On 25th April 2012, That’s Not Online! embarked on its first-ever act of reportage by attending the (also!) first-ever Museums Showoff at the Camden Head Pub in London. Modelled on the successful Science Showoff, Museums Showoff invited ten volunteers to speak for nine minutes each about anything at all to do with museums. The result? A lineup of entertaining, engaging, informative and downright entertaining folks. To wit:
Subhadra Das of University College London spoke about UCL’s Pathology Collection, a collection so well-hidden that it doesn’t appear have a website (UCL Museums are here) and that Russell Brand, though he was there once, was never able to find it again. By Das’s description, the collection consists of “things [such as tongues, eyeballs, fetuses and penises] in jars.” Further online research has revealed that the collection also contains some artificial items or, at least, one lead-painted toy car.
Terence Eden presented on QRpedia, a project that makes use of one of our favourite things: QR codes. QRpedia can create a QR code that is more than just a code: it will lead you (and your mobile device) to a Wikipedia article on any topic; but first, it will determine the language settings of your device’s operating system and retrieve the Wikipedia article in that language (if available) and in its mobile version (if available). If your language isn’t available, QRpedia will offer you a translation. How much more functionality can be packed into one, small code? QRpedia was developed for museums, but has also been implemented in a church, a zoo, and a whole entire town. QRpedia was conceived by Roger Bamkin, head of Wikimedia UK and coded by Eden himself.
Brian Macken gave an amusing and informative talk about the Dublin Natural History Museum, locally known as the Dead Zoo. For reasons relating mostly to the social and political history of Ireland, the Dead Zoo remains largely unchanged since its founding in 1856 and is a classic example of a Victorian “cabinet-style” museum. It contains mostly zoological specimens including birds killed by Irish lighthouses, a menacing beaver, and a giraffe that tweets.
Rosie Clarke of Museums at Night updated us on the progress of a project that asks museums across the UK to put on special programs after hours, raising the profile of British Museums. Museums at Night is currently running a competition; the prize, a visit to the exclusive Faber archive, of the renowned publishing house Faber and Faber.
Ayla Lepine of the Courtauld Institute of Art filled us in on Create! Architectural Design, part of the Create! series of young people’s events at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Ayla and two colleagues sat down with a group of 16-19 year olds and talked about how architects communicate their ideas, and produced some drawings of their own, because “good education takes guts.”
Gemma Angel and Catherine Walker both work at the Wellcome Collection, doing very different things. Gemma, a doctoral student at the UCL History of Art department, is researching a collection of preserved, tattooed human skin at Wellcome — a collection that surely deserves a post of its own. Gemma showed us a picture of her favourite specimen, two large and remarkably detailed tattoos from the front of a man’s torso, and then displayed an archival photograph of said man (his head, unfortunately, cropped from the photo). She is now on a mission to find out more about this tattooed man, and give him an identity beyond two sizeable scraps of inked-up skin.
Catherine displayed a number of object from the Wellcome Collection’s handling collection, like a strand of DNA (okay, a model of one), a shrunken head (complete with instructions on making your own!), and a model of a human brain. (Any links for Catherine are welcome! Please leave in the comments.)
Gordon Cummings of the North West Essex Collection gave a brief and informative history about how a whole lot of really influential artists ended up living and working in Essex together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their gallery has been successfully resurrected and now holds pieces by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, John Bellany and Keith Vaughan, and 900 members of the Fry Art Gallery Society. Few reproductions of these works are available to view online, so you’d better click here if you want to find out when you can see them next.
Steve Lloyd of ico design described the way that he and his design firm help places like the Science Museum and the Houses of Parliament “bring digital content into physical spaces”, a mission that seems to be the complete opposite of what we do here, but interesting and worthy nonetheless!
And finally, there was a nine-minute performance of music from Dinosaur Planet, a rock opera, by MJ Hibbett (and Steve)! It was so entertaining, Dinosaur Planet has the official That’s Not Online! seal of approval (and this librarian’s heart was warmed by their ode to the literature search).
If you wish you were there, experience Museums Showoff vicariously through Terence Eden’s Youtube channel.
It would be remiss of us not to mention Steve Cross as the evening’s entertaining host. An interesting bit on a video game museum in Berlin will likely result in another blog post, sooner or later.