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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The future of science exhibitions in museums

By Mark Carnall, on 21 September 2012

Last Thursday I was invited along to talk at a panel about the future of science exhibitions in museums at Imperial College’s 21st Anniversary celebration of the MSc Science Communication course. I was joined by Alison Boyle, Curator of Astronomy & Modern Physics from the Science Museum and James Peto, Senior Curator at the Wellcome Collection and chaired by Rachel Souhami, Lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial. Preparing for the panel discussion caused some mild pontificating on my part so I thought I’d put some of the thoughts conjured from my crystal ball up here for everyone to see. (more…)

Grant Museum wins Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence

By Mark Carnall, on 17 May 2012

Last night a contingent from UCL including colleagues from Museums and Public Engagement, UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Heritage Without Borders headed down to the illustrious premises of 8 Northumberland for the 10th Anniversary Museums and Heritage Awards. In total three UCL projects had been shortlisted; the move of the Grant Museum for Project on A Limited Budget, the Grant Museum’s QRator project for Innovations, and Heritage Without Borders for The International Award. Did we bring home the silver (glass)? Well from the title of this post you can gather we did but you’ll have to hit the jump to find out more.. (more…)

The Museum and the iPad: Nature blogs and QRator

By Jack Ashby, on 16 February 2012

The Museum reopened nearly a year ago now and we are still happily experimenting with the different things we can do in our new home. One of the big innovations was the QRator programme on our iPads, developed with the wonderful award-winning people in UCL Digital Humanities and UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.

This week Nature blogged about the QRator project for Social Media Week. It begins…

The Museum and the iPad: how the Grant Museum is using social media to make us all curators

15 Feb 2012 | 19:11 GMT | Posted by Joanna Scott
As part of Social Media Week, Nature London talked to Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL, about QRator, the pioneering project the Grant Museum is working on to allow the public to engage with museum collections by contributing their own interpretations…

…Hello Jack, welcome to the Nature London blog. Can you tell us about the QRator project you’ve introduced to the Grant Museum?

QRator is a project that allows our visitors to get involved in conversations about the way that museums like ours operate and the role of science in society today. In the Museum are ten iPads which each pose a broad question linked to a changing display of specimens. We are really interested in what our visitors think about some of the challenges that managing a natural history collection brings up, and other issues in the life sciences. They change periodically, but at the moment our current questions include “Is it ever acceptable for museums to lie?”, “Is domestication ethical?”, “Should human and animal remains be treated differently in museums like this?” and “What makes an animal British?”

You can read the whole article here: http://blogs.nature.com/london/2012/02/15/the-museum-and-the-ipad-how-the-grant-museum-is-using-social-media-to-make-us-all-curators

Ecology or exploitation?

By Jack Ashby, on 15 December 2011

Ecology or exploitation?Is ecotourism an answer to local environmental and biodiversity conservation?

That’s the latest question on our iPads for the QRator project. Have you ever done any ecotourism? How did it feel – was there an element of exploitation or did you feel it was doing good? (more…)

Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit?

By Jack Ashby, on 13 December 2011

conserving cures displayI think we know what our visitors will think about this latest QRator question on the iPads, but maybe some non-natural history fans will have different opinions…

Conserving cures?

Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit? (more…)

Really rare? Making British decisions in conservation

By Jack Ashby, on 12 December 2011

Really rare? display Should species like red squirrels be protected in England when they are common in Europe?

This is the newest question we are asking in our QRator iPad displays.

There is a limited amount of money available for conservation. Not everything can be protected. How important is it if an animal goes extinct in one country if they still exist elsewhere? Some species, like red squirrels are common in Europe but declining in the UK – should they be protected here? Do local extinctions affect global biodiversity? (more…)

Should we clone extinct animals?

By Jack Ashby, on 8 December 2011

Gone for Good display…is the latest question we are asking on our iPad displays. So far many living species have been cloned, for various reasons (just to see if we can and replacing lost pets being two of them. Resurrecting extinct species in this way has also been attempted, with very limited success. The question is, are they gone for good?

The technology may soon exist to clone recently extinct animals using DNA from museum specimens, but usable and complete DNA sequences are hard to find. Should we try and bring back animals that humans have driven to extinction? What would you do with a handful of cloned individuals? Would the money be better spent on animals we still have? (more…)

Can museums lie?

By Jack Ashby, on 5 December 2011

Accuracy or Information?

Accuracy or Information?

Can we lie about what a specimen is or where it came from?

Would it make a difference to you if we deliberately mis-labelled a specimen? If we wrote interesting factual labels about common seals, but used a grey seal skull in the display, would you care if you found out? The facts would still be true. What if we said the specimen was from Britain when the specimen actually came from Denmark?

This is the newest QRator question we are asking through one of our ground-breaking iPad displays. It’s something we’re really interesting in hearing what you think, so please do get involved in the conversation. (more…)

Is domestication ethical?

By Jack Ashby, on 28 November 2011

Necessary or Unnatural?

Much of human society involves domesticated animals, from food and transport to pets and clothes. Is it wrong to breed individuals together to select for desirable traits? Should we be interfering in evolution? Does it matter what the reason is? Many domesticated animals are now unable to survive without human intervention. If domestication is unnatural, is it wrong? Necessary or Unnatural? display

This is the newest question we are asking our (online and actual) visitors as part of the QRator project, whose main presence is on the iPads in the Museum.

The specimens we’ve displayed along side it raise these points:

Wild boar are dangerous to hunt. However, in their domestic form, they provide a valuable source of food.

Dairy cows are selectively bred to produce as much milk as possible despite subsequent health problems.

Pekingese dogs can’t breathe properly and subsequently overheat due to their flattened faces, which are selectively bred for aesthetic reasons.

White tigers can only be produced in sufficient numbers for zoos by inbreeding. This causes serious defects and 80% infant mortality.

What do you think? Get involved in the conversation on the QRator website, and come and visit to see the display for yourself.

Under the skin

By Jack Ashby, on 23 November 2011

As visitors to the Museum will know, we have a load of iPads (we were only the second museum in the world to incorporate them into displays) asking our visitors to engage in some controversial or complicated conversations that we are genuinely interested in the answer to. These conversations can all also be found and joined online at www.qrator.org.

We’re starting to change all the questions over, the newest one is:

Do you find skeletons, taxidermy or specimens in fluid more interesting?

When we design our displays, we have to decide what type of specimen should tell the story we want to tell. Should it be a skeleton, a taxidermy mount, or something preserved in a jar? How does your interest differ between them? Does each option mean something different to you?

So what do you think? Get involved in this conversation on the QRator site, or on your next visit. You can also download the free Android and iPhone app “Tales of Things” and find the conversations there.

All the past conversation will be kept live online at www.qrator.org/past-questions

The whole QRator project is a ground-breaking process of visitor engagement, run in partnership with the wonderful UCL Digital Humanities and UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.