X Close

UCL Culture Blog

Home

News and musings from the UCL Culture team

Menu

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

How did it get like that?

Will J Richard26 April 2017

Grant Museum Visitor Services Volunteer Nicole Barber answers a question often put to her by the museum’s visitors…

How did it get like that?

Surrounded by the Grant Museum’s many exciting specimens, it’s not often you think of the painstaking preparation that went into each one before they were put on display. (Or at least I don’t, I’m usually far more interested in what’s in the case rather than how it got there.) The process of preparing zoological specimens is a lengthy one, involving some complicated and often quite gory techniques. The specimens in our collection have been pickled, taxidermied, pinned, stained, disarticulated, and re-articulated to make them educational and interesting to both researchers and the general public. We’ve previously explored some of the more unusual display techniques such as staining with red alizarin, or (and don’t pretend you don’t know which specimen this is) cramming things into jars, but what about our more traditional skeletal specimens?

LDUCZ-Z2701 baboon skeleton

LDUCZ-Z2701 baboon skeleton

(more…)

Project Pickle – Conserving our Specimens Preserved in Fluid

Emilia L Kingham1 August 2016

Fluid preserved specimens newly conserved

Fluid preserved specimens newly conserved

Over the past year, UCL Museums’ conservation team have been focussing our efforts on the the specimens preserved in fluid at the Grant Museum. We’re calling it Project Pickle*.

Before we could start conserving the objects we had to establish the scale of the task, so we could decide how to plan the work. We went through the entire fluid specimen store, surveying a whopping 3,787 specimens to determine what treatments each of them needed.

This initial phase took many months to complete and involved the help of student volunteers and a student placement. The result of that survey means that we can now quantify how many specimens are in good, fair, poor or unacceptable condition with the aim to prioritize conserving the specimens in the worst condition.  So why do fluid preserved specimens need conservation and how do they get to be in an ‘unacceptable condition?’

(more…)

All hands on deck: the Petrie team welcome term

uczcast9 October 2015

The rhythm of life in a University museum like the Petrie is set by the academic year. As of 28 September, with the return of large numbers of students, the tempo shifted up a notch. Several notches in fact. Needless to say it is all hands on deck.

There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.

There are lots of new faces to meet in the Petrie at the start of term.

(more…)

Fun with Minerals

Nick J Booth8 October 2015

This is a guest post by Nadine Gabriel, a UCL student and volunteer with UCL Museums. All photos by the author.

Hello there, I’m Nadine Gabriel and I’ve been working with the UCL Geology Collections for just over a year. Towards the end of the summer holidays, I was given the chance to audit the thousands of mineral specimens in the Rock Room to ensure that we have a record of what is (and isn’t) in the collection. While auditing the collection, I handled a wide variety of specimens and learnt about new minerals and their classification – I’ve come across so many minerals that I’ve never heard of, even after doing two years of geology. But the best thing about working with the collection was saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every time I saw a nice shiny mineral.

Heart Minerals - calcite and malachite.

Heart Minerals – calcite and malachite.

When I first started working with the geological collections, my audits involved working with Excel spreadsheets and paper catalogues filled with entries from way before I was born. (more…)

Behind the Mask – Research into the Noel Collection

Nick J Booth2 September 2015

This is a guest blog written by Bryony Swain, a UCL Student Volunteer who spent most of the last academic year (2014/15) cataloguing the Noel Collection of Life and Death Masks.

Hello, I’ve been volunteering with the UCL Museums and Collections department and loving it!

Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.  Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

Dr. August Friedrich Gunther.
Photo courtesy of Alan Taylor.

I have been cataloguing the excellent Robert Noel phrenological collection, which contains a large selection of plaster life and death masks from the mid 19th century. Phrenology studies the theory that skull configurations can determine character traits, and Noel made his collection to test and demonstrate the validity of this theory and wrote a book with measurements and biographical summaries to accompany them. Today, phrenology is considered a discredited pseudoscience, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was taken very seriously. Noel ordered the masks into different categories to prove that intellectual and moral individuals had a different skull shape to criminals and suicides.

(more…)

The Art of the Grant

Emma-Louise Nicholls25 February 2014

At the Grant Museum both staff and our visitors are very lucky because we do not have quite the same level of red tape as most non-university based museums. Our collections are historically for teaching only, and even now are still used heavily in undergraduate courses at UCL, which means that physical access to specimens is much more possible than in non-teaching based collections. It is for this reason, as well as the shining personalities of the Grant Museum staff no doubt, that our Museum is extremely popular with artists. The ability to choose a specimen (within reason… the mounted donkey skeleton is a little heavy) and have it placed on the table in front of you for you to gaze at and draw to your heart’s content, is surely nearing unparalleled levels of excitement. (more…)

From the vollies: Loose ends and key information

Mark Carnall31 October 2013

This is a guest blog from one of the Grant Museum’s volunteers, Geoffrey Waller. Geoffrey has been volunteering for the Museum for a number of years undertaking the diligent collections care work that helps us to function as a museum and make the most of our collections here. Recently, Geoffrey has been going through one of our many series of card indices cross-referencing information with our current catalogue, enriching  data we have about our specimens which make them significantly more useful for teaching and research. Here are some of the highlights.

For the last 18 months I have been working on a long-term cataloguing project at the Grant Museum. The project has involved sorting a large collection of some 1500 hand-written record cards into appropriate categories and numerical order. Each card (known technically as an MDA card*) bears the specimen’s accession number – the unique identifying number given to specimens on the Grant Museum collections database. It is therefore possible to cross-check the specimen data on the MDA card with the data already held on the database.

Image of examples of MDA cards from the Grant Museum of Zoology UCL

Three of the 1500 MDA cards now added to the collection catalogue.

Mining the Data

During this cross-checking, I could add any new information recorded on the MDA cards to the existing database entries, making it available to anyone accessing the records. (more…)

Working [in museums] Wednesdays #3

Edmund Connolly5 June 2013

Tunnelling into museums (not literally!)

When it comes to job hunting I am intensely jealous of people like Flinders Petrie, who was pretty much handed the Chair of Egyptian Archaeology at the bequest of Amelia Edwards in 1892[1] . Whilst some of this does still happen in the Museum world, indeed any employment pool, it can be as difficult finding a vacancy in a museum at it is finding an andron in a Greek house[2].

Online

There are some useful website for sourcing heritage and museum jobs. Naturally one can go direct to an institution (such as the BM or Tate), but bear in mind museums that are part of institutions, eg. the Petrie, employ via the same HR routes as their host (UCL). In other words, if one wants to apply for a job at the Petrie, the application will be on the UCL job website[3]. However, for in-house volunteering schemes (as blogged in #2)  you generally apply directly to the museum as they are more bespoke.

There are some websites which collate museum jobs in general, the standard Guardian Jobs is very useful as there is a ‘Arts and heritage’ group within which there is a ‘Museums’ sectioning. Slightly annoyingly though, this is separate from the Heritage and Library posts which are often also of interest, just make sure you tick both when searching.

 

The snazzy museum jobs website, copyright www.museumjobs.com

The snazzy museum jobs website, copyright www.museumjobs.com

(more…)

Working [in Museums] Wednesdays #2

Edmund Connolly29 May 2013

The Vexation of Volunteering

Volunteering in museums has being a bit maligned, are budding young enthusiasts being taken advantage of ? (such as this MJ article). Unfortunately, there may appear  an unfair element to volunteering, and they are essential in the running of many, if not all, museums. However, where the Petrie flys in the face of the nay-sayers is our commitment to offering our volunteers as holistic an experience as possible when they join our team.

From Bastet to Bodybuilders, our volunteers see it all. Copyright Marilyn Luscombe.

From Bastet to Bodybuilders, our volunteers see it all. Copyright Marilyn Luscombe.

(more…)