Arts and Sciences (BASc)


BASC0004 Object Lessons: Communicating Knowledge Through Collections

Objects can be viewed from many different perspectives to reveal multiple, and sometimes contested, meanings. While we may start with object-focused questions such as: What is it made of? How was it made? Where is it from? When was it made? How was it used? Answers to these questions open up further research areas about how objects connect people and express knowledge and cultural values.

Using UCL’s unique collections, which include the Grant Museum of Zoology, the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, the Art Museum and Archaeological, Ethnographic and Library Collections, students will build their own virtual exhibition. Starting with an object each, they will work independently and in small groups to research their objects’ ‘original’ cultural, social, historical, ethnographic and scientific contexts.

Through this process of interrogation, research, documentation and presentation, students will be able to develop a range of research and practical skills. By using objects as the primary focus, the module will draw on interdisciplinary approaches to their study from fields as diverse as anthropology, art history, medical sciences and zoology. Students will develop an awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of different sources of information, for example, the textual, material, visual and auditory, and be able to combine these sources in the analysis of a particular theme or research focus.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://youtu.be/75C9huLt4Ew

Watch one of our students discuss her experiences of the Object Lessons module and how it is assessed. 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Play/12300

On completion of the module, students will be able to:

  • Undertake independent research and work successfully in a team
  • Show a critical understanding of engaging with museum objects and collections
  • Compile, edit and present information in a variety of formats, including reports, illustrations and on web pages
  • Critically evaluate how other people present data
  • Demonstrate direct experience of working with museum curators and other specialists in the field of object research

The module will consist of weekly lectures (1 hour), followed by practical seminars, based on small group work (2 hours). Lectures are designed to acquaint students with key examples of academic research on objects taken from a range of disciplines which will inform and inspire the students’ own approaches to object analysis. Weekly independent study will also be necessary in order to undertake the assessed project work successfully.

Themes explored in lectures and practical sessions are to include: the role of material culture in society and human cognition, scientific approaches to the analysis of materials, the social and economic contexts of manufacturing and exchange, approaches to studying the aesthetic qualities of artefacts, designing an exhibition, developing virtual media and web content, researching collections, principles of curation, and ethics.


The course runs for three hours per week in Term 2 of Year 2 as follows:

Lecturers:Prof Helen Chatterjee (Division of Biosciences), Dr Thomas Kador (UCL Museums) and Dr Bill Sillar (Institute of Archaeology)
Lecture:1-2pm on Tuesdays
Seminar:11am-1pm on Fridays
Module level:Level 5
Credit value:15 credits

On top of this, there is also a final presentation day on the last day of term 2 (Friday 22 March 2019).


The module is assessed through two pieces of interrelated coursework:

1. An individual assessment submitted as piece of writing about one object (40%)

2. A group exhibition project prepared as a website (40%) and explained in an oral presentation (20%)

Individual written piece is due to be submitted after Reading Week. The piece will be written in the form of an illustrated chapter for a popular book (i.e. aimed at a non-academic audience), based on close engagement with one object from the UCL collections. It will combine a description of the physical properties of the object (including any available information from labels, accession registers, archives, etc.) and a discussion of its social, cultural, historical and scientific context(s). If they wish, students can also experiment with more imaginative ways of writing about the object, placing it within a historical or contemporary context. The chapter should be illustrated with photographs and/or drawings of the object.

In developing the virtual exhibition students will work in small groups to identify an exhibition theme that explores some of the connections between the series of objects that they have been studying, and any additional objects they chose to ‘adopt’ in order to help develop the chosen theme or fill gaps in the narrative. The will be produced as a website based in, including text and images.

On Friday 22 March there will be a presentation day where each group will give a short talk describing their exhibition with each individual contributing to show how they researched and developed their chosen theme. The group will be given a shared mark for the web site and presentation. However, the individual final marks will be adjusted up or down by up to 15% from this group mark depending on both the tutors’ and peer assessment of individual contributions to the overall outcome, as follows;

Virtual Exhibition 60%

· Website 40% [tutor: 30%; peers: 10%]

· Oral presentation 20% [tutor: 15%; peers: 5%]

Students enrolled on the module can view more information on Moodle