Hello- I’ve written a couple of things about museums recently that I wanted to share with you, and we have a number of events coming up soon too. Our approach boils down to a couple of things:
-Lots of people are interested in natural history in museums.
-Natural history in museums can often seem old-fashioned and not connected to issues today.
-Sustainability can seem depressing and boring.
-People need information and support, not more depressing mass-media stories of the environment, which is presented as a series of issues.
In Manchester Museum, we’ve been working on capitalising on the interest in natural history and trying to help visitors find activities that would interest them to follow up on. We use natural history displays to grab visitors’ attention, notably the Living Worlds gallery, which encourages people to reflect on their own attitudes to nature. This is complemented by events and programmes that encourage people to get involved with nature and sustainability, in whatever way they might be interested in. We’ve been focusing on encouraging people to see the value of small actions. This approach has been very successful for us, and for sustainability, and I hope it continues to be so.
This last year, we’ve been running a wildlife recording course with the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit as part of the HLF-funded Grey to Green project. This trains volunteers to become wildlife recorders, who submit records of plants and animals they’ve seen to a database. This information helps ecologists understand how the distribution of plants and animals is changing, and to ensure that development takes account of the presence of rare species. We’ve had a fantastic allotment in front of the Museum, looked after by volunteers and co-ordinated by Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes. We’ll be opening the Nature’s Library gallery at the end of April, where visitors can explore the diversity of the natural world through a selection of specimens from the Museum’s enormous natural history collection.
We currently have a display of woven plant fibres strung round a tree in front of the Museum, produced by local people who took part in events that used nature to promote health and well-being. These are accompanied by poems produced on large leaf-shaped signs. We are nearly finished a fantastic project called ‘Nature and Me’, funded by the HLF. Two artist-practitioners (Kate Day and Naomi Kendrick) worked with 42 local people with a wide range of attitudes to nature. The views and ideas of participants were translated into short films by students at Stockport College. I’ve seen the films and they are absolutely fantastic, and some are very inspiring. These will be made publicly available soon.
At the heart of all this is promoting the value of nature to people. We articulated this when we were developing Living Worlds that, whether people value nature for it’s own sake or for the benefit it can bring to their personal well-being, nature has so much to offer.
ps. I was out birdwatching today on the Wirral at Parkgate, looking over the saltmarshes. I got out of the car and there was a beautiful Short-eared Owl sitting right in front of me on a post. It was preening a lot, as it had got wet in the rain. The haze cleared and it looked very golden, with an almost luminous white face, and very piercing yellow eyes. Then it flew around over the saltmarsh hunting, very, very beautiful on long, stiff wings. There was a Peregrine sitting on a stump not far off: an enormous one, with a very dark head and quite brownish on the cheeks and chest, probably not a fully adult bird. There was another one much further off, a fully adult bird, with a very white chest.
Hello- I thought that the blog report from wordpress was interesting and thought I’d share it with you.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 12,000 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 20 years to get that many views.
Chinese New Year, also known as New Year in the Agricultural Calendar, is just round the corner. As billions of people get ready to welcome in the New Year we have had a look into the role botany plays in the festivities and at some of our more important Chinese donations.
Oats are important in the celebration of the New Year. On the eighth day of the lunar month before the new year a traditional porridge is made and served to each member of the family called làbāzhōu (臘八粥), pardon my Mandarin…
Bamboo sticks, along with fireworks and firecrackers, are burnt to make as much noise as possible on the first day if the New Year. This is practiced to chase off evil spirits.
At midnight on the eighth day of the New Year the Hoklo people (Han Chinese people whose traditional ancestral homes are in southern Fujian) will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven, commonly offering sugarcane. Legend states that the Hoklo people were spared from massacre by Japanese pirates by hiding in a sugarcane plantation during the eighth and ninth days of the Chinese New Year, coinciding with the Jade Emperor’s birthday. As a symbol of their gratitude the Hoklo people will offer sugarcane on the eve of his birthday.
Also in the preceding days to the New Year debts of gratitude are often sent, commonly gifts and rice are sent to business associates and extended family members.
Here in the herbarium we have a rather large collection of plants found in South-East Asia, mainly China, collected by Wai-Yu Lee, a Chinese botanist. He donated over 1000 plants from his personal herbarium in 2002.
We also have several specimens collected in China by the botanist Augustine Henry (1857 — 1930). Although he regarded his work as a hobby, he became one of the most important botanical collectors to have worked in central China.
Why not celebrate the Year of the Snake by making porridge, bashing bamboo sticks or offer sugarcane to past Emperors? If these celebrations don’t take your fancy, you could just watch some fireworks, details of the 2013 display in Manchester can be found here.
Blog post By Alyssa, Herbarium Placement Student.
7th February, 2013 - University of Manchester, Manchester Museum: Frogs of Ecuador (further places now made available)
23rd March, 2013 - University of Manchester, National Science & Engineering week
25th March, 2013 - Sci-Bar (Macclesfield): Amphibian Conservation in Action
This is the first in a series of blogs written by conservation students working on objects from UCL’s Medical Physics Collection. Over the the next few months the students will keep us updated on their progress. This initial blog was lead authored by Katherine LM Becker.
On December 13, students from UCL’s MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, their course co-ordinator – Dean Sully, the UCL Collections Senior Conservator – Susi Pancaldo, and UCL Museums curator – Nick Booth, met to discuss a new project!
During relocation of the Medical Physics Department’s collection, Nick Booth encountered four objects in need of conservation and, through Susi Pancaldo, was able to bring the objects to the conservation lab to be treated as part of student portfolios! Four students elected to participate in the project: Katherine Becker, Miriam Orsini, Leslie Stephens, and Louise Stewart. Together, we hope to gain new experiences and challenge ourselves with potentially complex glass reconstructions. From the beginning we thought that the best approach to the project would be for each student to be responsible for one object, but for us all to work as a group in problem solving and to make cohesive decisions.
On December 13, Nick introduced us to the material! The four objects are (or were originally thought to be!) various types of X-Ray tubes and each had been broken in recent history. Nick brought the objects to the lab in their original packaging to better ensure that all associated pieces would be kept with the objects. Upon opening the cases, we caught our first glimpse of the project:
Our first action was to carefully sort out the sherds of glass so as to create four distinct objects. Next, we began a preliminary ‘dry’ reconstruction in order to understand the current condition of the objects. This helped us to anticipate the interventions required and allowed us to have a more informed discussion of our plans with Nick.
This process was one step in the initial phase of conservation: ‘Visual Examination’. Next, we needed to begin ‘Assessment of Significance and Documentation’. For this process, we each began to individually research our objects using the Internet and library as resources. We also arranged a meeting with Nick to see similar objects in the collections and tour the storage facilities.
After seeing more of the collection, we were able to better understand the current and future use of the objects. This, plus an understanding of their original function, helped us to begin to understand the significance and value of the X-Ray Tubes. This is an essential step in the conservation process, as all treatments should consider and respect the object’s meaning.
It is essential that we (conservators) fully document the object and its condition. Therefore, we take high quality ‘Before Treatment’ photos of each piece before beginning any work. At the Institute of Archaeology, we are fortunate to have access to a professional studio equipped to handle all of the challenges presented by photographing objects. In this case in particular, we had many challenges to overcome. This is because photographing glass is notoriously difficult, as there are often reflections, shadows, and colour casts. In order to avoid these, Stuart Laidlow (IoA photographer) helped us to devise the following setup:
We each used slightly different set-ups to arrive at these final products:
The next stage in documentation involved various forms of investigative research, including X-Radiography, and X-Ray Fluorescence. These will be discussed in the next ‘Conserve It!’ blog post.
The walrus penis bone in the Grant Museum is often pointed at with a titter, a gasp, and other whispered noises. That’s obviously not surprising – it’s longer than my thigh. Conversations normally go something like this:
Visitor [blushing]: I didn’t know that there was a bone in them.
Staff: Ah well, there isn’t in humans, but most mammals have them. There’s a few in a jar over here [points to jar].
Staff: Mostly it’s about stamina.
Visitor: I feel sorry for the girl walrus.
Staff: Over here is a skeleton of a raccoon with its penis bone in position – you don’t often see this because the prude Victorians got into the habit of removing them out of common decency. There are drawers and drawers of them in store at big natural history museums.
Visitor: Gee whizz. So why don’t humans have one?
Staff: Good question [branches off into that kind of babble that professional communicators use when they don't know the answer, normally involving offering the visitor the opportunity to discuss what they think the answer is. You'll note that if the staff member had known the answer, we'd have seen the topic arrive when the visitor asked "Why?"]
Well, one of the wonderful PhD Student Engagers we employ to talk to visitors about their research and experiences of academic life, Suzanne Harvey, has made our lives much simpler by writing a blog which answers the question – How did man lose his penis bone? It’s over on their “Researchers in Museums” blog and it begins like this…
The walrus penis bone, also known as an os penis or baculum, is one of the most popular objects at the Grant Museum. The human penis is haemodynamic, meaning an erection is achieved by blood pressure alone. In animals with an os penis, blood pressure still plays an important role, but the pressure functions to push a bone structure into the penis in order to achieve an erection. This has many benefits over an erection sustained by blood pressure alone, not least in keeping the glans open for sperm to pass through.
While the importance of shaft size and sperm competition has been discussed in previous my previous blog post, even the largest penis will offer no evolutionary advantage if sperm cannot escape: these much desired qualities will never be passed to offspring. This is not the only benefit. The os penis increases the potential duration of intercourse and also the frequency with which intercourse can take place. For example, a lioness can copulate 100 times per day, sometimes with only four minute intervals, but has only a 38% conception rate1 – males need to keep up if they’re to achieve the best chance of paternity. It comes as a surprise to many people that the os penis exists at all, but in fact humans, woolly monkeys and spider monkeys are the only primates to lack this handy piece of anatomy.
You can read the rest of Suzanne’s post on the Researchers in Museums blog here
Every Specimen of the Week I have done thus far, I have realised, has nearly always been a whole animal. Not to say that’s a bad thing but I do feel a vast number of extremely super duper specimens, that are essentially ‘body parts’, have been overlooked. Subsequently this week’s specimen is a body part, but don’t worry it’s not as gruesome as it sounds in the slightest, no need to put off reading the post until after dinner. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
**A Lump of Baleen**
1) YES this IS a great specimen, lower that eyebrow. Come on, let me talk you through it. See the toothbrush-esque part with the fluffy hairy looking tips? That’s the baleen. We’ll come back to that in a minute. The white mass of mushy looking polystyrene at the top is gum. As in the gum from the mouth of a whale, not a wedge of chewing gum used to hold the baleen in place because our budget is too tight to stretch to proper mounting materials.
2) There are 86 species of cetacean (set-A-shun) which is the group that includes all dolphins, whales, porpoises and similar looking, closely related aquatic mammals, sporting fins instead of hands and feet. Out of those, there are only 14 species of baleen whales, the rest of them are called toothed whales.
3) What’s the difference? Toothed whales have… teeth. Lots of ‘em (mostly). Baleen whales do not. Rather, they have an upwardly arching top jaw with large fine-toothed combs hanging down. These are the baleen plates which are not related to teeth and are made up of keratin, the same stuff that forms our finger and toe nails. As the whale takes in a huge mouthful of water, the combs act like sieves and trap the yummy detritus material that is good to eat, which can then be dislodged with the tongue whilst the unwanted water is squeezed out. Like a lemon squeezer that keeps the pips from falling in your juice, only the reverse. Unless you want to eat the pips and throw away the juice.
4) What is the largest mammal on the planet? Correct- the blue whale. What is the largest animal to ever have lived on earth in the entire 4.6 billion year history of the planet? Correct again (I should imagine)- the blue whale. The blue whale grows up to 27 m long. Twenty seven metres long. The need to spell that out with words is clear. Their heart weighs as much as 900 kg and the penis is 2.5 m long. So imagine the size of its baleen. Phwoar.
5) In the same way that the teeth of an animal that eats fish are different to those of an animal that eats insects, the thickness and quantity of baleen plates are directly related to the prey type of the species of whale in question. The grey whale for example, feeds near the ocean floor, and so has shorter and stiffer plates than say the humpback whale, which feeds on the surface. The baleen of the dainty plated right whales and bowhead whales are the longest and finest of the baleen plate types, because they feed on the teeny tiniest of planktonic invertebrates of all whales species. Despite being a heffing 20 m long.
Here endeth your lesson in baleen. So my padawan, to what species of whale does this specimen belong?
It's been a real pleasure to paint one of my favourite things that grow in the garden, a Papaver somniferum seed head. Spending the time to really look at it's structure and mix it's colours, both muted and vivid, has made me appreciate it's beauty even more. I hope you enjoy the results too.
Acrylic on canvas, 24" x 20", November 2012 Available For Salehere.
Working with wood in Ancient Egypt: a practical demonstration
In conjunction with our 'Collecting Trees' project and as part of our ‘Discover Archaeology’ Big Saturday on February the 9th, the Museum is delighted to host Dr. Geoffrey Killen, an expert on ancient Egyptian woodworking, who will demonstrate ancient craft techniques – LIVE! Watch Geoff use replica ancient Egyptian tools to make furniture, the Egyptian way.
7th February, 2013 – University of Manchester, Manchester Museum: Frogs of Ecuador
23rd March, 2013 – University of Manchester, National Science & Engineering week
25th March, 2013 - Sci-Bar (Macclesfield): Amphibian Conservation in Action
Upcoming event: Caesar and Cleopatra, February 6th 2013
Britain’s first million-pound film, starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains, was Caesar and Cleopatra. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1901 play of the same name, with a screenplay written by Shaw, it opened on 12th December 1945 in the Odeon at Marble Arch in London, and was released in the U.S. in September 1946. It is showing at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (Malet Place, London WC1E 6BT), hosted by John J. Johnston, on February 6th 2013.
Made during World War II, it was hoped that the investment of over £1,250,000 into the film would help to establish Britain in the American cinematic market. Filmed in Technicolor, it took two years to complete, most of it set within a custom-built studio in Denham, England. Over 500 pieces of jewellery and 2000 costumes were created for the film and 400 tons of sand were imported into the Denham studio. The largest scene included more than 1500 actors. Conceived on an epic scale, it produced an Academy Award Nomination for Best Art Direction for John Bryan. The main stars of the film, Claude Raines, Vivien Leigh and Stuart Granger, were all household names. Vivien Leigh was particularly famous for her role as Scarlett O’Hara, six years earlier, in Gone With The Wind, which was one of the highest-grossing films of all-time.
The theatrically appealing story of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony has inspired many writers and film makers. Cleopatra VII Philopater was born in 50BC and, at around the age of 14, was made co-regent with her father Ptolemy XII Auletes. On the death of her father, approximately four years later, Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopater were made co-regents. The Ptolemaic state was by now a weak one, and leaned heavily on Rome for support, which in part accounts for why, on the death of Cleopatra’s father, Pompey was nominated to be her guardian. When Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in 48BC, Pompey fled to Egypt where he was assassinated on the orders of Ptolemy XIII, enraging Caesar whose policy had been to pardon his opponents. Caesar arrived in Egypt in the same year, to find a power struggle between Cleopatra and her brother, the outcome of which was that in 48BC Ptolemy had managed to oust Cleopatra from the throne. Caesar restored Cleopatra to the throne, this time with another brother, Ptolemy XIV, whom she married. The marriage did not prevent Cleopatra having a relationship with Caesar, which produced a son, Caesarion, in 47BC.
Shaw’s original play focuses on the meeting of the famous pair, and the way in which Caesar’s political sagacity informed the childlike Queen’s fledgling rule. It is an imaginary tale, based only loosely on known facts. It is very much of a comment on political power, a theme that was close to Shaw’s heart and well encapsulated in the oft-quoted line from his 1905 play Major Barbara: “Power does not corrupt men; fools, however, if they get into a position of power, corrupt power.” Shaw was not against power in general, and indeed believed that good government and men of action were often synonymous with each other, and were to be encouraged and admired. He was a firm believer in age and gender equality and thought that in most respects very little social progress had been made since ancient times. His play focuses quite tightly on the education of the inexperienced new Queen by the wise, righteous and merciful Caesar, emphasising the value of good leadership. Cleopatra’s love for Caesar, Shaw suggests, develops from her appreciation of Caesar’s wisdom and benevolent guidance.
The task of translating these ideas into film, whilst delivering to the public the great entertainment that his starry cast promised, clearly presented something of a challenge to director Gabriel Pascal. The film divided the contemporary critics. The Daily Mirror’s film critic, Reg Whitely, described it as an “outstanding piece of film-craft of which Britain may be proud” whilst Jympson Harmon in The Star considered it to be “too talkative for great film art” but was much taken with Vivien Leigh’s Cleopatra as the “half-pale witch in exotic raiment, half child” and the “wise, witty, stern and kindly” Caesar of Claude Rains. The Observer’s C.A. Lejeune considered that the director Gabriel Pascal was “too stern a disciplinarian to dally with scenic effect when he has a message from Shaw to deliver.” It was not a box office success, but it has found considerable enthusiasm with modern audiences, and has been released on DVD for a new generation of viewers to enjoy.
I have not yet seen the film, and am very much looking forward to seeing it at the Petrie Museum on the 6th of February. For details of how to book for the free-of-charge event, phone 0207 679 4138 or book online at http://caesarandcleopatra.eventbrite.co.uk.
This week ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls, we are going to discover what makes shelf six in Vertebrate Case 17 tick. It is not the wombat skeleton that dominates the horizon, nor the 20 or so tiny brush-tailed possum babies that are oh so cute until you look closely and realise that disturbingly many of them are missing their head. It could be the marsupial moles which are so gosh darn pretty with their golden fur (not to be confused with the actual golden moles which are around the other side because yes, they are not related). Nope, it is in fact a jar containing a lovely creature that sits nonchalantly at the back, watching passers by with an air of ambivalence. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…
1) The kowari is a marsupial in shrew’s clothing. The long tail, pointed snout and large eyes are all very shrew-ish, but the two are not related. In so much as they are not closely related because of course every animal is related to each other in one way or another. The kowari comes in a range of shades from light grey-brown to sandy-brown, with expensive looking red highlights, and a white belly and throat to set off the look.
2) Communication amongst kowaris is dynamic and varied. A threatened and insecure feeling kowari will emit a loud, staccato chattering noise, much like a child in Disneyland. A confident, extroverted kowari will demonstrate an aggressive mood with a hiss, accompanied by vigorous tail movements. Besides verbal communication, scientists believe that the kowari will also use the black ‘brush’ of fur on the tip of the tail as a way of communicating with others. Though unfortunately, we are yet to discover what it is saying.
3) The stony deserts of Australia are the favourite haunts of the kowari. Not my idea of a kicking Friday night venue, this type of desert is sparse in vegetation and what there is, is limited to a variety of ‘boring’ shrubs. The lack of trees means the kowari is obviously going to be a primarily terrestrial marsupial but it does however, have some mean climbing skills when the situation allows for it. It is also capable of making really rather impressive vertical leaps.
4) Despite the lack of obvious celebrity venue choice, the kowari enjoys the night life. Although not completely nocturnal it is most active at night and tends to wile away the would be hangover filled days sheltering in a burrow nicely furnished with leaves and a range of other types of vegetation that provide a layer of soft bedding. Although the kowari can dig its own burrow, why exert yourself carrying out hard manual labour when you can employ others to do it, and so more often than not, the kowari will take over the burrow of another species and then build extensions and redecorate, as it requires. Like an MP, the kowari may also have a holiday home style second property nearby that it uses concurrently with the first. Perhaps a little less like an MP, the kowari is a friendly fellow and will readily share its burrow with other individuals.
5) Going on a date with a kowari would involve a carnivorous dinner of insects, spiders, and if you’re lucky, some small vertebrates. If you are unlucky, you will get served up some rotting carrion, finished with a topping of buzzing flies. Be careful however, not to ask out a kowari when food is scare as not only will you have to skip dinner, but the entertainment value of a kowari during harsh times is severely limited. So you are likely to be bored as well. When no food is available, the kowari is able to slow down its metabolism and enter a kind of hibernation-esque state called torpor. It is only for short periods of time but can definitely mean the difference between sticking it out curled up in your cosy burrow with your fluffy tail keeping your nose warm, and starvation. On that basis, torpor would definitely my prefurred option.