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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


How the rattlesnake’s tail came to Camden Town

Celine West20 December 2012

Once upon a time there was a rattlesnake, he lived in the high desert of North Western New Mexico. No doubt conceived in love, he was born live, not out of an egg like most other snakes. He grew up big and strong, lithe and supple, with dark diamond-shaped patterns along his back. When he was growing up, he grew larger than his skin so he slipped out if it, shedding the thin scaly coat on the sandy ground and not looking back.

Crotalus atrox by Clinton and Charles Robertson

Crotalus atrox, Western diamondback rattlesnake by Clinton and Charles Robertson


No lies and some statistics

Celine West16 November 2012

One of the things we do as part of Learning & Access is outreach work with London schools. This is teaching with objects in the classroom, most often with Primary school children. I have been away from work for a while and returning recently I realized this is something I don’t talk about enough so I’m just going to share some numbers with you about outreach that’s happening now.

In 2 months staff are visiting 23 different Primary schools on 27 different days. They are teaching in 66 classes and are working with 2000 children, children of all ages from 4 to 12 years old.

The schools are spread across 5 London Boroughs and in this 2 months, staff will have spent about 45 hours in total travelling on London transport to and from schools… (more…)

Touching Heritage

Nicholas Vogelpoel22 October 2012

Volunteers in the ‘Touching Heritage’ programme, funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant have been taking objects from across UCL’s museums and collections to people in hospitals, care homes and other community health settings for the past couple of months, and facilitating object-handling sessions with participants who would otherwise be excluded from visiting museums.

Patient in object-handling session

The programme is unique not only because of its intentions to actively engage excluded communities in cultural activity, but because it offers volunteers the opportunity to become the facilitators of heritage-in-health sessions. The benefits of object-handling and the potential for improved experiences of health and wellbeing through cultural engagement for participants have been a priority of the heritage-in-healthcare research team at UCL for a number of years. Researchers have found that the kinaesthetic and tactile properties of the objects have the potential to influence and improve experiences of health and wellbeing for participants of a session. (more…)

Exchanging Knowledge through the Cultural Heritage Fellowship programme

Edmund Connolly15 October 2012

guest blogger: Tonya Nelson (Petrie Museum Manager)

This year UCL Museums and Public Engagement entered into an exciting partnership with the British Council to develop and deliver a Fellowship programme for museum professionals from the Middle East and North Africa on the topic of community engagement.  While in the UK museums are increasingly creating platforms for their communities to advise and consult on the use of collections, create exhibitions and host their own programmes in museum spaces, little of this type of participation occurs in museums in the Middle East or North Africa.  Eight Fellows coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria, Palestine, and Lebanon were selected for the programme and attended an intensive 2 week training programme in the UK.  However, the idea behind the Fellowship programme is not simply to teach the Fellows about community engagement practices in the UK.  The Fellowship also seeks to share knowledge and ideas.  The hope is that the UK museums supporting the Fellowship will learn about the practices of museums in other countries, build relationships with museum practitioners and institutions abroad and develop a better understanding of how they might serve Middle East/North African communities living in their communities.  To that end, I will write a series of blogs this year profiling the Fellows and the innovative work that they are doing in their home institutions.  In this blog, I will profile the work of Fellows Carla Mardini from Lebanon and Tamara Musha’sha’ from Palestine.


Call for volunteers: Touching Heritage

Nicholas Vogelpoel6 August 2012

If you are someone who is passionate about heritage, interested in health and wellbeing, and keen to volunteer in an innovative heritage-in-health project – we want to hear from you!
Patient in object-handling session © UCL Museums and Public Engagement

UCL Museums and Public Engagement is looking for a new group of volunteers to take part in the Touching Heritage project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The new programme aims to widen participation in cultural activities by taking museum objects out to hospitals and other healthcare communities that would otherwise be excluded from museum activities (e.g., residential care homes). One-to-one and group sessions led by facilitators will focus on the cultural, social and natural diversity of the objects in relation to participants’ own health and wellbeing. The experience will be enhanced by touching and handling objects traditionally associated with health and wellbeing, and by discussing how the objects feel, what they are made of or whether they resonate in other ways with participants.

We are currently seeking volunteers to train as facilitators of museum object handling sessions, and then to co-ordinate object handling sessions in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare environments as part of the project. (more…)

The Grant Museum’s first birthday

Jack Ashby15 March 2012

The Grant Museum, technically, is about 185 years old, but one year ago today we opened the doors to our newest manifestation, in the Rockefeller Building’s former medical library; one of the grandest spaces at UCL. Here are some highlights from our first year.

The year in numbers
12884 visitors during normal opening hours
11010 participants in our events
6901 objects accessioned
3121 university students in museum classes
1719 school and FE students in museum classes
96 blog posts
22 specimens of the week
9 journal articles and book chapters published by staff
11 objects acquired
4 co-curated exhibitions
2 floods
Half a dodo went on display (really several bits of several dodos.) (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Eighteen

Emma-Louise Nicholls13 February 2012

Scary Monkey: Week EighteenWhilst breaking my back hauling around panels of thick glass this week, I had just enough puff left in me to utter a ‘wow’ when I saw the specimen I subsequently chose for this week’s blog, for the first time. Although I have worked at the Grant Museum for quite some time everyday brings new discoveries. Beautiful and grotesque all at the same time, this week’s specimen of the week is: (more…)

Get a Grip: A Hands on History of Hands

Jack Ashby9 February 2012

Following the success of How to Get a Head: A Hands on History of Skulls, Curator Mark and I put together a second “Hands on History” tackling the evolution of all things at the end of arms – hands, paws, hooves, wings, fins, flippers.

Piling the tables with limbs from koalas, badgers, frogs, turtles, platypuses, rabbits and more we worked through the story of where arms come from, and what we can learn from the strange lumps and bumps that different species have on their limbs. For example, rabbits have a massive projection out of the the back of their ulnas (the olecranon process) – we asked people to work out what it’s for. As with most things sticking out of bones, it’s a very big muscle attachment site for the rabbit tricep – they need strong muscles for bounding. Another leporine (rabbity) characteristic is that the two bones of the lower arm (radius and ulna) are nearly completely fused together. We asked why…
It means that rabbits can’t twist their wrists like we can (pronation and supination) – again because they need strong solid arms for bouncing – they don’t want their hands to face anyway but downwards and forwards.

The ever-wonderful UCL Events Blog did an impartial review of the event. It begins…

The UCL Grant Museum of Zoology is currently running its ‘Humanimals’ series, where it explores the relationships between ourselves and other animals.

Last week (2 February), I went along for A Hands On History of Hands; a whistlestop tour of the evolution of hands and forelimbs through the ages, stopping to look at some of the interesting examples along the way.

The guides on our tour were zoologist Jack Ashby and palaeontologist Mark Carnall, with a little help from Stan, the resident (replica) skeleton.

The Grant Museum was founded as a teaching collection, and it seems that the current crop of curators are keen to continue this legacy. This is the second night like this that they have run, and for a modern museum it seems to a pretty radical idea; not only can enthusiasts visit and explore the museum after hours, but we are actually given the chance to interact with some of the exhibits.

Read the whole thing here.

Please let us know if you have suggestions for other “Hands on History” event topics.

Specimen of the Week: Week Seventeen

Emma-Louise Nicholls6 February 2012

Scary Monkey: Week SeventeenA week ago, the Grant Museum had a special family activities day called ‘Humanimals’, part of our exciting, and ongoing, Humanimals season which is investigating the influence that humans and animals have on each other. Our activities gave our visitors hands-on fun with furry, scaly, and boney specimens. One of the activities was a table covered in a jumble of bones from a real skeleton not too dissimilar to ours. The cunning idea behind the slyly educational activity was for our visitors to re-build the skeleton. We had our replica human skeleton standing next to the table for anatomical inspiration. It was so popular that it inspired this week’s specimen. The specimen of the week therefore is: (more…)

Outreach Image is a Winner

Celine West18 January 2012


This great photo of our outreach pod has just won Runner Up in the UCL Graduate School ‘Research Images as Art / Art Images as Research’ competition.




Every year the Graduate School asks students to submit images associated with their research that have aesthetic appeal and an exhibition is held in UCL in January. This photo was taken by Chee-Kit Lai of Mobile Studio, the designers of the outreach pod, who are also tutors at the Bartlett School of Architecture.

In case you haven’t read about it before, this special space for hosting conversations about a single object is called “The Thing Is…” and was launched at the end of October. We have used it with general public audiences and in UCL and have had many great conversations so far.

In this photo, you can see a remarkably happy group of people considering it was the end of a 10 hour day at the Bloomsbury Festival in Russell Square. The museum staff offered everyone a playing card with a question on it and we were discussing “What does the word ‘Philistine’ mean to you?” in connection with a Bronze Age necklace from UCL’s Archaeology Collections.