The Manchester Museum holds a fantastically diverse collection of insects, with over 2.5 million specimens deposited, which represent an important scientific resource for taxonomic, biodiversity and conservation studies. One of such academic studies is now being undertaken by Ms Roisin Stanbrook, a postgraduate student reading for a MSc. in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is lucky enough to be travelling to Tanzania this summer (2013) to conduct research for her final project. Her dissertation investigates the use dung beetles (Scarabaeinae) as bioindicators of habitat disturbance in African savannah ecosystems. Habitat fragmentation, hunting, logging and other changes in vegetation usually cause a reduction in species richness, abundance and biomass when compared to undisturbed habitat. Roisin’s study will measure each of these variables to ascertain which type of ecosystem: disturbed pasture, upland secondary forest and pristine primary forest contains the greatest abundance and dung beetle species richness. Many invertebrate groups, especially dung beetles are used as focal taxa in disturbance studies because of their abundance, habitat specialization and response to small-scale habitat heterogeneity. In fact, such is the adeptness of dung beetles, previous studies have demonstrated that composition changes distinctly across habitat types and a complete species turnover have been observed in as little as 100m! In addition, many dung beetle species show a graded response to various kinds of disturbance. Therefore, measuring dung beetle response to human activity can help us assess the functional consequences of human disturbance and aid implementation of appropriate conservation policies to combat habitat and species loss. By studying the extensive dung beetle collection held at the Museum Roisin is able to gain valuable ‘eyes on’ experience before she begins her research and becomes acquainted with her favourite beetles up close!
Any researcher is most welcome to come over to the Manchester Museum and to work with what we think is the best entomological collection in North-West.
It is a well known fact – based on on numerous scientifically accurate feature films – that in the event of the end of the world some people will survive the initial devastation only to find themselves barely surviving in some post-apocalyptic hell. Here I’m exploring whether zoologists would fare better than the average survivor. If the answer is yes, perhaps university biology admissions tutors can add a slide to their recruitment presentations to highlight this additional benefit in what is already the best subject in the world.
I spent this weekend on a survivalist course deep in the Dorset wilderness for an old friend’s stag do. As kids, along with his two brothers, we had spent our time building shelters in the woods, making fires, distilling mud, firing bows and arrows and generally acting as if the world had already been taken over by luminous slime mould from the future. As teens and students (and occasionally still) we spent our holidays walking in the mountains and not really engaging much with humanity. Wildlife and wild-living have stuck with us all: the stag is now an ecologist, I run a zoology museum (and spend a couple of months a year living in a tent in outback Australia) and his brothers are biology and geography teachers. As a result we are all pretty cocky when it comes to hanging around in woodland areas. This weekend’s course made us all question our ability to actually survive.
Should a virus/aliens/a powerful strain of concrete decay/zombies/frozen dinosaurs/Simon Cowell/nuclear war cause us to abandon human dwellings, shelter, water and food are the priorities. Would my academic and professional experiences as a zoologist make me Dennis Quaid?
On the face of it there is nothing in any zoology textbook that will help you stay out of the wind and rain. However very many zoologists do spend a lot of time in the field and hopefully this would stand us in good stead. We are more likely to know about prevailing winds (to chose which side of a natural structure to begin building), but this knowledge is by no means specialist. I’d like to think our experience of remote-living during fieldwork would give us an edge over the hoi polloi when it came to mentally dealing with the future that lay ahead, and the kinds of questions we’d be asking ourselves when it came to working out how to survive. What’s more, zoologists are generally quite prepared to sit still in the rain for long periods without moaning. So while our facts and science will not save us here, hopefully our experience might.
[there are of course situations when zoology would save you: the ability to recognise - and avoid - a bear's den, for example. Or the presence of a particular species of frog that indicates a cave is prone to flash flooding. But such eventualities are probably too unlikely to hang on to].
Here is somewhere that training in the ways of animals could save your life – both in terms of finding water and deciding whether it is fit to drink. Animals are excellent indicators of water, particularly herbivores, some insects and smaller birds. It’s reasonable to say that zoologists are likely to be able to recognise the signs of animals in an area. Score one for us. Following animal trails downhill and noticing if birds and are flying in a straight line without stopping are great clues of where water is.
Certain bugs will tell a trained eye whether water is stagnant or polluted (and zoologists are probably more likely to be encouraged by the presence of lots of most species of pond insects to indicate water quality, rather than put off by it).
Zoologists should also be able to tell you how to get water out of an animal (blood, eyes, fish spine etc).
Here you would think this is where we come into our own. Surely animal-experts are the go-to-guys when it comes to tracking down animals to eat. Many of us also know how to trap and handle them from our field experience. Dissection is a dying part of zoological training (in schools and universities), but such know-how surely would help you get the best out of a kill.
Knowing how animals live and function can be a big help – which bit of a crab, for example, could accumulate all the nasty chemicals humans use, and should be avoided? Why would it be a bad idea to eat a cat’s liver, but not a deer’s?
So in the short term that all sounds good. Looking at longer periods we might be able to predict when migrating animals will arrive. There’s also the general biology stuff we know when it comes to understanding why and how our own bodies are failing, and perhaps what to do about it.
Should we still be around when farming needed to be re-invented, pre-made experts in animal behaviour (or indeed the specific science of domestication) would be as valuable as a lighter.
If you know about animals, you also need to know a bit about plants. There’d be some knowledge of ones to avoid, but it’s unlikely that zoology alone could save us here when it came to rediscovering the full gambit of bushfood which has been all but forgotten in Britain since the arrival of bananas.
Despite all the help zoology gives the hunter/gatherer, it was the issue of food that my friends and I decided would eventually kill us. Finding enough of everything needed to survive for a length of time is an extraordinarily tall order, even if you can tell the difference between a seal and a sea lion.
That said, I’d like to think we’d outlive the palaeontologists. And as for the accountants…
Jack Ashby is Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology
The sun is here!! Wow, I had genuinely forgotten what being warm outdoors felt like. Other than the sweaty sort of warmth that comes from running for buses. Being rather more reptilian than the average Homo sapiens I am very much a hot weather person. My DNA decided at an early stage of my life to go against the grain of our hominid evolutionary path, the result of which is that I am a shockingly inefficient endotherm. Over the years I have spent any moment I am able, out of the UK, inserting myself wherever possible into a country with greater levels of UV. One of my favourite placements was at the Florida Museum of Natural History where I worked on a shark exhibition. Whilst there I saw and fell head over heels in love with a certain species that unquestionably warrants the use of words such as ‘beautiful’, ‘awe-inspiring’ and ‘breath taking’. We happen to have a foetus of this species in the collection, which makes for a good excuse to tell you all about this magnificent animal. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
**The Killer Whale Foetus**
1) The killer whale, rumour has it, is a name coined by fishermen in ye olde days that witnessed them killing whales, and subsequently named it ‘killer whale’. In the modern day however, many conservationists feel that the name ‘killer whale’ gives the animal negative connotations and prefer to use the name orca. This doesn’t seem unreasonable and so our specimen shall henceforth be known as the orca foetus.
2) It is reported by some, for whom I do not vouch, that the orca is the most geographically widespread mammal after humans. I would expect say, rats and mice, to have something to squeak about that, for example. Orca are found throughout the world’s oceans, and in semi enclosed areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California, the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Bizarrely not minding cooler waters, they inhabit areas from the poles to the equator.
3) Despite being somewhat ubiquitous, orcas are sadly endangered. The culprit is of course us. Above and beyond direct affects such as hunting, we also are really quite prolific at destorying oceanic habitats and even, sadly, ramming them with boats. Collisions with boats is common in the world of aquatic animals, and many whales, dolphins and sharks (for example) show scarring due to propeller blades. Many more, aren’t that lucky.
4) Orca hunt using echolocation, a bit like a monochromatic overgrown wingless bat. If you like. Although, as with most mammals, they will pick and choose what they eat depending on what comes along at the time, orca mostly prefer other mammals such as seals, sea lions and dolphins. It is the only cetacean (whales and dolphins) to routinely do so. They are also noteworthy in the cetacean world for their comparative fin ratio. Whilst researching for this blog I had a ‘holy baloney’ moment when I read that the dorsal fin of a male orca can grow up to an extremely impressive 1.8 metres in height. That is taller than me darn it! Perhaps needless to say, that is the largest dorsal fin of any cetacean. Respect.
5) Although orca will begin to be sexually useful at the age of 15, they will continue to grow until their 21st birthday. Give or take. Whilst there is no set breeding season, within the northern hemisphere calves tend to be born between October and March, whereas in the Southern hemisphere it appears to be year round. The beautiful monochromatic appearance of the orca becomes more distinctive with age, as the white areas of a calf’s body tend to be slightly orange in colour. One of the reasons that hunting is an issue for orca populations is because females will only give birth once every 3 to 8 years and births in females over the age of forty have never been recorded, severely limiting the number of children a female orca can have in her lifetime. For the remaining 50 or so years of their lives, the female orcas assume a grand-parental role in which they pass on experience, and influence the behaviour of the younger individuals within their pod.
Today the city centre-based members of the University’s Biodiversity Working Group hit the road to head out of the city and into Cheshire to hold a meeting at Jodrell Bank. Although home to the University of Manchester’s Centre for Astrophysics, the world famous Lovell telescope and a Discovery centre to explore the science of space, we were heading there to talk to Becky Burns, the Head of Gardens and Interpretation.
After all, it’s only fair that we should make the effort to visit Becky in her workplace from time to time instead of asking her to travel to us for meetings. The Biodiversity Working Group meets to discuss opportunities to increase the biodiversity on the campus of the University of Manchester and at about 35 acres, the Jodrell Bank arboretum is one of the University’s biodiversity hotspots. The arboretum holds two national Collections of Sorbus (whitebeam) and Malus (ornamental crab apples) trees, and with the late spring this year it is just about ready to burst into a profusion of blossom.
Visiting Jodrell wasn’t the only excitement of the day however, as this week the University was loaned a Nissan Leaf electric car and we were lucky enough to be allowed to use it to travel between sites. Qutie a number of Manchester’s buses are now hybrid diesel-electric, but this was my first experience of a fully electric car and it was pretty comfortable as well as having very green credentials. It was also just so quiet!
Earlier this year we posted a photograph of a portrait we found in a box of paperwork at the back of the herbarium. It clearly shows a Victorian botanist – but which one? We speculated that it might look like Richard Buxton, who was a very interesting and impressive self-taught naturalist, but we now have another contender.
Christine Walsh (one of our dedicated team of herbarium volunteers) came across a picture of Joseph Evans (1803 – 1874), botanist and herbal doctor from Boothstown. There’s a biography of him on this site, and I have to say, he looks very like our mystery man. What do you think?
by Chris Webb
Although a James Bond reference may be a tenuous link to the Petrie Museum, it is the literal, or rather chronological, duration of the shiny, super-hard compressed allotropes of carbon that had us titillated at the recent timekeeper event. On the evening of the 25th April, we welcomed back our resident Timekeeper Cathy Haynes who was joined by the Creative Director of the Institute of Making, Zoe Laughlin. The Institute is a multidisciplinary research club for those interested in the made world, and incidentally, our neighbours at UCL. The objective: to examine the material world of time and decay, and gain a better understanding of the way the world views time.
Cathy and Zoe guided us through an experimental evening making models of time, presiding over the 2 stages of the evening. The first section was posed as a series of questions surrounding our ideas of physical signs and symbols of time-keeping or perhaps that should be time-losing…? For instance: how do the properties of modern materials, from spinning glass marbles to slow-shifting silly putty and experiments with pitch, lend themselves to thinking about time? In the ancient world materials held different qualities of time. For example, stone contained the idea of eternity, and clay the short-lived and corrupt.
Using spatial and material entities (including concrete impregnated with dormant bacteria, shape-memory alloy and radioactive teeth!) we delved into the world of time and object temporality. The relationship between the past and the future was soundly thrashed into yielding its secrets. We achieved this by challenging the idea of time as a linear stream. Fluidic, in flux and flexible, time certainly proved a tricky beast to contain… Examples from the history of time included a cube of Oak, a discussion on rust and fire, rusty steel, and a University’s control over tree-growing over hundreds of years in order to furnish its own dining room.
Time is indeed relative, and at the end of our introductory session those in the audience were invited to experiment and produce their own alternative manifestations models of time. Unleashed onto a veritable buffet of play-do, brightly coloured crayons, glue and sticky paper, our appropriate temporary memory material in the wrong hands could have been mistaken for a 1980’s Blue Peter episode. However, manipulated by our ever-enthusiastic (and as it turned out, visionary!) audience, these materials morphed into remarkable physical objects that contained their own perceptions of what time, for them, looked like.
We closed the evening discussing the physical and poetic potential of everyday materials, as we gazed lovingly across the table, resplendent with our offerings to the time gods! A very enjoyable evening was had by all, and we are very much looking forward to the next instalment…
Sometimes I think I’d quite like to be an insect. No bills, no social anxieties or inadequacies, I wouldn’t mind the commute to work because I would of course make sure I was a species that could fly, and best of all I could eat all day and no-one would care. I’d have no concerns any more intense than ‘which of these delightful shrubs shall I eat today’ or ‘shall I sit here to enjoy the sun or shall I hop over there to enjoy it?’. Brilliant. Unfortunately I’m not an insect. But this week’s Specimen of the Week is…
*The Eastern Lubbers**
1) Hands up. How many of you read the above line and then glanced straight to the image to see what in Earth’s animal kingdom a ‘lubber’ might be? Well, I would have. If I hadn’t written that is. Grasshoppers, ah now that sounds a familiar critter, but lubbers? Nope, I hadn’t heard that word until I started writing this blog. These grasshoppers are in fact called Eastern lubbers (being from eastern and southeastern USA), indicating to those on the ball that there is more than type. The Eastern lubber is a large and colourful little fellow, that lacks the ability to fly.
2) For a grasshopper, the Eastern lubber is really rather large. Unfortunately, this makes them a bit of a nuisance to farmers given that a larger lubber tummy requires a larger amount of farmers crop to fill it. Add that to the fact that lubbers travel in packs (or swarms if you’d rather be scientific and accurate than interpretative and story-telling-y) and you have at least the potential for a veritable plague on your hands. Populations can explode (in terms of increasing numbers, not fireworks) if a variety of phenomena occur in a certain order, such as such as weather and rates of parasitism by beneficial insects that would otherwise limit the growth of the lubber populations.
3) Lubbers only breed once each year, meaning that the populations see a lull during the colder periods of autumn and winter whilst a baby lubber boom occurs towards the end of the summer. The Eastern lubber mostly prefers to live in low-lying, moist environments but is known to overflow into neighboring habitats as it fancies.
4) The Eastern lubber is a strict vegetarian. It is happy to eat quite a wide variety of plantlife, which makes it a very adaptable species. However it particularly enjoys a bit of the extremely pretty amaryllis or if that isn’t available, then any of its close relatives.
5) After mating during the summer, the female chooses a patch of soil and displays exemplary dexterity with the tip of her abdomen to create a small hole around 5 cm deep. Up to 50 eggs, contained within a light foamy froth are then laid in the hole. As you probably know, grasshoppers have an exoskeleton, or hard outer ‘skin’ if you will. Therefore to grow, they will successively molt, each time producing a larger exoskeleton. The Eastern lubber will molt five times, with each stage lasting between 15 and 20 days each. At each of these stages the lubber us called a nymph, until it finally transforms into its adult morph.
Guest Blogger: Chris Webb
The 18th April saw another fascinating event in the Petrie Museum’s popular timekeeper series, hosted by our own timekeeper in residence, Cathy Haynes. We were asked; how easy do you find it to remember the details and order of past events? Many people through history have pondered on this… Indeed, when Mark Twain wanted to teach his children history he invented a new kind of 3-D timeline by plotting out historical events in his garden and walking them through it, oddly, this was based on the monarchs of England!
The Petrie welcomed leading memory expert Ed Cooke, author of Remember, Remember: Learn the Stuff You Thought You Never Could, who explored how objects and images hold our memories. Ed spend the evening demonstrating how we remember things and with a little audience interaction, how to improve our recollection techniques. The session included exercises to help you invent memory maps to capture what you do not want to forget.
The evening started with Cathy Haynes taking us through a history of memory, which included the history of the monument at Charing Cross and why the statue of William Gladstone has a red hand. An interesting paradox was brought up; the idea of permanently reminders of forgetting. We were then treated to a veritable banquet of remembrance and visualisation methods. Although Ed started with the immortal line “Nothing I am about to say should be taken too seriously”, his guidance though memory palaces enabled some of us to ‘see’ a memory and even recall something thought lost in the haze of one’s own sub-conscious. A clearer idea of perception and thought, interwoven in the linear fabric of memory, was now our quarry. Under the direction of the memory master, we were guided to plum the very depths of our remembrance.
Different cultures have their own thoughts of memory and recollection, and we examined an offbeat selection of different contexts and patterns throughout our evening. Putting various methods into practice the audience responded brilliantly to the challenge of remembering their fellow members’ names and an arrangement of animal evolution. Visualisation, internalising, spatial association and sensory metaphor were all reined in to assist our memory mapping adventure. The formation of images using association of animals and spaces was my personal favourite technique, although I am currently working on a system with its structure firmly planted in the visualisation of cakes to assist remembering. The final point Ed left us with was a great idea. An email to the future you. What would it say? What do you think you will need reminding of in 1 month? 1 year? 10 years? What would you have forgotten? The audience were great sports and we all thoroughly enjoyed our evening and adventure into the world of recollection and memory.
Now, where are my car keys…?
We recently updated our Bentham webpages on the UCL Museums site. Among the new features is a conservation page that lists all the known inspections of the auto-icon; a Myth and Legends page that deals with some of the more popular stories concerning the auto-icon; and a new History page. This last one features a couple of pieces of data visualisation that we have tried out. This blog focuses on one of these, a Google map that shows how far Bentham and his auto-icon have traveled.
All the information used here can be found on a downloadable spread sheet on the History Page of UCL Museums website on the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham. All distances are as-the- crow-flies, and are likely to be an underestimate.
The auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham resides in the South Cloisters of the Wilkins Building at UCL. Although he looks pretty sedate now, he only arrived in this location after the Second World War, and has in the past has been to a number of locations in London, and even out of the country (twice).
View Bentham’s Post-Mortem Travels in a larger map
Jeremy Bentham Died on the 6th June, 1832, at his house in Queens Square Place, London. He was 84. His friends followed the instructions in his will and his body was taken under charge by his Dr Southwood-Smith and delivered to the Webb Street School of Anatomy and Medicine, Southwark (From Death to Dissection, a distance of 2.26 miles). Here Bentham was dissected in front of his friends and disciples by Southwood-Smith , appropriately enough during a lightening storm. It must have been quite a sight!
After the dissection the body was prepared by Southwood-Smith, or at his direction (we aren’t sure which), presumably at the Webb Street School. The skeleton was de-fleshed (though not completely, there is still a greasy feel to it) and articulated with copper wire and pins. Then it was moved to the doctor’s medical practice, at 36 New Broad Street (From Dissection to Display, a distance of 1.49 miles).
It stayed with the doctor even when he moved his consulting rooms, at an unknown date, to 38 Finsbury Square (From House to House, 1271 feet).
In 1850 Dr Southwood-Smith wanted to retire, and offered the auto-icon to University College London. It was accepted and moved from his home in Finsbury Square to a temporary storage location (we aren’t sure why) at 36 Percy Street (From Doctor to Temporary Home, 2 miles). From there it made the 2363 foot journey to University College London (From Temporary Home to Spiritual Home) . It is assumed it came to the Wilkins Building, and the distance is correct to the domed roof.
So from Jeremy Bentham’s death in 1832 until his arrival at UCL in 1850 his body / auto-icon had travelled a total of at least 6.44 miles, presumably by hand and cart, had crossed the Thames twice and stayed at 5 locations. His exact location within UCL is unknown, however Dr Southwood-Smith complained in 1857 that “no publicity is given to the fact that Bentham reposes there in some back room. The authorities seem to be afraid or ashamed of their own possession.”
The next recorded location of the auto-icon is during an 1898 inspection, when he was located in the Anatomy Museum, which at that time was housed in the area to the north of the Flaxman Gallery in the Wilkins Building, now part of the library. The Museum moved from this location prior to 1907. In 1926, on the university’s centenary, he is recorded as having been moved into the custody of the Library. However we don’t know if this was a physical or an admin move…perhaps a bit of both?
The next time we know for certain that the auto-icon moved was at the start of the Second World War (1939) when he was moved out to Stanstead Bury, Standstead Abbotts, near Ware (From UCL to Country Retreat, 38 miles return trip). It’s a good thing that he did as many of the UCL buildings were badly damaged in the Blitz.
On his return he was temporarily stored in the Professors’ Common Room in the Wilkins Building. Common rooms were segregated until 1969 so it is assumed that he was kept in the male common room, rather than the female. From here he was moved to his current position in the South Cloisters (From Common Room to Cloister, 362 feet).
In a 95 year period the auto-icon moved an approximate total of 38.07 miles, for the first time moving outside London (presumably traveling by automobile for the first time) and surviving two world wars.
After coming to rest in the South Cloisters, the auto-icon seems to have had a fairly sedentary life, with the possible exception of having its head stolen (see here for evidence of this brutal crime). This has not been formally recorded in the history of the auto-icon because we are still waiting for confirmation of when and how (and indeed if) this actually happened. It is possible this has led to the myth that the ‘real’ head was stolen and found in a luggage locker in Aberdeen.
In 1981 the auto-icon was moved from its location in the cloisters to the Textile Conservation Centre, then housed at Hampton Court Palace, for treatment to its clothes (From Cloister to Palace, 24 Miles return). One of the staff who did this remembers driving him down Marylebone road in a red Marina Car, sitting on the back seat (still in his chair) covered in a sheet.
The next two recorded movements of the auto-icon are the largest by distance and mark the first time that the auto-icon was put on public display outside of UCL since 1850. In 1992 the wax head and clothes (but not the skeleton) were loaned to the Villa Hugel, near Essen in Germany, an approximate trip of 616 miles return (From Cloister to Villa). Then again in 2002 the same items were lent to (coincidentally) the Ruhrlandmuseum in Essen (From Cloister to Ruhrlandmuseum, 614 miles).
Following on from the auto-icon’s trips to Germany it was next moved to the English Heritage real time x-ray facility at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth (From Cloister to Fort, 128 mile return). This marks the last time the auto-icon travelled outside UCL, and since 2002 he has only moved a combined total of 308 feet (From Cloister to Garden Room and From Cloister to Geology Museum) for a couple of inspections and photo opportunities.
From 1945 until the present day the auto-icon has travelled a total of 1,382.06 miles, been to Germany twice, been x-rayed by the sea and been inspected at least three times in three different locations. He has travelled by automobile and plane, but sadly (as far as we know) not by train.
In all, the mortal remains of Jeremy Bentham (full body and auto-icon) have travelled approximately 1426.57 miles since his death. They have left London four times, twice to Germany and once each time to Hampshire and Hertfordshire. In life Jeremy Bentham visited Russia via Nice, Florence, Constantinople, and then by sea to the Crimea, before going overland to Krichev (the journey took seven months), and also travelled across Northern England between 1814 and 1818. It seems reasonable to assume that his auto-icon still has a way to go before it travels greater distance than Bentham himself, but perhaps one day…
The UCL Museum Webpages can be visited here, and the spread sheet giving the known history of the auto-icon can be found on this page. We are always looking for interesting ideas for data visualisation. Think you can do something good? Let us know!
The project I am working on is all about discovering exactly what’s in our collection. Seeing how each specimen measures up against the criteria we have chosen to assess significance; celebrating the star objects; deciding how to tackle those that may be better suited elsewhere; figuring out the most appropriate and innovative uses of the collections in the future.
As well as blogging and tweeting about the project, which is great to engage with the public and the wider museum sector, it is also important that we connect with staff at the Horniman. People who work in the same museum but would otherwise be unaware of some of the things we’re doing. In addition to internal talks and intranet updates, we wanted to try something a little different.
The perfect opportunity presented itself when I was asked to spend some time with Angeli Bhandal, a student volunteer, and my manager suggested doing “something on Twitter”. I decided that instead of just going on about these (fantastic) expert reviewers with their decades of experience, maybe it would be refreshing to have someone else review the specimens. Someone who would bring a fresh and entirely different viewpoint to the project.
I asked Angeli to find out as much as she could about the Bioblitz project using only our online resources. Instead of me droning on about it, I hoped it would be a more interesting way for her to understand what we were doing, as well as a way of testing how readable some of those resources are (from the museum website and blog, to Twitter and Flickr). After that, I gave Angeli a tour of the natural history gallery and then left her to it. I asked her to photograph anything she was interested in, freaked out or impressed by, etc. We shared her experience on Twitter, which I handily storified here.
It went well and I really enjoyed being able to highlight the collections in this way. From a teenager’s perspective, who sees significance differently. I decided it would be great to get some of the Horiman’s staff to have a go. There are a lot of them on Twitter and I know they love to chat and share and explore. I decided that it would be a good idea if I reciprocated by reviewing their collections so I chose four departments with this in mind: the Library, Archives, Conservation and Learning. Luckily, everyone could see the potential in making connections between departments and between collections.
I met with Helen Williamson, the Horniman’s Librarian, who seemed excited by the opportunity to scrutinise the natural history gallery and, in return, show me some of the amazing books she has found over the years. The conversation we had on Twitter regarding her look around the gallery is summarised here. I loved how her work as a librarian influences what she discusses.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Hayley Egan, the Horniman’s Archivist & Records Manager, and showed her around the natural history store. I’m glad to say that she seemed to really enjoy seeing all the specimens I showed her. Like Helen, Hayley has been at the Horniman for a significant period of time but it was only now that she was able to look closely at the natural history material. Our conversation about what Hayley saw is here.
I’ve spent a short time with Hayley in the archives and I’ve been shown some books by Helen. I’ve had a sneak peek at both of their collections and can’t wait to see more. I will be summarising our conversations about their collections as soon as we have them. Conservation and Learning will also be reviewing our specimens soon. Watch this space and, for now, here are some teaser photos of the library and the archive collections.Library Archives