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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!  

In loving memory of Lisette Flinders Petrie

f.taylor28 April 2021

This blog was written by Stephen Quirke, Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology, UCL Institute of Archaeology. We are sharing the tribute written by Professor Quirke, who first met Lisette during his time as Curator of the Petrie Museum.

Lisette Petrie

Lisette Petrie passed away on 5 April 2021 after a full life of dedication to family and friends and the world of learning.

Lisette gave her energetic support to study and learning, both in her own teaching for the Open University in astronomy, and in her practical impact in maintaining her family links to University College London, as well as to Flinders University in Adelaide. Her ties to UCL are through her grandfather, the archaeologist Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), whose Egyptian and Palestinian archaeological collections form such an important part of UCL museums and collections today.

Over many years, Lisette energetically supported us in our efforts to preserve and display the collections for a wider audience, joining us in 2007 at the opening of the SOAS Brunei Gallery exhibition A Future For The Past: Petrie’s Palestinian Collection, and in 2006 as guest of honour at the Fantasia fundraiser organised by the Friends of the Petrie Museum – where she wore the 20th century Egyptian galabiya of her grandmother Hilda Petrie, another outstanding woman of science. She also joined the Friends in their travels to Egypt, on one occasion delighting her audience with her skills as astronomer and teacher in decoding a 3,300 year old sky chart in the Valley of the Kings.

Her energy, liveliness and warmth, and her practical guidance will be sorely missed, not least in our continued quest for a safe and accessible building to house the ancient material and to welcome the widest range of visitors.

At her passing many of us relive our own vivid personal memories of her presence. We offer our deepest sympathy to Martha, Rachel and Susie, in their time of loss.

For a recent glimpse of Lisette closer to home, in her own words, and ever practical in support:  https://www.hospicestrail.co.uk/completer/lisette-petrie/

Meet our Volunteers!

Lisa Randisi15 May 2020

In today’s blog, we’d like to introduce you to some people without whom a visit to our museums simply wouldn’t be the same: meet some of our wonderful team of Front of House volunteers! Here they tell all about their favourite artefacts, valuable life lessons, and what they’d do if they got to spend a night at the museum…

Please introduce yourself in a few words:

“I’m Chris, a Welsh Egypt fanatic who’s lived in France and East Africa and has dabbled in Innovation, linguistics, history and the Civil Service!”

Hello, I’m Margaret and I did biology at UCL (which is how I start volunteering). I’m normally in the Grant as it’s my favourite of the museums and just a very cool space to be in. In my spare time, I’m normally playing the cello or reading – I love a good murder mystery! I’ve been volunteering for over three years now and each time I come in, I’ve always had a different experience.”

“Hello! J My name is Sian & hopefully you might have seen me around and about the Petrie Museum as I have been here for over 2 decades now. I’m the one who uses any opportunity to arrive in fancy dress! I’m a full-time self-employed Aromatherapist, Clinical and Holistic Massage Therapist.”

“Hi! My name is Tonia and I am a final year Undergraduate studying Archaeology and Anthropology here at UCL. I’ve been volunteering for just under two years.”

“Hello, I’m April – and before you ask, I was not born in April, it was actually October. I am also 31 and I live in Hertfordshire. I have loved Ancient Egypt since I was quite small: I remember my Granny showing me a travel book written by a painter called R. Talbot Kelly. Apparently he was also her great uncle! The book fascinated me and unfortunately for my parents, I wanted to learn more about the country he went to and painted and that’s where it all began. Since then I have accumulated quite the collection of books and other Egyptian stuff, I have also managed to get myself a degree in Egyptology with the future hope of maybe getting a Masters and PhD. I also have an obsession with dragons, books, video games and Heavy Metal music.”

Why did you decide to volunteer?

“I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptology and love museums. The Petrie has an amazing collection and I wanted to learn more about it. I also wanted to do something that involved working with the public (you never know who’s going to walk through the door next!)” – Chris

“I wanted to volunteer because of a class practical I had in the Grant during my first year. I realised it was such a great place with some very awesome specimens so I wanted an opportunity to come back and spend more time in here.” – Margaret

“My Degree was in Archaeology and History, and Masters degree was in Archaeological Research so when I was a working archaeologist after leaving University I decided to volunteer at the British Museum. About 6 months later I attended an Egyptian Mummy Study Day at the Bloomsbury Summer School (with Professor Joann Fletcher) & they suggested we visit the Petrie Museum in our lunch hour – just trying to find the Museum was an adventure. Back then you had to go through the Science Library and the back door was the front – it was like stepping into a hidden world…” – Sian

“Museums have been a source of fascination for me since I was a child and are what inspired me to study the degree I do. When I saw the opportunity to volunteer with UCL Culture I jumped at the chance! It also gives me a welcome break from university work as well…” – Tonia

Favourite object or specimen?

“My favourite specimen is the humble yet mighty hedgehog! It looks very prickly but has such a soft belly which is something most people don’t think of when they look at it. So it’s nice to have been able to see and touch the secret underside of this adorable animal.” – Margaret

“A steatite seal-amulet depicting the form of a cat carrying a kitten. Aesthetically, I love the detail on such a small object. On a more intellectual basis, the concept of magical or ritual protection against unseen forces has long been a source of interest – especially for the anthropologist in me.” – Tonia

“The board games in the Petrie. I love the way things brings out the “fun” side of day-to-day life in Ancient Egypt. They help bring a civilisation to life, to connect as human beings with people who lived back at that time and remember history isn’t all just about king-lists and dates.” – Chris

“Anyone who has spoken to me knows – the Socks! 🙂 Again as an archaeologist I get way more excited about the preservation of materials that we don’t normally see far more than gold and treasure (which survive well). So first, I simply love that wool has survived. Secondly, I had absolutely no idea that Ancient Egyptians knitted or wore woollen socks; it was really surprising, although in retrospect desert temperatures do drop very low at night.” – Sian

Papyrus with hieratic inscription labelled "Will of Antef Meri"

“Say what, just one? Let me think. I really enjoy looking at the Hieroglyphs, the way they are carved or written so much better than my feeble attempts at drawing them. But I think my favourite object is the Will of Antef Meri, in the Main Gallery on the left of the big table. It is written in the dreaded Hieratic script but what I love about it is that it gives us a glimpse into someone’s life and what he was planning to do with his estate when he died. To actually have a nearly intact will, similar to one that would be drawn up today, is quite surprising. I wonder how many more there are out there.” – April

If you were locked inside the Petrie or Grant museum overnight, what would you do?

“Do my happy dance all around the Petrie museum and finally be able to look at and read every single thing! I have always dreamed of a sleepover to be honest, but I don’t think I’d sleep all night – it’s way too exciting!” – Sian

“I’d devise a new trail / treasure hunt through the collection to entertain myself and future visitors. I’d probably also play a lot of the board games in the Petrie!” – Chris

“If I were stuck in the Grant, I would explore the gallery upstairs first as there’s some very cool specimens up there that we don’t normally get to see. Secondly, I would also go around the museum sketching/photographing as many specimens as I could to compile into my very own personal museum catalogue. “ – Margaret

“I would study up on as many of the objects as possible – it would be nice to have the time to do so!” – Tonia

“Wait – do I get snacks? Because I might have to break out and buy snacks, I’m terrible for buying snacks. And don’t worry, I wouldn’t eat in the galleries! With my parents and I having to stay in all the time at the moment, the noise and constant talking can get a bit irritating, so having an overnight stay in the museum wold be wonderful. Have some snacks, a screen somewhere to watch some Ancient Egypt documentaries and slouch in a sleeping bag or blankets and pillows. It would be a wonderfully quiet night, nothing too exciting.” – April

What do you like most about volunteering in museums?

“The people! Such a variety of personalities with different interests come through museum doors that I genuinely learn something new every day.” – Tonia

“I love working with people, but as an ex-archaeologist I have to say it’s the privilege of working with all those artefacts and seeing behind-the-scenes. I’m as happy as a pig in muck just being in the Museum to be honest!” – Sian

“I think, strangely enough since I am not usually a people person, it is meeting all different kinds of people and having the chance to chat to them around a topic I know about. You get to meet people from all over the world and you get to see a small glimpse into their lives.” – April

“The best part is seeing how enthusiastic visitors are when they come in. In particular, the enthusiasm of some of our younger visitors is very contagious and such a joy to see.
It’s also really great to hear the feedback from people as they leave – they always leave full of awe and wonder which is fantastic to see.” – Margaret

What’s a valuable life lesson that museums have taught you?

“Learning isn’t just about locking yourself away in a study. It’s about getting out and interacting with people who share your sense of curiosity.” – Chris

“Not to assume anything and that people in ancient times usually have a lot more in common with us than we realise.” – Sian

“The museums have shown me that every single person has something they don’t know but can learn about. This shouldn’t be seen as a flaw necessarily but it makes all of us a little bit more human. It means that there’s always opportunities for us to be inquisitive about the world around us and improve our knowledge of it.” – Margaret

“No society or individual has any more or less value than another.” – Tonia

Bonus question: What are you going to spend time doing while on lockdown?

“I’m spending a lot of time reading about Ancient Egypt and about Twin Peaks (I’m afraid I also love that classic early 90s David Lynch melodrama and would recommend as escapism to anyone to help get through this crisis!). I’m also using the opportunity to get back into learning Chinese (along with hieroglyphics I always seem to pick the “easiest” languages!) and into international cuisine (with varying degrees of success).” – Chris

“I am currently unable to work as all my work is people-facing and hands-on. Also most of my clients are in the vulnerable category. I am currently doing what I usually do but for longer – so 3 hours meditation, practise and study instead of 1.5 hours; Tibetan energy healing practice and study; walking 2-6 miles a day; PE with Joe Wicks; gardening; blogging for my business website; advising and providing support for my clients; cooking and reading.” – Sian

“I’m lucky I’m a bit of a homebody anyway, although I am missing my friends and volunteering at the Petrie. Mostly I will be reading my many, many, many books; I’m so behind it’s hilarious. I also plan on continuing with my revision of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I learned tham at university and it has been a while since I’ve translated anything, so I’m re-reading J.P. Allen’s book. I’m also keeping alive my newly sprouted bonsai tree – and coming from a person who killed off a cactus, that is quite an achievement so far.” – April

“I have a mountain of books I have never read and a slightly smaller one of films I have never seen, hopefully I can start to make a dent 😉” – Tonia

“I have two very difficult jigsaws that I want to attempt. I’m currently still at the beginning of the first one so I think the two of them will keep me quite busy for the next month or so. I’m also thinking of tidying up the garden a bit but that might be just some wishful thinking on my part…” – Margaret

Specimen of the Week 377: The Lobster Claw

Graham Isted15 March 2019

Hello and welcome to the next instalment of Specimen of the Week. This week’s specimen is a mighty claw (LDUCZ-H671) from the lobster species Homarus gammarus, also known as the European or common lobster. Lobsters are great, whether you like them to be freely going about their lives at the bottom of the sea or perhaps prepared by a chef on a dish with some butter. Either way, I am fairly certain there are aspects of their lives you are unaware of and this blog will hopefully either make you hungry for more knowledge or perhaps just dinner.

Lobster claw LDUCZ-H671 Homarus gammarus

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Flies, Cats and Rat Traps: the Ordinary Animals of Ancient Egypt

Anna E Garnett15 November 2017

The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition. This week we investigate some of the Ordinary Animals on loan from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

Ask anyone about ancient Egypt and standard responses generally include pyramids, mummies, Tutankhamun, and sometimes (if you’re lucky) animals. Ancient Egyptians were keen observers of their natural environment and are well-known for representing all manner of flora and fauna in their artistic works. Gods and goddesses were also associated with particular animals and their behaviour: for example, the jackal god Anubis guarded the cemeteries of the dead, just as real jackals roamed the desert edge. What is perhaps less well-known is how ancient Egyptians considered the ‘ordinary animals’ who lived side-by-side with them in the Nile Valley. Egyptians utilised a wide variety of wild animals and some of these were domesticated, some kept as pets, and others were considered as vermin – just as they are today.

UC45976

Mummified cat, currently on show in The Museum of Ordinary Animals exhibition (UC45976)

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There and (eventually) back again: a tale of three papyri

Anna E Garnett19 September 2017

The ‘Gurob Shrine Papyrus’ (UC27934ii)

It’s been a busy month for us at the Petrie Museum, not only gearing up for the start of the autumn term but also preparing object loans for upcoming exhibitions. Our vast collection offers many opportunities to contribute to varied exhibition narratives: our objects illustrate life in the Nile Valley over thousands of years, from Prehistory through the pharaonic period and right through to the Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic periods. We also hold a world-renowned collection of papyrus, which is the focus of our ongoing Papyrus for the People project funded by Arts Council England. We have loaned papyri to three very different exhibitions this September, which each tell fascinating stories of life and death in ancient Egypt. (more…)

Why natural history museums are important. Specimen of the Week 278: The British Antarctic Survey Limpets

Jack Ashby10 February 2017

There is much more to a natural history museum than meets the eye, and that’s mostly because relatively tiny proportions of their collections are on display. At the Grant Museum of Zoology we are lucky enough to have about 12% of our collection on display. That’s because we have a lot of tiny things in the Micrarium and our collection is relatively small, with 68,000 objects. While we REALLY like to cram as much in our cases as is sensible, these percentages are not realistic for many museums, whose collections run into the millions.

Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P878 Nacella concinna

Limpets from South Georgia. LDUCZ-P879 Nacella concinna

The vast majority of specimens in natural history museums, ours included, were not intended for display, and that includes this week’s Specimen of the Week… (more…)

Colour Vision Experiments in the Grant Museum of Zoology

Dean W Veall26 January 2017

 

A visitor using taking part in a lighting experiment

A visitor using taking part in a lighting experiment

Lighting in museums is a curious thing. It can make or break an exhibition. It can make a dismal space beautiful, or vice versa. At the same time, subtle changes in lighting can have a meaningful effect on the amount of time that we’re able to display objects before they deteriorate past the point of no return. An example of one such subtle change might be the colour of the light. A barely noticeable change in colour could have a drastic effect on the damaging power of the light depending on the technology being used. (more…)

Dead to me!

Pia K Edqvist12 July 2016

Human remains at the Petrie Museum. It’s time to come out of storage!
Death is part of life, and for me, death is very much a part of work since I am currently rehousing the human remains at the museum. In February, I attended a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology (IoA), PASSING ENCOUNTERS: The dead body and the public realm, the purpose of this was to stimulate discussion about death in an open and frank manner. I joined to learn more about how human remains are portrayed in social media and to gather people’s opinions on death. But, I learned much more than that; how a body decays, what different stages of decay smells like (See Fig.1.), and how death and the body have been portrayed throughout history

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

Image showing presentation slide, do’s and don’ts when ‘smelling death’

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Bentham the feminist?

Nick J Booth3 March 2016

Recently I was helping an artist, Kristina Clackson Bonnington, with some research into the collections I look after. Kristina is working on an event for this year’s International Women’s Day, and is starting to plan for the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK (2018). While discussing her project I thought it would be interesting to see what Jeremy Bentham’s thoughts on women’s rights were. I’m very pleased to say that he had some modern sounding ideas…

As with all my questions relating to Bentham’s life and works my first port of call was the friendly people at the Bentham Project. Their initiative ‘Transcribe Bentham’ is working to publish all of Bentham’s manuscripts and is finding now information all the time. One recent manuscript they sent me is pictured below, and rather wonderfully shows Bentham arguing for the use of gender neutral pronouns.

Bentham Manuscript - Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

Bentham Manuscript – Courtesy of UCL Special Collections.

When both sexes are meant to be intended, employ
not the word man– but the word person

26 When both sexes intended employ person not man

Let it be understood that when the word person is
thus employed he the pronoun masculine includes the female
sex as well as the male (more…)