or even most, jobs with ‘curator’ in the title. So I thought I would briefly go through my experiences of the word ‘curator’ and what I perceive it to mean in the different areas of the museum world.

(more…)

The great zombie apocalypse

Rachael Sparks8 October 2013

Curatorial dilemma no 1: how to defend against zombie attack

Curatorial dilemma no 1: how to defend against zombie attack

On September 18th, UCL Museums and Collections participated in a worldwide event on Twitter: Ask a Curator day.  The plan was to have a handful of curators on call to deal with questions as they flooded in from a curious public. The reality was that we didn’t have many queries sent directly to our feed, so we went out into the Twittersphere to seek out interesting questions to answer. As Keeper of the Institute of Archaeology Collections, I spent an hour manning the virtual desk, and found it an interesting experience. (more…)

Do you use ‘Curate’ when ‘Organise’ will do? Well you shouldn’t…

Nick J Booth31 October 2012

Inspired by my colleague Mark’s excellent blog ‘How to tell an archaeologist from a palaeontologist’ (read it here) I thought I’d dedicate my blog to my own particular bug bear: The use of the word ‘curate’ and title ‘curator’.

I recently went to an interesting music and light show at a theatre in Hackney, which involved 3 different acts playing over an evening. The organisation that put it on describes itself as a ‘cultural organisation that curates, produces and disseminates digital culture’. There were lots of people there and the evening seemed to go well. I’d say it was very well organised. So why did that organisation decide to call it ‘curated’ instead of ‘organised’ or ‘put on’ or any other word?

A sign reading 'Do not disturb, Curating in Progress'

The modern day equivalent of ‘under construction’?

I am going to put it out there early – I think organisations and people do it as a form of self-aggrandisement. I think people chose to use the words ‘curate’ and ‘curator’ because it sounds more high-brow, to some people, than organiser or promoter. Perhaps they think it makes that person sound more intelligent, or gives a deeper meaning to what they do.
(more…)

Crimes against curators

Rachael Sparks13 February 2012

It’s a Monday, which is always a tough day, as the emails have had all weekend to pile up and all the things you didn’t manage to do last week now need to be done even more urgently this week. So maybe this is a good day to share some of my personal candidates for a museums’ version of Room 101. (more…)