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Collecting: Knowledge in Motion

Mark Carnall7 February 2014

Guest post by Claire Dwyer one of the curators of the current Octagon Gallery exhibition, Collecting: Knowledge in Motion.

What do crocodile skin handbags, ‘Agatha Christie’s picnic basket’, an overstuffed Bosc’s monitor lizard, a fourteenth century Jewish prayer book and a cabinet of keys have in common? All can be found in the latest exhibition in the Octagon Gallery, which opened on January 21st 2014. Collecting: Knowledge in Motion is the outcome of a collaboration by a group of UCL academics who responded to a call to curate an exhibition which reflected the theme of ‘movement’. As one of the academics who curated the exhibition in this guest blog post I offer some personal reflections. Other members of the team will offer their own comments in subsequent posts.

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The Top Ten Grant Museum Blogs of 2013

Jack Ashby9 January 2014

Happy New Year!
As well as looking forward to the exciting things we hope to do in the coming year, it is customary to look back at the past one. On Twitter over the past week I’ve been tweeting the best of 2013’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 2013 is…

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

Perhaps suggesting that there are many people interested in the incredibly amazing careers in museums, yet are aware of the fact that finding a way in is easier said than done.

The Top Ten in full: (more…)

Friends of the Grant Museum Annual Trip: Royal Institution & Linnean Society

Naomi Asantewa-Sechereh12 December 2013

Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

Dried specimens of twinflower (Linnaea borealis)


Each year we organise an outing for the members of our Friends programme to visit other museums and attractions. Annual trips are a great way for us to meet the Friends of the Grant Museum and for them to meet other Friends. We try to visit places that aren’t normally accessible to the public or go behind the scenes. As the organiser of this year’s event I got to tag along.

This year we visited the Royal Institution, home to eminent scientists such as Michael Faraday, and the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society. Here are a few of the things I discovered that day. (more…)

Natural history under the hammer

Mark Carnall4 December 2013

Recently there have been a spate of high profile auctions of natural history specimens raising many issues about ownership, the value we should or shouldn’t put on natural history and the relationship between professional scientists, museums, amateurs and private collectors. My colleague Jack Ashby wrote about the recent dodo bones that were auctioned. Colleagues Dave Hone and Mark Graham give a balanced view of the recent sale of a Diplodocus skeleton over at the Guardian. The ‘duelling dinosaurs’ fossil was estimated to reach $9 million at auction in New York and last year the controversial proposed sale of an allegedly illicitly smuggled Tarbosaurus skeleton caused much debate.

I thought I’d add my thoughts on the subject here, in particular about the relationship between collectors, museums and ethics. (more…)

Natural History Museum Bingo: Japanese Spider Crab

Mark Carnall26 November 2013

Back in October, I introduced this series (here’s a link to the opening post) about the specimens you’re near guaranteed to see in every natural history museum. We’ll take each specimen in turn and have a look at why they’re a usual suspect for display in a natural history museum.

Image of natural history museum bingo with Japanese spider crab crossed out

Legs like pegs, it’s Japanese spider crab. One down, 8 to go.

The first specimen we’re going to take a look at is the Japanese spider crab. Japanese spider crabs are just one species, Macrocheira kaempferi. Confusingly, there is also a group of crabs, the family Majidae, called spider crabs which doesn’t include the most famous spider crab of them all. Japanese spider crabs are mostly found in coastal waters of southern Japan and have been recorded in waters as deep as 600 m so why do we find them in museums all over the world?

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Passionate enthusiastic scientists – just another way of saying Geek?

Jack Ashby19 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…)

Do Dodo Bones Belong in a Museum?

Jack Ashby14 November 2013

This week the Daily Mail reported that two bones from a dodo were set to sell at auction for £30,000. This would be the first private sale of a dodo bone since 1934*. My first reaction was one of horror. Why is that?

These are two main reasons why I might deplore this sale:
1) It should be in a museum.
2) We shouldn’t put a value on natural history objects.

I’d like to explore why these might not be reasonable objections.

It Should be in a Museum: For Science
This is the reaction I got on Twitter when discussing this story, and it seems reasonable. Valuable natural history specimens that aren’t in museums are lost to science, as I have argued before when discussing Channel 4’s Four Rooms.

But are these two bones – a femur and partial pelvis – valuable natural history specimens? I’m not convinced. (more…)

Away daze – or how to make workshop training work for you

Rachael Sparks12 November 2013

UCL Museums and Collections 2007

UCL Museums and Collections staff enjoying an Away Day at Kew Gardens. No post-it notes were harmed in the making of this photograph.

Last week, I attended a Collections Trust training event aimed at developing my managerial skills. It was a slick, well-run affair, which I enjoyed despite being in the throes of a terrible cold.

Now I’m a bit of a training junkie, and go to a lot of these sorts of things. Past highlights of my training calendar include courses on dealing with contentious subjects, museum mount-making, digital photography, and record and archive management, not to mention away days visiting countless museums I’d never previously heard of.

Something of a gestalt has developed out of all this, and I think I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging in the culture that is the museum workshop event. So here’s my take on the five key ways in which training works for the museum sector, and makes us better and happier employees. (more…)

It’s Australia v England, in battle over Stubbs masterpieces

Jack Ashby8 November 2013

In September I wrote a post about two paintings by George Stubbs – of a kangaroo and a dingo – which had been placed under an export bar to allow time for the National Maritime Museum to raise funds to save them for the nation. This was because they had been sold to an oversees buyer.

This week we learned that the campaign was successful. Had it not been, the paintings would have been bought by the National Gallery of Australia. They are understandably disappointed. I was asked by The Conversation (“an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community”) to update my article for them, covering the Australian case for their acquisition. (more…)

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM BINGO!

Mark Carnall15 October 2013

My colleague Jack Ashby alluded to the Natural History Bingo Card in a recent blog post so I thought I’d take the time to present it to the wide world! Natural history museums are funny places. Despite the millions of species of animals and the enormous variation within species between broods, sexes, life stage, populations and seasonal variations you’d expect that you could visit every natural history museum in the World (finances allowing) and never see the same thing twice. You might think that, but the truth is many natural history museums have the same stuff on display whether you’re at the Grant Museum, the Natural History Museum London or in Paris, New York, Prague or Plymouth.

In fact, some specimens are so common, you can go around a natural history museum with this handy NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM BINGO* and nine times out of ten you’ll have seen most of these specimens before you get to the gift shop. So what gives?

Natural History Bingo Card

Click to embiggernate & cut out and Keep! Natural History Bingo modified from the version in Carnall, M.A (2011): Completely Rethinking the Organisation of Natural History Museums: A Taxonomically Arranged National Collection. NatSCA News:21

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