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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 389: The Monarch Butterfly

Lisa Randisi16 August 2019

This blog was written by UCL Culture volunteer Melissa Wooding.

Today’s specimen of the week highlights one of the world’s longest animal migrations at 6,000 miles1– completed by an insect!

This beautiful insect has an internal biology including a sundial 2 compass 3, and a gene enabling it to suppress its own ageing and increase its own lifespan 8 times4… all inside a brain the size of a single sesame seed5.

It’s time to give this mind-boggling butterfly its due moment in the spotlight:

Pair of monarch butterflies

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Plural Animal Wednesdays

ucwehlc24 April 2019

This blog is about a centuries-old quirk of the English language that has become a Grant Museum tradition.

If you follow us on twitter (@GrantMuseum) you may have come across Plural Animal Wednesday (#PAW), our weekly tweet about collective animal nouns. These are the words used to describe groups of animals, you are probably familiar with a herd of sheep, a flock of birds and a swarm of insects. There are, however, an astonishing number of obscure and wonderful plural animal names, enough to keep us in tweets for years and years.

#PAW was the brainchild of former Grant Museum Curatorial Assistant Emma Louise Nicholls. It all began on 16th November 2011 with a crash of rhinos (because rhinos are Emma’s favourite), and has continued every week for 7 years. All our plural animal discoveries are kept in a big spreadsheet and we are now approaching 400 entries. So why are there so many? Where do they come from? How long can we keep finding them to boost our social media content? Read on to find out.

A 'crash' of white rhinos Ceratotherium simum by Chris Eason CC-BY 2.0

A crash of white rhinos Ceratotherium simum by Chris Eason CC-BY 2.0

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Specimen of the week 292: the horned lizard

Will J Richard19 May 2017

LDUCZ-X86 horned lizard

LDUCZ-X86 horned lizard

The Mexican plateau horned lizard (Phrynosoma orbiculare) is a small reptile native to the high plateau of Central Mexico. They are almost spherical, about the size of a 50p coin, and have two characteristic horn-like projections on their snout. They seem pretty harmless… THIS IS NOT THE CASE. As a last resort the tiny lizards can shoot streams of pressurised blood from the corners of their eyes, spraying predators over a metre and half away. At first this seemed the single grimmest thing I’ve ever read about any animal but it got me looking at other disgusting ways species choose to defend themselves. These are a few of my “favourites”…

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How and why did these animals die?

Will J Richard27 April 2016

Something which I get asked a lot by the Grant Museum’s visitors is “how did these animals die?” It’s an excellent question and one to which I wish there were a more comfortable answer. Or, at least, a more definite one. The truth is that it isn’t one size fits all. Not all of our specimens ended up here in the same way and for many we can only guess. The Grant Museum holds one of the UK’s oldest zoological collections and attitudes and practices have certainly changed over the last 200 years, though the ethical debates continue.

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Specimen of the Week 213: The Enigmatic Gibbon

tcrnrh19 November 2015

Hello Grant Museum blog readers and zoology enthusiasts, it’s Rachel Bray here. You may be wondering who I am, unless you saw a Specimen of the Week blog by me back in May when I temporarily joined the Museum for my MA placement. I am very lucky to be back at the Grant until Christmas to work with the Museum’s wonderful learning and events programme. As part of my return I’m pleased to be getting back into the Specimen of the Week swing of things by researching this week’s candidate which is…

Photograph of the grey gibbon specimen

LDUCZ-Z475 Hylobates sp.

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Specimen of the Week 189: Actinia equina

tcrnrh126 May 2015

Image of a marine specimen represented in glass

LDUCZ – C373 – All seems peaceful in this bell jar…

 

 

We have had both an ethics and an art angle during the last week at the Grant Museum which you might have noticed if you attended some of our events. The Strange Creatures Late featured live, ethical taxidermy with Jazmine Miles-Long and the Great Grant Knit-A-Thon included talks from History of Art PhD student and Strange Creatures c0-curator Sarah Wade about craftivism, poaching and habitat destruction. And so, it seemed particularly appropriate to have an aesthetically pleasing, ethically sensitive representation of a specimen this week!

 

 

 

 

This week’s specimen of the week is…

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How to tell an archaeologist from a palaeontologist

Mark Carnall18 September 2012

This post is something of a PSA to address a pet peeve of mine, the general confusion in the media about the difference between scientists working in biology and archaeology. Here’s a recent example of ‘archaeologists’ puzzling over Paleocene mammal remains. Puzzle they may because they’re literally 50 million years out of their depth. I doubt this post will really change anything and archaeologists will be digging up dinosaurs in press releases and science articles for many years to come particularly seeing as others have already covered this annoying and lazy habit that journalists, presumably covering the science desk vacation period, can’t seem to shake.

So, as you might expect a joke to go, what is the difference between an archaeologist and palaeontologist? (more…)

Specimen of the Week: Week Seven

Emma-Louise Nicholls28 November 2011

Scary MonkeyI am pretty excited about this week’s specimen as it is our first specimen suggestion that has come from a reader (who I don’t know personally.) (That is unless it’s someone I know acting under a pseudonym?) (But that’s probably improbable.)

 

It is an animal of Hollywood acclaim, is famed for its crazy antics, is thought by many to be the second most venomous vertebrate in the world, and two individuals of unknown species once saved the life of our museum assistant. The specimen of the week is… (more…)

IT CAME FROM THE STORES……..

Mark Carnall23 November 2011

Friends of the Grant Museum will know that the last year was a tough year for the museum. Not only did we have to move the museum but our stores were plagued with floods. This has meant that our stored collections have been out of action for over a year. The turmoil hasn’t quite ended but recently the stored material became a little bit more accessible so myself and our new documentation assistant have been working through the stored collection reacquainting ourselves with objects and occasionally discovering material for the first time. The reason why we have material in stores  in the first place is partly because the collection is too large to put on display (currently, only about 5% of the collection is on display) and also because some material isn’t appropriate for display either because it isn’t Hollywood enough or because it is material that is better suited for research use. Being a university museum  a fair proportion of the collection was created for use in research. In this occasional series I hope to highlight some of the objects in our stores starting with these lovely objects I found last week. (more…)