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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Passionate enthusiastic scientists – just another way of saying Geek?

By Jack Ashby, on 19 November 2013

Last week I went to a presentation at the Zoological Society of London about the impact on museum visitors of meeting real scientists. The speaker, Amy Seakins, is just finishing a PhD which examines this topic, specifically on visitors to the Natural History Museum (NHM) who encounter real scientists through the excellent Nature Live programme.

Among the many interesting findings were her results on how the visitors’ concepts of what “scientists” are like changed after seeing them speak. Seakins asked them to describe what they think of scientists before and after the events.

Scientists are Geeks
Before, the common theme from the answers was that scientists are socially awkward boring geeks fixated on their single topic. These are obviously negative constructions. If this really is how the average person (who is engaged enough in science to visit a museum about it) sees us then there is a problem. Thankfully it’s a problem that formats like the NHM’s Nature Live can fix… (more…)

Petrie’s Menagerie: The Hippopotamus

By Edmund Connolly, on 26 July 2013


The link between the Petrie collection and Egypt is pretty obvious, founded in 1892 the collection incorporates roughly 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese objects ranging from human remains to socks. The collection is still viewed and used by thousands of visitors a year, but I am intrigued by the Victorian audience, what would they have made of this collection? More precisely I am researching[1] the animals on display in the Petrie collection and how they may have been received and the vibrant history they were thrust into when brought to London. This series of 7 blogs will include material from the Petrie collection and archive, as well as some cross-collection references.

Specimen #1: The Hippopotamus

The name comes from the Greek (ἱπποπόταμος) meaning river horse, personally I see it more as an oversized pig, but hey who am I to argue with the Greeks, these aquatic equestrians are a common feature of children’s media[2] and the Africa vista. Egypt is the northern-most point that the Hippo is found naturally, gallivanting around in the Nile’s cooling waters.Hippo-3


When Ain’t An Anaconda An Anaconda?

By Mark Carnall, on 3 January 2013

Image of the Grant Museum 'Anaconda skeleton'Apologies for the use of the awful contraction ‘ain’t’ but the International Standards for Science Communication (ISSC) demand awful alliteration at almost all opportunities.

If you are reading this post then it is possible that you know of the Grant Museum and if you’ve visited then you’ve no doubt been impressed by our rather lovely articulated anaconda skeleton pictured here on the left. It’s a beautiful skeleton that grabs the attention and brings to mind questions like “How many ribs?” and “Who had the job of putting together what is surely one of the world’s most difficult jigsaws?”. It’s one of the specimens we list in our top ten objects you must see on a fleeting visit, it features in Kingdom in A Cabinet our guide to the Grant Museum and an image of this specimen was chosen for our postcard selection (available now from the Grant Museum).

Also, it umm, isn’t actually an anaconda… (more…)

Conservation in China? It’s hard to be hopeful

By Jack Ashby, on 14 December 2011

Last night I went to one of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) excellent Wildlife Conservation Series. It was a series of short talks from conservation scientists working in China, under the heading “Conservation in China: Unique Challenges or Global Lessons?

Simply mentioning conservation and China in the same breath regularly causes people with an interest in the environment to raise their hackles. China is a land of staggering numbers; 1.3 billion people; 10 million square kilometres (and yet one of the highest population densities of any country); and only 23 Hainan gibbons. In a place where national parks are managed by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Construction, the human population is a huge sink for traded wildlife, however rare (for pets, food and Traditional Chinese Medicines) and with natural resources under so much stress from development, how can wildlife be expected to survive? Last night we were told that in the Great Leap Forward 10% of the country’s trees were felled in a month. (more…)

Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo…

By Subhadra Das, on 7 October 2011

Any researcher will tell you that for every ‘Eureka!’ moment, there is a seemingly impossible amount of long, hard, tedious and unrewarding slog.

Baroque Drawing by Mary Adshead

Monkey business. Were these animals drawn from life?

We at UCL Art Museum are no strangers to the joys of the research process, so when Pippa Connolly – a postgraduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art – dropped by the other week on a mission, we were excited, but pragmatic in our approach.

Pippa is researching a particular period in the history of the Slade when, for a select few years between the wars, students were able to observe and draw animals at London Zoo from a viewing studio, specially built for the purpose.