UCL News


Student exhibitions showcase UCL's fascinating collections

13 August 2003

Graduate students from UCL's Institute of Archaeology are creating and improving exhibitions around campus as part of their studies.

Dr Paulette McManus coordinates the student exhibitions Utilising UCL's fascinating collections and museums, the students are bringing innovative ideas to the displays and encouraging new audiences to learn from UCL's treasures.

The exhibitions and displays have been created by groups of students taking the compulsory Museum Communications unit - part of the MA in Museum Studies course - and the Museum and Site Interpretation unit, an optional module mainly for students taking the MA in Cultural Heritage Studies and MA in Managing Archaeological Sites. Dr Paulette McManus, coordinator of both units, said: "The projects are aimed at producing a good quality display based on visitor study research and theory and developing an awareness of how to work in creative communications teams."

Valuable training

Students turn communication theory into practice as they would when employed by a museum, resulting in exhibitions of a professional standard. This valuable experience means graduates of these programmes become extremely sought after in the curatorial profession.

This year, five exhibits were created as part of the Museum Communications unit. Each group was given a basic budget as well as raising funds for the project, while satisfying the requirements set out by their 'client'. One group created 'People in Art', a new loan box utilising the College Art Collections. Loan boxes contain material from UCL's collections and can be borrowed by schools for up to two weeks at a time. 'People in Art' uses images from the Strang Print Room Collection to give users the opportunity to try out calligraphy and Chinese writing. The box has been tested by schoolchildren, and received excellent reviews.

Focus on outreach

The 'Only Connect: Opening UCL's Collections to the World' exhibition in UCL's North Cloisters focuses on recent access and outreach initiatives using UCL's heritage collections, including Archaeology, Geology, Zoology, Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. The exhibition also introduces plans for the Panopticon, a major new building for the UCL main campus, which will contain a large amount of UCL's collections.

Ms Saira Ahmed is a former MA Museum Studies student, and is now Education Officer for UCL Museums and Collections. She said: "I think this exhibition is a fabulous showcase for the important work UCL is doing in reaching out to the local and wider community. The exhibition illustrates the range of outreach work with which we are engaged and the wonderful relationships being forged with new partners and diverse audiences."

‘Only Connect’ illustrates UCL’s outreach activities

Improving resources

Eight students from the Museum Studies programme took the existing geology collection in UCL's Rock Room, and created 'Infinite Possibilities: The Past, the Present and the Future of Earth Sciences at UCL'. The transformation presents the collection in a new and exciting light, exploring the broad field of geology through history and into the future, while examining the pioneering research activity of UCL's Department of Earth Sciences.

Another group worked on the 'Fabric of Life: Materials and Culture' display for the Department of Anthropology. This display is important because it contains such diverse and interesting material, concentrating on the 19th century collectors Sir Henry Wellcome, and the Cuming family. Ms Gillie Newman, UCL's Ethnographic Curator said: "The display examines the attitudes behind collecting artefacts that was prevalent at the turn of the last century, and how those attitudes have changed. Much of the more recently collected material exhibited was acquired from anthropologists during their field work from all over the world. This display also marks a significant improvement in the accessibility and availability of the ethnographic collection."

Friends of Fleming

UCL's Engineering building has also benefited from the input of the Museum Studies students. Prepared for his centenary in 2004, the Sir John Ambrose Fleming exhibition pays tribute to the inventor of the thermionic valve. Sir John Ambrose Fleming is recognised as one of the founders of modern electronics and was also England's first Professor of Electrical Engineering, appointed at UCL in 1885.

Despite the wealth of material relating to his work held at UCL, there was previously no permanent display marking his unique achievements and his strong UCL connections. The display was funded by UCL staff and former students through the UCL Friends Programme. Professor Ian Boyd, Chair of Electronic Materials commented: "I am very excited that we can finally pay tribute to Fleming, thanks to the generosity of generations of former students who have given through the Friends Programme."

New interpretations

The Museum and Site Interpretation students have also been improving the exhibition of UCL's collections at the Institute of Archaeology. They produced four displays using material from the Institute of Archaeology's collections. Two focus on past directors of the Institute - Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Professor Vere Gordon Childe. Another illustrates the Institute's international connections, featuring gifts given to the current director, Professor Peter Ucko, while the remaining display features the intriguing Humbla Collection of Scandinavian stone tools, dating from 4200 BC to 800 AD. The collection was donated to UCL by Dr Walter Leo Hillborough in 1940, but the name Humbla and the origins of the collection remain a mystery.

Images: Top - Dr Paulette McManus coordinates the student exhibitions. Middle - A visitor inspects an exhibit. Bottom - Io, one of Jupiter's moons, from UCL's Geological Sciences Collection.

To find out more about the Museum Studies programme or UCL's collections use the links below.

UCL Collections
MA in Museum Studies