UCL News


Spotlight on... Hannah Cornish

15 February 2024

This week we meet Hannah Cornish, Curator at the recently reopened Grant Museum of Zoology. Hannah chats to us about working on the redisplay project and finding ways to tell new stories with the collection, as well as revealing the fate of the much-loved Jar of Moles...

Hannah Cornish

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am the curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology here at UCL, and my job is to provide intellectual access to our collection of 68,000 specimens. This includes helping to design and facilitate teaching in the museum for around 3,000 students a year, working with researchers and artists, managing the documentation of the collection, and collaborating on events, exhibitions, and projects with colleagues from across the museums team and beyond.

Recently my job has been all about the redisplay of the Grant Museum. After 10 months and 10,000 object moves we have just re-opened, and the Museum looks fantastic. We kept the character of the place but improved the display cases, specimen storage, lighting, and interpretation. The new displays tell stories about extinction, conservation, the colonial roots of our collection, UCL research, and above all the diversity of life. For anyone who's wondering, the Jar of Moles is still on display!

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL for seven years, working at the Grant Museum and with the Science and Pathology Collections. Before that, I worked at the Hunterian Museum and the Natural History Museum.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

It might be the recent Grant Museum redisplay project, or it might be our 2019 temporary exhibition Displays of Power. This was the first exhibition anywhere in the world exploring the links between empire and natural history collections.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list

Now our big refurbishment is finished, the whole museums team is about to move on to our accreditation return. UCL has three accredited museums, and we report to the Arts Council every few years to ensure that we are caring for the collection properly, running the museum well and engaging with our visitors.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 is the soundtrack of my childhood.

Film: I thought my favourite movie was Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings, but my 11-year-old insists that my favourite movie is The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Novel: I can’t pick just one, that’s like asking what my favourite museum specimen is! I like fantasy and a witty turn of phrase, so my favourite authors are Terry Pratchett, JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Ursula Le Guin, T Kingfisher, and Jane Austen.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

I’m not one for dinner parties, but I would love to catch up with Robert Edmond Grant and show him what we’ve done with the place.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The same advice I give younger colleagues just starting out in museums: a museum can’t love you back. Even if you have the best job in the world, you still need work-life balance and good boundaries, or you will burn out.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I’m also a needlework designer. My best seller is a cross stitch pattern with a motivational quote from Charles Darwin: "But I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything."

What is your favourite place?

I think I’m honour bound to say the Grant Museum. Open Tuesday to Friday 1-5 and Saturday 11-5!