X Close

UCL Culture Blog

Home

News and musings from the UCL Culture team

Menu

Improving object descriptions in UCL’s Object-Based Learning Lab

Anna E Garnett28 September 2020

During Spring/Summer 2020, when 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 post was written by Yanning Zhao and Giulia MarinosUCL MA Museum Studies students. 

UCL’s new Object-Based Learning Lab, located in the Wilkins Building, is a purpose-built space to support and promote object-based teaching in the university. A large permanent exhibition of hundreds of objects from UCL’s collections is now on display in the OBL lab, and many of these objects were in need of updated and improved object descriptions for our museum database and online catalogue. Here, Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos describe their work to update some of these object records for objects from the Petrie Museum collection.

What did you do for this project?

Yanning: We divided all the Petrie Museum objects in the OBL displays into two groups, so that we could each focus on updating half of the objects on display. The objects I researched were mainly comprised of Egyptian figurines, vessels and even fragments from statues. As most of the current descriptions for these objects are too short for readers to fully understand them, our responsibility was to review them and highlight key aspects about the objects concisely.

Giulia: In addition to revising the labels to make them more descriptive and accessible to a wider range of readers, we also researched the objects and looked for similar objects in other museum collections.

Did this project present any challenges?

Red breccia lion (UC15199)

Yanning: The biggest challenge for me was to describe the objects in an academic and concise style! I did not have much experience researching Egyptian artefacts, so I had to start from zero to learn how to write proper descriptions. Thankfully, Anna Garnett (Petrie Museum Curator) provided a lot of learning resources, but I still found it challenging to try to identify the features of the objects. We worked on this project remotely, so this might be because we were not able to access the objects to see them more closely in person.

Giulia: Initially, I did not expect it to be challenging to write visually descriptive labels for objects; however, I was surprised by how difficult it was to articulately and accurately describe some objects. This could be due to the complex nature of the objects, the limited views available from the online catalogue or my lack of familiarity with the objects. Although there is so much information available digitally about the objects and the Petrie Museum collection in general, there are limitations to strictly digital or online engagement. Perhaps that also shows how I miss seeing and interacting with collections in person!

Wooden boat model (UC75621)

Tell us some fun facts or interesting findings from the project!

Yanning: I would like to highlight this red breccia rock in the shape of a lion (UC15199, image above). Its current description does not clearly state whether it is a gaming piece or not, but by comparing it with other similar collections from other institutions, it is likely to be gaming piece for senet, a popular ancient Egyptian board game.

Giulia: I was impressed to learn how far and wide ancient Egyptian objects have been dispersed across collections around the world! In my research, I found how similar object types such as Predynastic pottery or wooden boat models can be spread over so many different institutions – from California to Italy for example (if you are interested to learn more on this, I recommend Alice Stevenson’s Scattered Finds, available as a free download from UCL Press).

Yanning Zhao and Giulia Marinos are MA Museum Studies students at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. Their summer placement was designed and supported by Dr. Anna Garnett, Curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology.

Specimen of the Week 327: The Fancy Casts

Tannis Davidson26 January 2018

It’s that time of year when a very lucky specimen gets the research equivalent of the red-carpet treatment. Each January, students in UCL’s Collection Curatorship class (as part of their MA in Museum Studies) choose objects from across UCL’s collections to research in a practical project to introduce them to the core skills of a curator: to understand objects and how to research them.

Last year’s natural history group successfully cracked the mystery of the wax models and were able to not only identify them in their own right (as a developmental series of the freshwater leech Hemiclepsis marginata) but also revealed their place in the history of embryology as a rare surviving series made to illustrate Charles Otis Whitman’s 19th century pioneering work on cell lineage.

This year, the specimens chosen from the Grant Museum are a set of four beautifully-made painted plaster and ceramic casts which are unique in the Museum… (more…)

Does a museum studies degree help you get a job in museums?

Jack Ashby16 October 2014

Despite the levels of pay and instability of the jobs at the lower rungs (at least) of this particular career ladder, working in the museum sector is incredibly competitive.

As a result, aspiring museum workers often face the question of how to position themselves as the strongest candidate in the pool. Should they take the plunge and stump up thousands of pounds to do a Museum Studies masters degree? It’s worth taking a second to consider that even being able to ask that question is a non-starter for the majority of people, who can’t afford it. Those people shouldn’t be excluded for the museum sector.

A real live collections management job requiring a Museum Studies Masters

A real live collections management job requiring a Museum Studies Masters

The Grant Museum Curator Mark Carnall (who has a Museum Studies degree) gave his opinion on this last year, and I thought I should offer my own personal perspective, as someone in a reasonably senior museum role who doesn’t have this degree.

For me, there are very few circumstances when I would recommend someone did a Museum Studies degree. Obviously I am biased by own own experience, and so this is my own personal take on things. (more…)

Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?

Jack Ashby16 April 2014

I ask this question to our Museum Studies Masters students every year, and last month put it to our new Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students. Despite the difference in the age, background and interests of these two groups, the reaction is the same – anger and horror. I am playing devil’s advocate in these debates, but my own opinion is yes, there are circumstances when everyone benefits from museums lying.

The lectures I discuss this in focus on object interpretation, and I use a tiger skull as a prop for discussing how to decide what information to include in labels. The choice of a tiger isn’t important – I just need something to use as an example I can attached real facts about natural history and conservation to, but I spend the two hours talking about tigers.

Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

Lion (left) and tiger (right) skulls. Or is it the other way round? LDUCZ-Z1644 and LDUCZ-Z396

At the end of the lecture I reveal that the skull is in fact from a lion. Everything else I told them about tigers is true. Did it matter that I lied? (more…)

Will a museum studies degree help you get a job in a museum?

Mark Carnall16 April 2013

This post is a bit inside baseball, but then so is the metaphor inside baseball.

We get asked the above question at the Grant Museum frequently by aspiring museum professionals and volunteers and it’s a question that isn’t simply answered. I can’t say that my view on whether it helps or not is the definitive view but as an employer (sadly not as often as we’d like to be) here’s my personal thoughts on whether or not it helps.

First, I’d advise looking at the job specification and application form. If ‘Must have a Museum Studies degree’ is an essential criterion then, yes absolutely, you will need a museum studies degree to get shortlisted for the job. At the Grant Museum we try to steer away from this absolute requirement so as to encourage individuals with many years of working in museums and in other sectors to apply but you do still see it on job adverts.

If the possession of a museum studies degree (or equivalent) is desirable or not specifically asked for here’s what I look for on a job application. (more…)