Update – Just checking in…

A lot has been going on since I finished my Heritage Lottery Funded training – I’ve attended a few conferences, notably Paranumismatica training with Museum Development North West at Manchester Museum and The Un-Straight Museum with Homotopia at The Museum of Liverpool.

However, the exciting news is I have two new jobs – Collections Documentation Assistant at The Museum of Wigan Life and Explainer at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Juggling the two, as you can imagine, is going to make me super busy. I can not wait to get stuck in and really get using my curatorial skills (especially at Wigan) that the HLF and Stockport Museums have helped me perfect over the course of the Skills for the Future program.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the curatorial team at Stockport for their ongoing guidance and support. I  hope they are aware that the opportunities and training they provided me with has been invaluable – making me confident in my skills, allowing me to build a career in the museums world. The past year has been awesome!

Make sure to continue following me on Twitter at @LF_StockMus (Update: @Ren_Field87)

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Find it Friday! – Week 43. – TOP THREE!

This is the last official Find it Friday for a while as on Monday my current contract will end and I will no longer be part of the HLF’s Skills for the Future program. However, I am staying on with the curatorial services and I shall also be working at another local museum on Fridays doing the same things – working on the stored Natural History collections. Improving the quality, the storage, the identification and documentation of these objects. Something to look forward to! Especially the new museum as I have never worked at this one before so I am very much looking forward to seeing their collection!

Ichthyosaur jaw in shot with an Ichthyosaur paddle and a small Mammoth tooth.

Ichthyosaur jaw in shot with an Ichthyosaur paddle and a small Mammoth tooth.

So perhaps this final Find it Friday should be about my favourite object in the collection here? Although, I have already used it, in week 12, which you can read HERE. Currently this object is on display at Stockport Story Museum, in the temporary exhibition ‘Saints and Sinners’ which, if you want to see you have until the 26th of October 2014 to do so.

Another favourite object of mine is a group of objects – the taxidermy. I have always loved bit of nature and animals but studying Geology it was very rare that I had to deal with dead animals. Yet my first real museum role after leaving university was working with taxidermy and with the quite large intake of natural history objects this year (from Vernon Park and the Schools Library Service) I have spent more time with these objects than not. Doing small conservation jobs here and there with some of the taxidermy has led me to thinking along the lines of looking into further training, sourcing taxidermy courses and weighing up some options.



Finally, by last favourite object would be the mineral collection collected by Miss Caroline Birley. I can not pick one mineral (whereas if I had to choose a favourite taxidermy piece, it would probably be the fox) because it is more the story and legacy of Birley and her connection to these objects that I appreciate. Caroline Birley was a local Geologist. She was born on Oxford Road, Manchester, November 16th 1851. From an early age she showed an interest in the field and started by collecting small rocks and stones that intrigued her.

By the age of 30 Caroline Birley had been an active Geologist for over 20 years, constantly collecting rock, mineral and fossil specimens for her private collection. In 1884 her collection became so large, as you can imagine, that she could no longer store it in her home and so, after moving to Seedley Terrace in Salford, she had to build a building in her garden with the sole purpose of holding her finds. In 1888 she named this building Seedley Museum and opened it to the public.

Towards the end of her life Caroline Birley began to curate her collection, she began to name, label and order the specimens she had collected throughout her entire life. On the 15th of February 1907, after suffering from influenza, Caroline Birley had a heart attack and died in Pendleton, Lancashire, she was 55.



In accordance to a will Birley made out in 1895 most of her mineralogical and geological collection was bequest to the Natural History Museum, London. The items that they didn’t want or need were then offered to Manchester Museum. The remaining pieces of her collection were then divided out between local museums by her brother, Francis Birley, including museums in Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Radcliffe and Warrington. And this is how some of that collection has ended up with us in Stockport.

You can read more about Birley HERE as she featured in week 18’s Find it Friday.

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Find it Friday! – Week 42.

This week is the penultimate Find it Friday as I shall be leaving the Curatorial Services in less than two weeks. Due to this I am frantically trying to get all the current projects I have on the go completed. One of these jobs was getting all the Natural History collection from the School’s Library Service completed, documented and stored – which I have more or less done! I am very excited to see how they ultimately get used within the redevelopment of Stockport Museum.

90% of this collection is taxidermy pieces mounted in individual perspex boxes which, as considered in an earlier blog post, makes these pieces ideal for this project. To have these objects in an area that is meant to encourage getting up close to and engaging with the objects, these boxes allow the taxidermy to be out of large cases, yet still be protected. Providing the visitor with the feeling of being in a more one-on-one situation with the object, getting much closer than has previously been allowed. Which is amazing as some of the specimens are wonderful…

Recently I visited the Museum of Liverpool and they had a case showing various taxidermy birds to help understand the identity of the Liver Bird, the symbol of the city of Liverpool. Each bird within the case was given a narrative, almost a personality, which amused me. Taxidermy is seen in various lights – from a macabre and cruel ‘sport’ to an essential educational / scientific exploration tool that is also important in the highlighting of such global issues as deforestation, global warming, extinction, urbanisation, pollution issues ect. But I had never really seen this approach taken before, the giving of attitudes to the objects made me warm to them instantly and I can now see how this has become a key tool in establishing an online presence for some museums.

Museums are giving their natural history specimens a voice on the internet, namely on Twitter, to allow them to give visitors an incentive to visit their institutions, themselves! From Sue the T-Rex (one of the largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex specimens ever found!!) at The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois to Glass Jar of Moles, at The Grant Museum of Zoology, University College London, which is the voice of many… moles… in a glass jar.

It’s an interesting concept to consider – would being invited to visit a museum by a 66 (ish) million year old dinosaur persuade you to do so? I’m not sure I could say that it wouldn’t me!

But the possibilities are endless; children can have their photo taken next to Sue and then their parents could Tweet the image to Sue herself! A reply would surely excite and astound a young, budding Alan Grant or Ellie Sattler, staying with them and hopefully providing a foundation to set a growing love for museums upon for years to come.

Unfortunately none of our taxidermy pieces have discovered Twitter yet, just the stores for now. Alongside the perspex boxes some larger specimens are not enclosed. A fox, badger, hare, two pheasants and a buzzard with its wings spread are all stand alone mounted pieces. Due to the time a redevelopment actually takes these collection objects might be in storage for a little while yet, so to ensure their safety I wrapped these pieces in Tyvek. This synthetic material ensures the objects are protected and dust is not allowed to accumulate that may attract pests. To make them accessible if they are required before display, I secured the Tyvek with velcro, of course, making sure to get it nowhere close to any fur or feathers.

Before and After.

Before and After.

Some conservation was required before any of this could take place, mainly on tails. 

The hare’s tail had come severely loose and was at risk of falling right off despite being tied to the hare with what appeared to be thick string. I used pins to attach the tail back to the body, securely and in the correct position. It took four to five small rail pins and one larger pin centrally to get a deeper hold inside the stuffing.

Although this sounds like a small job, it made a big difference to a collection object in otherwise perfect condition.

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Find it Friday! – Week 41.

We have a lot of frog, toad and newt models in the collection. A few of them were on display at Vernon Park and came back with the Natural History objects that I reintroduced into the collection a few months ago, which you can read about HERE. The others suggest they might have been used for educational sessions or displays due to being formally identified and in fair to poor condition. Along side this, it is probable a model showing the life cycle of a frog is very unlikely to have been used as a decorative piece!

The models are made of plaster and are hand painted. Some are dated underneath at 1952 but other than that, their provenance is unknown. Despite this they are wonderful collection items and I have chosen them for this weeks Find It Friday for this reason – I just really like them!

April 26th is Save the Frogs Day, find out more HERE.


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Find it Friday! – Week 40.

Another reference to the redevelopment of Stockport (Story) Museum – It is such a huge task which involves a thousand and one different jobs within the whole project that are at the moment, all under way. Most of the cases in the museum are being redesigned, changing what exactly they address to tell the story of Stockport. However, there are a few displays that will be staying, firm favourites and pieces that are just wonderful. One such case is this weeks Find it Friday.

‘English Rose’ kitchens were first designed by Constant Speed Airscrews (CSA) in the late 1940s. The company made aircraft parts during World War II but turned their engineering expertise to the domestic market after the war ended.  Their kitchens were scientifically designed to provide maximum convenience and economy of space whilst also being incredibly pleasing to the eye.

The 1950s saw the transition of the kitchen from a simple cooking space to a multi-functioning heart of the home. The ‘English Rose’ was one of the first, if not the first, styled modular kitchen available in Britain. It lead the way in modern ergonomic kitchen design and to this day still remains a highly sought after item on the vintage market. It is the epitome of classic mid-century design. This particular kitchen was removed from a house in Stockport in the early 1990s.

Some of the objects removed for cleaning.

Some of the objects removed for cleaning.

Earlier this week Janny and I took to cleaning this case. This was just to ensure that it was looking the best it possibly could for display. There is also a possibility that dust accumulation on collection items could attract pests, but a quick look at the pest traps located in this case suggested no such worries and they were empty.

All the items were removed from the case to begin with and the first job was to clean the actual ‘English Rose’ fitted kitchen. Thankfully, time has been kind to the kitchen and it was not as dirty as you might imagine, even though it is likely that this was its first proper clean since it was an actual functioning kitchen. With a bucket of warm soapy water we wiped down all the surfaces, cupboards, the fridge, the tumble dryer and we mopped the checker board lino floor. The kitchen was then left to dry while the other objects were cleaned.

Some of the objects from the kitchen were recipe books/manuals and boxes; paper and card objects that could not be wet and so they were just dusted. Even though the other objects were glass, plastic and pot in material they too could not be submerged. Not only due to the fact they are collection items but it is also important that they did not lose their identification information. Most of the objects had their museum numbers marked on their base or somewhere equally inconspicuous. Using water to clean these objects runs the risk of taking this information off the object, resulting it being untraceable and unable to be connected to its MODES record. This effectively makes the object useless – all information would be lost and its relevance to the collection would go unknown.

Before and After?

Before and After?

Once the kitchen was dry renaissance wax was applied to add a layer of protection and hopefully, a clean shine! Admittedly, in photographs the kitchen looks no different apart from the rearranged objects but in real life it is lovely!

Throughout the day many ideas came up that could help improve this case, rather than change it completely like others involved in the redevelopment, such as painting the walls blue, the introduction of a family portrait to the wall and the inclusion of further items from the collection to really make that 1950’s kitchen bustle come alive.

You can find out a little more about ‘English Rose’ kitchens by following this link to a video showing when a similar one to ours featured on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.


(Click the images for larger view.)

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Making Headway.

Getting a closer look.

Getting a closer look.

‘Making Headway’ is an exhibition coming to Hat Works. It will run from Saturday 24th May 2014 to Sunday 24th May 2015 and will showcase hats created by 13 up-and-coming milliners made especially for this exhibition and an accompanying catwalk show that is being held on the 17th May 2014. This will be the first time hats displayed in an exhibition at Hat Works – the only museum in the county dedicated to hatting – can be bought from their cases.

Not just any old hats though – the hats being created are ones that have been inspired by the collection here at the curatorial services. A blog is being kept HERE for the milliners to chart their experiences and progress and it addresses the importance of the work done before the events; “The programme has 3 elements: millinery masterclasses, building a sustainable brand and using museum collections as inspiration.”

Some of the Natural History collection used.

Some of the Natural History collection used.

The collections being used are not just hats held within Hat Works collection, but the whole collection. I have attended two of the workshops as curatorial support now and the collections chosen included natural history, WWI crafts, Victorian pin-up postcards and much more. And of course, some fabrics and hats!

Curatorial support is basically assisting the collections. So the movement of the objects to Hat Works from the curatorial services, which involves packing, their movements being documented in paper and digital form and the unpacking and display on location. Along side this, a constant presence is needed throughout the day to answer any questions concerning the collection objects and to handle the objects if anyone attending the masterclass wanted a closer look, underneath for example – we sat the hats on display heads but the milliners were very keen to view stitching and labels inside and so as curatorial it was our job to handle the collection objects in the correct manner to ensure their safety.

‘Making Headway’ is shaping up to be an amazing project and I am excited to see the final products. Katie S designed the logo that is being used to advertise the event so if you see one, be sure to pick it up.

Incase you missed it, to keep up to date with whats going on and exhibition and catwalk info, the Making Headway website can be found HERE.


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Meeting Foxes and Badgers at the library. AN UPDATE.

Unfortunately, in just over a month I will be leaving the curatorial services here in Stockport. This means that until that day I am going to be very busy with lots of ongoing projects (some huge and some not quite so huge) whilst still working on everyday tasks. I have this remaining time to complete my work so that I can make a noticeable difference to the projects that I will not be here to see through to completion, to help the rest of the curatorial team as much as possible.

Fox skeleton.

Fox skeleton.

One such job is documenting the taxidermy and natural history collection from the Schools Library Service. I mentioned in an earlier blog post HERE that due to their unfortunate closure the Schools Library Service were forced to redistribute their collection. As sad as this is, it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. With the redevelopment of Stockport Museum and the proposed idea of turning the top floor in to an interactive space not limited to Stockport’s story, these items are ideal to explore that idea.

The idea is to display the parts of the collection never previously displayed at this site before, such as Archaeology, Geology, Egyptology and Natural History – to expose more of the stored collection. Here at the curatorial services we already have some amazing pieces in these areas that would be perfect for this floor but the Library Service was just too good an opportunity to miss! A lot of the natural history pieces are mounted in perspex boxes which will allow visitors a closer look, giving the illusion they are more physically accessible without them being put at risk.

So now the items we were lucky enough to acquire are back here with us and they have to be introduced into our collection. Documentation is essential and a big part of what we do in curatorial as everything that we hold needs to be accounted for, tracked and cataloged to insure nothing is lost, stolen or damaged. Stringent and detailed documentation is also important as it makes literally everything easier – the collection is accessible to allow for objects to be identified and located for various reasons such as exhibitions, research or education, and even simpler tasks such as deciding whether to accept a donation can be helped by knowing exactly what you store and if it will be suited to your collection or if it will be a duplicate.

Space is important, and something that we are starting to lack fast. This is why it’s not really possible to take duplicates of objects, especially large ones, into the collection at this time. This was an issue that was also key in our choosing of what we took from the Schools Library Services collection. The objects we choose were ones lacking from our collection and in great condition. Some we chose were similar to objects already in our collection but ones we could definitely use for the redevelopment with a variety of options of how to display and interpret – such as the fox.

This means not all the objects photographed on the previous blog post mentioned were chosen, unfortunately.

Some larger ones not in perspex boxes waiting to be done.

Some larger taxidermy pieces not in perspex boxes waiting to be documented.

So, the documentation has to be compleated now. Rather than accessioning these objects they will be given an SC number as they will be part of the Support Collection. This means they are much more likely to be used for education sessions and to inspire activities, which is the goal of the interactive space. In fact, some of these items have already been used in this way – for school education outreach sessions and workshops to inspire milliners in their hat making.

Each object is given its own number alongside its E number (an entry number assigned to it when it was effectively donated). This number is then marked on the object  (in various ways depending on space and material), photographs are taken with a scale and it is found a location in the correct area of the stores. Following this, a MODES record for each object is created containing all the information about the object – its identification, a discription, how the collection aquired it, a condition check, its current locations, any previous locations (such as the ones used in the workshops) and its photograph, etc.



In the above mentioned previous blog post I also spoke of the removal of the Costume Case. With the hope that the room in which it sat could be used as an education space that would be a more enclosed area for the school groups visiting, its use would free up more space on the gallery floor for more displays. The lone case was just a glass front that attached to the wall using it as its back and sides as the room ceiling is slanted. It was completely ripped out freeing up the entire room which was then repainted before the education team moved in. 

.... after.

…. after.

Now, the room is a functioning education space and couldn’t look anymore different! It is brighter and encourages active, hands on learning and by all accounts, is a huge success.

Here are some more photographs of the natural history objects from the Schools Library Service I have already done. 55 have been documented out of an estimated 150.


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Encountering Corpses.

Museums, in order to achieve accredited status, must adhere to correct standards and policies. Alongside this it is essential to address the ethics of dealing with certain collections items. Collection items such as human remains.

The conversation is an interesting one to have – should museums display and/or store human remains? Do they even have the right to? What gives them that right? What are the advantages, or the disadvantages? And how should display and interpretation be attempted, what is there to accomplish?

This is why I jumped at the chance to attend ‘Encountering Corpses’, a day of lectures and debates presented by Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research (iHSSR) and held at Manchester Museum (MM).

The event aimed to “specifically address how the materiality of the human corpse is treated in and through display, exhibition, sanctification, memorialisation, burial and disposal”. This meant that although I was there purely from a museology view point, a wide range of issues in contemporary society were also going to be lectured by various speakers, including the grieving process, death being represented in art and the habits of serial killers.

The day was composed of three panels with an overall eleven speakers and a tour of Manchester Museums Egyptology / Ancient Worlds gallery’s with Manchester Museum’s curator of Archaeology, Dr Bryan Stich, and curator of Egyptology, Dr Campbell Price.

The Colonial Skull.

The Colonial Skull.

Dr Craig Young, Reader in Human Geography at MMU began the day with an image of a skull. The skull was one of a murdered Colonial Chief that is now held at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, in Brussels. The photograph transformed the skull into a mere object of science, not illustrating or conveying what it truly is. This brings up the various issues of holding human remains, the ethics, the policies and the political implications before you even reach the actual reality of the object, the history of the Colonial people and a reflection of humanities ultimate other.

There has, undeniably, been an increased interest in human remains in when once death was an untouched topic not discussed, now presentation, display and even disposal issues are emerging into new light. Popular culture has resulted in a social recognition of people’s attitudes towards dead bodies. Television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation in conjunction with what some people might deem morbid reality, dark tourism, death and remains are becoming extremely more visible.

Donations to science, global trade in body parts, burials… there is numerous ways in which we encounter corpses in modern day, but has this desensitised us to some extent? How would this then shape how we view the body and how we see it as an artefact, how would we react? How do people perceive the dead body if it is lay out as a whole or just as a skull, for example? Would that reaction differ if the body was lay for a burial, or for science?

The certainty is, bodies will decay and so there is limited time to consider these issues. Human remains are conceptualized by society in a fog of whats, whys and hows.

Is it even ethical to treat these remains are artefacts or should there be that degree of respect that recognises their ancestry aside from the academic? Should we be addressing them as materials or as individuals, in a relatable manner that we recognise, in the same language we would refer to our deceased family members?

The mobility of dead bodies has increased; this has thus brought them more to our attention. “The final journey”, the journey to the grave, is being seen more often in much more exaggerated ways. When Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997, it is estimated over 1 million people lined the streets to witness her final journey. Seeing her body was an emotional experience despite most of these people never once meeting her.

Other examples highlighting mobility of corpses includes the case of the Serbian Royal family who, in May 2013, were exhumed from their graves and returned to their home to be reburied after dying far from home (in various countries) many years earlier.

Or the case of Petru Groza. Groza (1884 – 1958) was the Prime Minister of Romania and a highly respected man. When he died and was so buried in 1958 after a lavish funeral it became obvious that there was no particularly special place for people of high power and admiration to be buried. In 1965 such a place had been constructed and so Groza was exhumed and reburied in a grand and decorative mausoleum during another large and lavish funeral. Despite all this effort, this was not Groza’s wish. He has expressed in life that he very much wanted to be buried in his home town, Băcia, close to Transylvania. Knowing this, one night his body was stolen by family and friends from his home town and returned via bus, and reburied once more for the third time and in an unmarked grave – the ending he had hoped for, be that after a much longer journey than he probably expected.

Famous graves have fuelled what is now known as dark tourism. Many thousands of people will visit the final resting places for their heroes and idols but despite a natural aversion to death and dead bodies, would people still visit a grave if there was no body in the ground? Probably not.

Unfortunately this is a notion that is quite apparent and most likely one of the driving forces in the current battle of where exactly Richard III should be buried as he will attract tourism like no other medieval king does.

Next Dr Bryan Stich told of how Manchester Museum has exhibited Lindow Man in the past and how they have approached interpretation differently on various occasions. Lindow Man is currently at the British Museum and their online description of him is as follows:

“The body of this man was discovered in August 1984 when workmen were cutting peat at Lindow Moss bog in North West England.

It was carefully transported to the British Museum and thoroughly examined by a team of scientists. Their research has allowed us to learn more about this person – his health, his appearance and how he might have died – than any other prehistoric person found in Britain.

The conditions in the peat bog meant that the man’s skin, hair and many of his internal organs are well preserved. Radiocarbon dating shows that he died between 2 BC and AD 119. He was about 25 years of age, around 168 cm tall and weighed 60-65 kg. He had probably done very little hard, manual work, because his finger nails were well manicured. His beard and moustache had been cut by a pair of shears. There is no evidence that he was unwell when he died, but he was suffering from parasitic worms. His last meal probably included unleavened bread made from wheat and barley, cooked over a fire on which heather had been burnt.

The man met a horrific death. He was struck on the top of his head twice with a heavy object, perhaps a narrow bladed axe. He also received a vicious blow in the back – perhaps from someone’s knee – which broke one of his ribs. He had a thin cord tied around his neck which may have been used to strangle him and break his neck. By now he was dead, but then his throat was cut. Finally, he was placed face down in a pool in the bog. This elaborate sequence of events suggests that his death may have been ritual killing. Some people have argued that he was the victim of a human sacrifice possibly carried out by Druids.

Lindow Man’s official name is Lindow II, since other human remains have also been found in Lindow Moss bog: a human skull, known as Lindow I, a fragmented headless body (Lindow III) and the upper thigh of an adult male (Lindow IV) which as it was found close to Lindow Man may be the remains of his missing leg.”

In 1987 Lindow Man was displayed at Manchester Museum, arguably what should be his home location, on loan from the British Museum. For this exhibition a ritual sacrifice reproduction was adopted in order to tell his story. However, as visitors to museums have become much more aware of ethical issues in this environment in regards to human remains due to contemporary concerns of human tissue storage with no official permission, it has become much more problematic over the years to offer an accepted interpretation. And so, when Lindow Man was to be redisplayed at Manchester Museum in 2008 the staff took a different approach. They carried out a public consultation and acted upon their findings. The wide range of people consulted from the community voiced that they wanted him to be treated and shown with respect and for the exhibition to reflect that there are different ways to approach interpretation.

Despite the communication and feedback from the public, and despite the exhibition receiving two awards, the museum was met with criticism about the ethics of displaying human remains. Some websites accused the museums approach being one of ‘political correctness gone mad’ whilst visitors suggested the content was inappropriate; “Emotional responses are pointless unless based on correct facts.”

Overall though, the exhibition had 160, 000 visitors, 12500 of whom completed comment cards resulting in 67% agreeing that museums have the right to, and should, display human remains.

Next up, Dr Campbell Price discussed “Egyptian Mummies in the Museum: Authenticity, Curiosity and Revulsion”. He initially makes the obvious observation that mummies are the most popular exhibits in museums (though one might be inclined to suggest dinosaurs may be more so) and they do continue to be the go to item when considering the public perception of Egyptology. Despite museums being expected to provide definite answers and facts people still question them.

With questions such as “are the mummies real?” and “why were the Egyptians obsessed with death?”

Outside of academia people have very little direct experience with mummies. The only contact they will have had will be in the same context as vampires and werewolves, in horror stories and movies – fictional monsters. So it is understandable that the illusion is upheld. Ironically, I mentioned dinosaurs being more popular and at Manchester Museum this might be so, even though their mummies are authentic yet their T-Rex, Stan is a cast.

Margaret Murray (1863 – 1963) was an Egyptologist and Anthropologist, primarily known for her work in Egyptology. She was one of the first people to put together a multidiscipline team which went on to work on the unwrapping of two mummies – brothers. One was unwrapped in private but the other, in 1908, was unwrapped in front of 500 people at Manchester Museum. Murray was the first woman to do this; she wanted to show that Egyptology wasn’t just about ‘hocus pocus’, for this practice was able to expose the mummy’s diet, health issues and more. At the time Murray even gave bits of the wrappings from the mummy to people from the crowd. Manchester Museum still gets contacted about these pieces. Following on from this another Manchester Egyptologist unwrapped another mummy and this was televised.

From this it is easy to make the assumption that Egyptians were ‘obsessed’ with death as mummies, canopic jars etc. are the core of most museum collections but there is a very simple explanation for this. The Ancient Egyptians buried their dead in tombs along with their belongings – this is what has essentially preserved them. Settlements are much more susceptible to damage, the tombs offered protection to enable their prolonged survival.

Price went on to introduce us to Manchester Museums first mummy, acquired in 1825, The Lady Asru, c.650 BC. Asru has been unwrapped as in the 70’s unwrapping a mummy (often after a dinner party) became a popular form of entertainment. Now, however, she sits semi covered. Her head and feet are exposed but it is said, not just of Asru but of all mummies, that it is the hands that allow you to make that connection that humanises the remains.

We then went down to the public Ancient Worlds gallery where Asru lays today. Next to the case in which she is displayed sits a facial reconstruction but this might only assist in the confusion of who she is, real or not. Asru’s father was named Pai-Kush, Kush meaning he was a Kushite man and likely high up in the ranks, maybe even serving as a Kushite king. This information, the family tree, may be more useful in identifying Asru’s provenance and putting her life into more context.

The debate of human remains in museums is on-going and mummies are prevalent pieces of the puzzle and so perhaps it is important that the Ancient Egyptians have their say? There was a certain degree of belief in Ancient Egypt that once you died you became a statue, an object. Yet the question we are considering is do we treat them as human beings or as museum objects?

After viewing Asru it was clear that seeing her as a human being was not as easy as you might think. One delegate likened her to an alien – she has an alien name, not one you would hear today, she looks different and sits in what almost looks like a space ship (her coffin); it was very clear that she is not one of us. Would this reaction have been any different though if her name had been Emily?

Find out more about Asru on Dr Campbell Price’s blog HERE.

The following speakers spoke of the representation of human remains in other aspects of life, not museums. The next panel included Emma Fox, Dr Julie Rugg, Dr Faye Sayer and Sam McCormick.

Fox currently conducts tours of Southern Cemetery in Manchester where many famous names have been buried. Almost from a dark tourism angle she spoke of her experiences conducting the tours and the overall process of putting forward her idea to start the tours and the general running of the cemetery. Rugg looked at the actual history of burials and how they have changed as people’s attitudes have changed towards dead bodies.

A Victorian regulation issued by Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800 -1890) suggested that if you constructed a grave correctly, at the right depth, in the correct environment and with good drainage you could induce faster decomposition and the grave could be reused in an estimated 25 years. Having one coffin in a grave is essential to this as he believed the toxins released from the bodies would mix something terrible. This did not go down well with families as they were often buried in an extremely deep grave stacked on top of each other, this was seen as protective and represented that they were loved. Chadwick’s theory suggests that the bodies were seen as dirty and polluting items.

The famous dead are treated differently though. Because of their status they are treated almost as if they are public property often treated in ways you wouldn’t want family members treated. For example, Lenin – his body was preserved in the most violent of ways.

Dr Faye Sayer from MMU spoke of ‘Bones without Barriers’ and the social impact of excavating human remains in the public domain. It’s a controversial topic as the viewing of human remains is considered macabre, and morally and ethically distasteful. Despite this Sayer spoke of the project held at the Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Oakington, Cambridgeshire and of how she gained a ministry of justice licence to excavate human remains without barriers and screens, exposing the process and providing a unique opportunity to explore public engagement and their relationships with the dead. When the project began people stood behind a fence to view what was happening even though it was open for them to enter. By the second week they were venturing towards the trench and asking questions, ownership had begun and they were starting to treat the bodies as part of their community. Towards the latter part of the project people began to offer up their own interpretations of the remains, to understand them as if it had become their duty to do so.

Finally PhD student Sam McCormick spoke of her research on ‘Ash Creations’. 75% of people who die are cremated and 60% of people collect the ashes from funeral homes to dispose of them personally, in their own individual ways. Disposal methods are evolving with new ones developing all the time; now you can send your ashes literally in to space! Traditional scattering might soon be in the minority. In the last decade the material dead have shifted and ‘encountering corpses’ doesn’t have to mean an actual corpse. Ashes Creations means art, glassware, jewellery, ceramics, vinyl records, oil paintings and tattoos that incorporate cremation ashes within them. This is not a replacement for complete disposal as only tiny amounts are used but it allows for after-death relationships to continue. Whereas a grave is retrospective of someone who was this is an on-going remembrance, an outlet that allows the person to be there, that relationship that was established with a loved one is allowed to continue.

One of Paul Koudounaris' images on the cover of the program.

One of Paul Koudounaris’ photographs on the cover of the program.

All the speakers encapsulated the very fact that the dead still have a role in the living world. Be that educational or spiritual, they have a job to do and a definite place within museums.

Following a break Lee Mellor spoke of the attitudes of prolific serial killers towards their victims’ bodies and Sue Fox and Paul Koudounaris of their current art projects concerning taboo images of autopsies and decorated Early Christian martyrs skeletons. Both of which feature in the accompanying photography exhibition currently at Sacred Trinity Church, Salford until Thursday 10th April 2014.

Find out more on the Encountering Corpses Art Exhibition HERE.

And read tweets on the event with the hashtag #EncounteringCorpses

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Find it Friday! – Week 39.

The redevelopment of Stockport (Story) Museum is, of course, going to highlight some famous, iconic or influential names when thinking of who comes from Stockport and who helped shape it in to the town it is today. This is a topic I have already considered in a previous Find it Friday HERE whilst discussing Wimbledon champion Fred Perry. But through my research I uncovered another Stockport born chap that was a pleasant surprise to me.

My hobby is collecting books, I am an avid reader and I enjoy a number of genera’s and authors. However one of my favourites (in fact, he is one of my top two) is Edmund Cooper. Cooper was a Science Fiction writer of short stories, novels and poems.

He was born in, surprise surprise, Stockport!

Born in Marple, Stockport in 1926 Cooper shares a home town with many, notably Karl Davis who portrayed Alton Lannister in TV’s Game of Thrones.

Cooper was in the British Merchant Navy until 1945 and trained as a teacher when he left. After World War II had ended he began to publish short stories and his first novel, ‘Deadly Midnight’ which was later renamed ‘The Uncertain Midnight’ was published in 1958, and it’s a good one! That is, if you enjoy speculative futuristic stories of what life will be like when everybody is assigned a personal android. As a rule, I don’t but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Earlier, in 1957 one of Cooper’s short Stories ‘Brain Child’ was adapted into the movie ‘The Invisible Boy’ which stared Robby the Robot from the 1956 movie ‘Forbidden Planet’. The movie was adapted by Cyril Hume, the screenwriter behind ‘Forbidden Planet’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1949).

Edmund Cooper was a prolific writer and wrote under at least four confirmed pseudonyms, including Richard Avery, the name of the main character in one of his books, ‘Transit’, which is possibly my favourite Cooper novel. Cooper was one of the most published Science Fiction authors of his time, an authority that led to him becoming an influential Science Fiction reviewer for The Sunday Times, London in 1967 until his death in 1982.

Unfortunately, we have no collection objects relating to Edmund Copper in the collection but that’s not to mean we cannot explore his work using other objects.

As is all too common in museums, some of the collection is made up of objects with no information. They could have been accepted into the collection with little or no provenance or that information could simply have been lost over time, but that doesn’t make these objects less important. Various objects can be used to explore various things… a fox for example, can be used to talk of urbanisation or geology pieces can be used to address the evolution of industry, textiles or civilisations.

Therefore, for this week’s Find it Friday I have chosen my three favourite Edmund Cooper novels and I am going to find objects within our collection, objects from the stored collection that are not currently on display to help illustrate them. I am not, however, going to stick to objects with limited documentation, after all, even if they are the most documented museum objects of all time, if they are stored away why shouldn’t they be revived and used to help tell more new and exciting stories?

Hopefully, the objects can provide the books with a new dimension and the books possibly give the objects the freedom to enter the imagination, to encapsulate the visions Edmund Cooper wrote down, celebrating his work despite not being directly related to Copper.

1. The Overman Culture (1971)

“Michael was quite young when he discovered that some of his playmates bled if the cut themselves, and some didn’t. For a long time he didn’t think about it. Nor did it seem strange to see Zeppelins being attacked by jet fighters above London’s force field, or glimpse Queen Victoria walking with Winston Churchill in the Mall. Not at first.

But later he thought about these things – he couldn’t help it. The world was real, and yet unreal. It was all desperately worrying. So Michael and his friends formed a society to investigate the world around them.

Despite the terrible things they discovered, things that made some of them insane, they never actually guessed the truth about the Overman culture. Untill Mr Shakespeare told them.”

The objects I chose for ‘The Overman Culture’ are:
– A bonnet, once owned and worn by Queen Victoria.
– A portrait of Sir Winston Churchill.
– Books by William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale.
– A Lizard.

As the objects are to illustrate Coopers books, if they have a provenance or not I will not be exploring that here. In relation to ‘The Overman Culture’, the main character Micheal Faraday has numerous encounters with Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill throughout the novel, these are the real deal. However, he obviously shares a name with the scientist Faraday, and his best friend  Emily Bronte has a recognisable name also…

It is made clear that the adults don’t want the children learning to read words, and they certainly don’t have books. That is until Micheal and his friends find an abandoned library filled with books written by people who share the same name as their teachers, Miss Shelley and Mr Shakespeare and soon the truth is revealed to them by Miss Nightingale, and ‘fragiles’ like Charles Darwin, and Michael and his friends discover a way out from under the force field over London they have always known and in to a barren wilderness, dominated by crashing ocean waves and oversized sleeping lizards…

 2. Sea-Horse in the Sky (1969)

“At first he thought it was all part of some crazy nightmare. But it wasnt.

Russell Grahame, M.P. was only one of a handful of passengers flying from Stockholm to London. One moment flying peacefully in the sky, the next lying in an un-Earthly green coffin.

Grahame was the first to emerge from this strange resting place. But for him, as well as for the others, it had been only the first ecliptical experience. Soon all were to find the themselves lost in a bizarre world of Mediaeval knights, Stone Age warriors, and gremlins, caught unalterably in the weirdest cocoon of Time.”

The objects for ‘Sea-horse in the Sky’ are:
– Seahorses.
– A doll’s house.
– Lego Knights.
– Flint flakes (Stone age tools).

The passengers wake up on a street consisting of a hotel, a shop and other building that appear fake, much like a film set. They set up camp in the hotel and begin to explore the areas around them leading to encounters with Knights and “cave men” who, as it transpires, are just as lost as the human population.

It soon comes to light that their surroundings are not one that anyone from Earth is familiar with and the seahorses in the sky have something they want to say…

3. Transit (1964)

“He was the subject of an experiment seventy light years away from earth.

It lay in the grass, tiny white and burning. He stooped, put out his fingers. And then, in an instant there was nothing. Nothing but darkness and oblivion. A split second demolition of the World of Richard Avery.

From a damp February afternoon in Kensington Gardens, Avery is Precipitated into a world of apparent unreason. A world in which his intelligence is tested by computer, and in which he is finally left on a strange tropical island with three companions, and a strong human desire to survive.

But then the mystery deepens; for there are two moons in the sky, and the rabbits have six legs and who is speaking to them via a self typing teletypewriter and how?”

The objects for ‘Transit’ are:
– A typewriter.
– A Rabbit.
– Quartz.
– Spear heads.

Richard Avery reaches down to touch a shiny, clear diamond like object in the grass, and is whisked 79 light years away from Earth where he finds himself and three other people in a battle-to-the-death situation against alien humanoids, the “Golden Ones”, who have been deposited in the same place, and are equally confused why they are there. When the protagonist finally reaches the spear wielding “Golden Ones”, they are of the opinion that it is merely a game, with the killing of human beings the prime objective.

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11 questions to a museum blogger for #MuseumWeek

best-blogI have been nominated by Claire Miles, HLF trainee curator in Natural History at the Manchester Museum (read her blog HERE) to answer 11 questions about being a museum blogger, a chain blog started during #MuseumWeek on Twitter.

So, here we go…

1. Who are you and what do you blog about?

My name is Lauren, I currently work for the Curatorial Services that overlook the museums, heritage sites and galleries in the Stockport area of Manchester. The collections for all these sites are stored in one building and I am based there. I am a Heritage Lottery Funded (HLF) trainee in Collections Management and my day-to-day consists of a lot of documentation and conservation of the various objects in the collection. On my blog I purposely try to expose the stored collection that as I am in a curatorial position I have the pleasure to work with every day but that is not currently on display for the public to view. I blog about ongoing projects and the final results, about new donations and about the discovery and reuse of old ones. In fact, I will blog about anything because I love my job and I want to share that.

2. Why do you blog about museums?

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Some exotic birds were identified using the power of Twitter.

I blog because it is the ideal platform to keep a diary for my HLF training and to share my experiences. On one hand it is ideal for me to be able to talk about what I am up to allowing me to connect and network with others and to begin conversations that can be, and have been, global. But on the other hand it has been an essential tool for the museum. Having this has allowed me to gain help in certain areas, predominantly research, from experts that we don’t have on our team and this has, without a doubt, improved the collection and the knowledge and documentation we hold for the objects. Whereas photographs and talking about objects on this blog is great to instantly expose the collection pieces, this information will be able to essentially expose them over a long period of time. Knowing more about the collection means it is there to be used, be that for exhibitions, research or education, the more you know the easier it is to utilise them in the best possible way. Without this blog and Twitter it would have been impossible, or extremely difficult at least, for me to do this. Social media is so important for museums.

Along side this though, as I mentioned, I am in love with my job and I want to share that. Curatorial teams are hidden from the public view and are often sadly forgot about. It is easy to see the outputs of an exhibitions or education team but for curatorial everything is behind the scenes. You might not see the documentation, the environmental monitoring or the donation processes for example, but without these practices there wouldn’t be a museum. It might seem a controversial topic, and perhaps I am bias, but it is a fact. I think the foundations of a museum is the curatorial team and blogging about what they get up to exposes that this role is essential to the running and to the survival of museums.

3. And which post on your blog did you have the most fun writing?

I enjoy writing as a whole. I enjoy writing about training days I have attended because I come away inspired and ready to run at the new challenges they have highlighted to me. For example the Museums Association event, ‘Moving on Up’ that I wrote about HERE. Admittedly, it is a very long post but I was so excited about what my future could hold, I just had so much I to wanted to say. Yesterday I attended an event a Manchester Museum entitled ‘Encountering Corpses’, which again, I loved. I am hoping to write it up by next week because I do think the ethics of displaying human remains is an interesting debate, despite what feelings and reactions that might invoke for visitors and children (and me, see below) it is a must for museums.

I also enjoy the Find it Friday! series. It nice to be able to actively research a specific object or person once a week. Again, this sometimes brings to light something we didn’t know about the object but it is also nice just to be able to say “Hey! Look how awesome this is!”

4. Which is your favourite museum?

Me outside the RBINS.

Me outside the RBINS.

In January 2012 I visited Belgium and The Hergé Museum and The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Being a huge Tintin fan I was excited to learn more of Hergé but at the RBINS I was quite literally blown away. The scale of the museum was insane and I felt tiny in comparison to the large-scale, diorama like exhibits they created; I was in complete awe. The biggest Dinosaur hall in Europe, a whole herd of Iguanodon and a Blue whale erupting out of an ocean scene…. I had to sleep for two days straight to get over my excitement. It is worth the trip to Brussels if you ever get the chance.

5. Do you think you’ll still be interested in museums in 20 years time?

Of course! Working in a museum every single day has yet to quell my excitement and love for them as a whole. In various roles, not always in the area of museums that I wanted to be in, I have still loved going to work every single day. I can’t imagine my life without museums and I think that is why I want to have a career within them, as I don’t think that is a reality that anyone should ever have to consider.

6. What is your earliest museum memory?

As addressed in question 3, my earliest memory of museums involves human remains. At the age of 7 or 8 at school we were learning about the Egyptians. Alongside this our teacher was reading us the R.L.Stine Goosbumps book, ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’. Soon after we were to visit Manchester Museum to see some real Mummies. Unlike now they were in a case against the right hand side wall when you walk into the Egypt gallery, with maybe 5 or 6 mummies inside. In my memory though, this case went on for as far as I could see, in to what is now the Living Worlds Gallery, with I can’t even imagine how

Asra's feet.

Asra’s feet.

many mummies inside. I was stunned, I was quite honestly terrified and I cried. A lot. I had a lot of nightmares but I was not deterred, quite obviously. In fact, in 2010 I started working at Manchester Museum but I still found walking past that case unnerving. Perhaps this says more about me and a morbid fascination than it does the museum but this ordeal only fuelled my interest in museums. It provided me with a curiosity for what these places were and to what exactly goes on within them. That attraction to the air of mystery museums possess has yet to dwindle.

7. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?

Oddly enough, it was Manchester Museum yesterday to see some Mummies. I attended ‘Encountering Corpses’, a day of talks about the perception of human remains and the ethics and best practice issues surrounding displaying and holding them within a museum environment, where you are most likely to encounter a ‘corpse’ in everyday life and the attitudes towards the dead of scientists, the public, artists and serial killers. Campbell Price Manchester Museums Egypt and Sudan curator gave a brief tour of the Egypt gallery and we saw Asra, the first mummy the museum acquired in 1825. She is dated as being from 650 BC and was unwrapped in the seventies.

Museum Selfie.

Museum Selfie.

8. Share a museum selfie?

Here is one of me wearing my ‘I Tweet Museums’ badge, which of course I do, at @LF_StockMus. (Update: @Ren_Field87)

9. If you could build a museum, what kind would it be?

I think what some people would call a pseudoscience, Cryptozoology, is an important science but there is only one museum dedicated to this in the world; The International Cryptozoology Museum founded by Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in Portland, Maine. With my background being in Earth Sciences though I would have to have a bit of Geology and Palaeontology in there too. They would be able to coexist quite easily though – The Loch Ness Monster is possibly a living fossil, a Plesiosaur and the rumored existence of Mokèlé-mbèmbé, a possible Sauropod living around the Congo River Basin region.

10. What is the most popular post on your blog?

The Find it Friday! series. This is where an object in the collection is brought to you via a weekly blog post. Each week the object is one that I have either been working with or that I have encountered through the week and found interesting. The objects have no connection apart from that they are currently in storage at the curatorial services and otherwise not available to be viewed by the public.

You can catch up on past posts HERE.

11. Do you think there will always be a need for museums?

Yes. I don’t think this question is even worthy of debate… is it?


So now I am going to nominate Katie S and Emma (who I would love to see blogging more about her freelance endeavours):

1. Who are you and what do you blog about?
2. Why do you blog about museums?
3. And which post on your blog did you have the most fun writing?
4. What’s that blog you really would like to get round to writing?
5. Which is your favourite museum?
6. What is your earliest museum memory and what emotion did it inspire?
7. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?
8. Share a museum selfie?
9. Do you think there will always be a need for museums?
10. What is the most popular post on your blog?
11. What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?

And here’s what you have to do:

  • Answer the eleven questions – you can adapt them a little to fit your blog.
  • Include the BEST BLOG image in your post, and link back to the person who nominated you (that would be me, or this blog post).
  • Devise eleven new questions – or feel free to keep any of these ones here if you like them – and pass them on to however many bloggers you would like to.
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