Author Archives: Robyn Haggard

About Robyn Haggard

M.Sc. History of Science student at the University of Oxford

Meta Museum – Redefining the Case for Display

This semester we, as a group of third year and masters students, have been looking at the kinds of approaches taken in museum display. As part of the assessment for the HPS masters and undergraduate modules linked with the Museum we are working to put together an exhibition in the Gillinson Room in Michael Sadler Building. Deciding on a theme for our exhibition proved far easier than we imagined, due to Andrew Murphy’s idea that we present the different modes of display we had been studying.

Much like a novel or a song, visitors come across finished displays in museums without knowing the huge number of decisions that went into the finished piece being obvious. The words on a label, the hue of the lights, everything from the location and architecture of the building, to the object itself represents a decision, and those decisions have consequences for the visitor, museum staff and the relationships between them. In the Meta Museum we hope to place side by side some of the different approaches in the hopes that the juxtaposition will draw out the processes behind the finished display.

An early microscope from the aesthetic case.

An early microscope from the aesthetic case.

Our exhibition will be divided into five sections:

  • A didactic display on hunting
  • An aesthetic display
  • An eighteenth century cabinet of curiosities
  • A Beth Lord-style typological display of calculators
  • An emotionally evocative display of surgical knives

The design style for each section will be led by the particular design philosophy it represents. This means that the didactic display will contain an authoritative interpretation with a clearly defined message. The aesthetic display will only contain artefacts, displayed in a manner encouraging ‘wonder’. The eighteenth century cabinet will be modelled on the period, with mixed artefacts and no interpretation. The Beth Lord-style typological display will represent a particular theme, but mixed chronologies with minimal interpretation to allow the visitor to create their own meaning. Finally, the emotionally evocative display will encourage visitors to connect emotionally with the objects by encouraging a bodily rather than intellectual reaction. Despite the disparate design approaches, we will be taking care to create a commonality between all the displays to tie them together.

We have all been allocated different roles within the project to ensure that everything runs smoothly, and have provided a brief explanation of what we will be doing.

Project Manager – Andrew

Hello, I’m Andrew – project manager for the Meta Museum. In this post I’ll tell you a little of what my role has involved so far in the project. Essentially I do all the work – only kidding. Or am I? Anyway, I essentially fill two roles, organiser and overseer. The first task we tackled as a team was to stretch our foresight and create a GANT chart that would include all the tasks that needed to be completed by each team and a timeframe for it. This has acted as an organisational touchstone to keep on track over a longer period than I usually plan. The overseeing has been easy as my lovely professional team have carried me so far. Thanks guys!

Content Developers – Ellie Miller & Yasmin Stone

As content developers we research all the elements to include in the exhibition. Usually this means researching all the objects and themes explored by the exhibition. However, due to the nature of this display, as content developers we are also researching different types of techniques that are used in museums such as didactic, ascetic and the cabinet of curiosity. We work alongside a number of different people. From the Collection officers we receive the factual information of the objects in order to research these further and collaborate with the designers to produce object labels and supplementary text and information. We are also in charge of compiling a leaflet to better explain and interpret the exhibition for the visitors as well as selecting images to complement and enhance the research, information and objects.

Dog skull from the didactic case.

A dog skull from the didactic case.

 Designers – Josh Parkinson & Bryony Pollock

As the designers, we ensure that the exhibition, as a whole, has a coherent look. We have worked alongside the collections officers to choose the objects, so that the cabinets aren’t too cluttered or bare and then arranged the objects in a way that ensures they are visible. We will use various cushions and stands to accentuate the objects on display and to make the exhibition more visually appealing. The labels we have designed will have the same font and colour scheme throughout the four cabinets to link the exhibition together and will be presented clearly to ensure the viewer can access the information. We have also designed the interior of the cabinets to fit with the different themes; for example in the evocative cabinet – where the objects on display are surgical knives – we have chosen a red backdrop to give a feel of blood and gore.

Collections Officers – Katharine Crew & Robyn Haggard

As the project’s collections officers we are responsible for the objects that will be displayed. This will include ensuring that all objects which are chosen are in an appropriate condition for display and fit with the museum brief. If necessary we will be cleaning the objects, particularly those displayed in the aesthetic case to ensure their visual impact. We will also be responsible for any documentation relating to the chosen objects, such as movement forms.  Part of our role is also to ensure that the environment chosen to display the objects is suitable. This will include checking to see whether the Gillinson room is the correct temperature and has the correct levels of lighting and that the cases are secure and clean. It will also involve working with the designers to ensure any materials chosen to display the objects are inert and suitable for objects display.

Hey saw, used in craniotomy procedures, taken from the emotive case.

museum logo

In the coming weeks we will upload more information about our chosen objects and the exhibition. We will also be hosting an exhibition launch on the 13th December at 3pm in the Gillinson Room in Michael Sadler Building and hope to see you there!

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Hidden Histories: Taxidermy Hedgehog

Bisected taxidermy hedgehog.

Bisected taxidermy hedgehog.

One of the objects in our Hidden Histories exhibition is a model of a western European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus. This species is prevalent across the North and West regions of Europe and is found in wood and grasslands, although it has been known to venture into towns and cities due to their easy access to food sources. It is an omnivore, mainly consuming slugs, beetles and other insects, although it has been known to eat small rodents and young birds. The hedgehog has a strong phylogenic link with shrews and other small mammals, and models have been used extensively in the past as a demonstration tool for Biology Department lectures on anatomy and mammalian evolution.

Our taxidermy model hedgehog has been bisected on one side to display its skeleton and allow for a better understanding of its anatomical structure. The hedgehog has been taken from the larger zoology collection recently acquired by the Museum. This collection originally belonged to the Zoological Museum based in the Department of Biology. The Museum contained vertebrate, invertebrate, entomological (insect) and pathological collections, in addition to microscope and magic lantern slides. Parts of these collections date back to the beginning of the Yorkshire College of Science in 1874 and initially they were displayed in the corridors and around the sides of laboratories of the Biology Department, originally based in the second floor of Baines Wing. In 1908 the Zoological Museum was officially established and set up in the old botanical laboratory, where it remained until 1997 when the L. C. Miall building was opened. In addition to a new museum room, the Miall building contained store rooms, a preparation room, an insect collection room and a room for the department’s Herbarium.

The bisected taxidermy hedgehog displayed in Hidden Histories was bought by the Department of Biology from E. Gerrard and Sons, a London based taxidermy company, in August of 1934. The specimen cost £2-15-0, or £2 and 15 shillings. The hedgehog was not the only bisected taxidermy model bought in 1934; a rabbit and a bullfrog were also obtained for £4 and 10 shilling, and £1 and 15 shillings respectively. In addition to providing new specimens, the biology department relied heavily on E. Gerrard and Sons for cleaning, repairing and remounting services.

Side image of hedgehog displaying taxidermy work.

Side image of hedgehog displaying taxidermy work.

Side image of hedgehog, displaying skeletal structure.

Side image of hedgehog, displaying skeletal structure.

Whilst university natural history collections, such as those held by the Zoology Museum at Leeds, were used extensively in the early 1800s as a teaching resource, a rise in laboratory based work and cellular and molecular biology in the early- and mid-1900s saw the use of these collections reduced.  However by the 1990s subjects such as biodiversity and wildlife conservation were becoming increasingly prominent and natural history collections became important again for both teaching and research. In spite of this, university collections remained at risk of being sold or given away due to financial problems. The Zoology Museum at Leeds seemed to avoid this financial pressure, and after the move to L. C. Miall and the better access the new rooms provided the collections became exceedingly popular amongst students. The collections were used to teach subjects such as vertebrate comparative anatomy and entomology, in addition to providing research material for final year students.

In recent years the collections have been used far less in teaching, although their involvement did not stop completely. In 2011, during my first year as an undergraduate in Biology and History and Philosophy of Science, we used skeletons within the Zoology Museum in a practical session for the Diversity of Life module. The practical involved measuring various bones of the hind legs from mammal skeletons within the collection to better understand how leg structure depends on the animal’s size and way of life.

The Zoology Museum in 2012, shortly before closure.

The Zoology Museum in 2011, shortly before closure.

Zoology Museum, 2012.

Coral specimens displayed in the Zoology Museum, 2011.

Sadly the Zoology Museum closed in 2012. A large number of the skeletons and skulls have been retained and displayed around the foyer of the L. C. Miall building. Some of the collections, such as the Herbarium and majority of the insect collection, were given to the Discovery Centre of Leeds City Museum. The remainder of the Zoological Museum has been passed onto us within the Museum for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, forming part of our biological science collection. Whilst we do not have the space at the moment to display the whole collection, which includes skeletons, skulls, coral, taxidermy and specimens preserved in spirits on a large scale, we are doing our best bring it to the attention of a wider audience . This includes representing it in the Hidden Histories display and a smaller display outside the Gillinson Room within the Philosophy department. In addition to this, we are trying to use the collection for its original purpose: teaching.  Recently the Museum carried out a workshop with a local school using skull’s from the collection to highlight natural history and how an animal’s skull can help to reveal its life style, size and habitat. The workshop also focused on the importance of objects as a source of information in their own right. In addition to the natural history workshop, the school group attended a Victorian medicine workshop, and in the afternoon put together their own displays using various objects from our museum store. The day was very successful, and the students gave some wonderful feed back. Hopefully our natural history workshop will become as popular our Victorian medicine one.

For information on the history of the Zoology Museum and its collections, and also university natural history collections in general see:

Baker, R. A. ‘The University of Leeds Natural History Collections – Part 2’, The Biology Curator, 15 (1999), pp.2-4

Baker, R. A. & Edwards, J. M. “Louis Compton Miall (1842-1921) – the origins and development of Biology at the University of Leeds”, The Linnean, 14 (3) (1998), p.40-48

Molly Dymond

For the last few weeks I have been helping to transport the Zoological collection from the Biology Department to our store on the other side of campus. This has introduced me to so many new types of objects I have started to lose count, but the ones that have had the most impact are those that have acted as a gateway to new areas of the collections.  One of these was the photograph we found of the University’s Biology Department in 1904.

Our photograph helps to show how during the early 1900s microscopes were slowly becoming central to both teaching and research within biology departments. What it also shows, which surprised me considering how little it is mentioned in histories of scientific institutions, was how well women were represented within the department.  When discussing this with Mark Steadman, he introduced me to a collection of microscope slides that were put together by Muriel (Molly) Dymond between 1923 and 1924 while she was studying for her BSc in Biology. These were donated to us by her son John. After finishing her degree Molly became a Research Assistant and Assistant Demonstrator for the department. Although she gave up biology when she married and had children, John remembers her fascination with botany and her abilities as a botanical illustrator as being defining influences behind becoming a biologist himself. Molly studied under Walter Garstang, who was the first Professor of Zoology at Leeds and a well-respected marine embryologist. In addition to his academic work, Garstang took a keen interest in the pastoral care of his students.

Molly’s slides have provided the centre point for one of our display cabinets, titled Professors and Students, in our exhibition in the Brotherton Library on 18th January 2013. By looking at their social and cultural context we have been able to use them to help understand the nature of student life in the Department of Biology, the role of the Professor and the wider complexities of natural science at the time.

Object Labels

Biology Department, 1904

Biology Collection, BIO: 0396

University of Leeds, Biology Department 1904

Taken twenty years before Molly’s attendance, this image illustrates the scale of teaching that took place. It also gives us a glimpse of those involved and the equipment used. At the time microscopes, like the ones shown, were beginning to provide new research opportunities within biology and were fully established for everyday work by the time Molly attended.

Microscope Slides by Muriel (Molly) Dymond 1923-1924, Photograph of her on Graduation Day 1925

Molly Dymond, 1925

Personal Collection of John Mounsey

Made by Molly Dymond during her time as a student in the Zoology Department run by Garstang, these microscope slides depict a variety of specimens. Like students then and now, Molly would have produced these slides as a result of her practical laboratory work.

Microscope Slides by Molly Dymond, 1923-1924

Biology Collection, BIO: 0101

Photograph of Garstang and various students during field trip to Robin Hood’s Bay 1929-1930, Photograph of Garstang at Robin Hood’s Bay in 1932.

Personal Collection of Professor Richard Baker FRS

Personal Collection of Professor Richard Baker FRS

Garstang at Robin Hood's Bay, 1932

Personal Collection of Professor Richard Baker FRS

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These photographs were taken at Robin Hood’s Bay during field trips to the marine station that Garstang established there. This allowed students such as Molly to gather specimens to study under microscopes and experience science outside of the lab. At this time practices within the natural sciences were moving away from active field work to laboratory based studies.. .

Front Page of The Student's Opera

Personal Collection of John Mounsey

Copy of Garstang’s The Student Opera with signatures of participants 1924, Copy of Larval Forms by Garstang

Although Garstang was a leading marine embryologist he also understood the importance of the social development of his students. This play, adapted by him, featured Molly and one of Garstang’s daughters. Another of Garstang’s interests was in writing verse, often comical, concerning zoological subjects.   He believed that these, such as Larval Forms, served among other things as an entertaining aide memoire for his students.