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Training Week at our Study Collections Centre

Before embarking on Phase 2 of the Collections People Stories project, over 20 Horniman staff members took part in a week long training programme at our Study Collections Centre.

For some participants this week presented a whole new set of skills and for others it was a helpful refresher.

Each morning we began with a dose of data management, with training on our collections database, called MIMSY.

It may seem easy to describe an object, but each object has so many elements to it, all which need to be documented thoroughly:. where it is from; what it is made of; who collected it; whether or not it has been conserved or indeed if it could be hazardous to your health!

The training week was also packed full of hands on training, skills that will be applied by our teams throughout the Collections Review.

We were shown how to pack the ideal box - who would have known that there are 4 legitimate ways to scrunch up that perfect paper wodge?

We also learned how to pack flat art for transport and storage and how to make our own Corex boxes for oversized objects.

Our Conservation staff held a session on textiles outlining the special care that needs to be taken when packing and storing costumes.

At other times during the week, we learnt how to accurately mark and measure objects. Physically marking stored collections is essential so objects can be tracked if they were to lose their attached labels. Accurate measurements are of course a must when planning for museum displays.

Although all Horniman staff pride themselves in always being on high alert for insects in the cases and cabinets around the museum, conservation staff gave us a Pest Control Refresher to keep us one step ahead of the critters.

One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that we will be taking photographs of every reviewed object. Our museum photographer did a sterling job in setting up the cameras and tents so that we can take excellent photographs. We learned simple tricks to improve the light, focus and texture when taking pictures of museum objects.

On the last of day of training our packing skills were put to the ultimate test in the all-important Egg Tossing Challenge. Eggs packed in a variety of materials found themselves being hurled with force through the stairwells. If the egg didn’t break, it was packed well!

I am happy to announce that only 2 out of 15 eggs did not survive the journey! 

Shuk Kwan's favourite object

We asked Shuk Kwan, who works in our Marketing Department, about her favourite object in the museum - the seahorses.

Your question about what my favourite object is prompted me to think about the seahorses and why I liked them. I like the seahorses I think, because they are very beautiful, they obviously come in different shapes, sizes and colours when I look at them they seem so fragile and beautiful. I love the way their tale curls around and anchors them as well.

Also, I think it is because they resonates with a part of me that really likes fantasy, mythology and all that kind of stuff. When I was younger I used to read Roald Dahl; I was an avid book worm so I read Roald Dahl and David Eddings, even Enid Blyton. They were all fantastical authors; the sea horses are like mythical creatures to me. What I also like about them is that the males look after the eggs. I think that is really sweet actually, and they are also monogamous, so they have one mate for life and I just really like that about them.

Nowadays men would probably freak out about holding the eggs inside them and giving birth but, for the seahorses it’s so natural and actually it makes me respect them more.

Collections People Stories - Phase 1 Complete

It is a very exciting time for Horniman’s Anthropology Collections. From 2012-2015, these collections are undergoing a major review as part of the ACE funded project Collections People Stories: Anthropology Reconsidered.

We are delighted that the first phase of the collections review finished on 23 November 2012. This phase of work involved transcribing information from our historic registers into our database.

Since July, two teams of Collections and Documentation staff checked a whopping 40015 register entries!

These handwritten registers are a really valuable source of information about the objects we house at the museum. They help us tell new stories about the people who made and used these objects and those that bought, traded and collected them before they ended up at the Horniman.

Access to all this data allows us to reveal new stories about our collections for our visitors and various communities we work with to enjoy.

 We also hope the improved information on our database will enable more research and creative engagement with our anthropology collections in the future.

Phase 2 of the project is now underway. A bigger team of staff and volunteers will undertake the ambitious task of going through every box in the store and photographing each object and checking its documentation.  

As objects emerge from the review the team will be uploading some on a Tumblr blog and overtime time we hope to reveal all these objects on our Collections Online website.

Watch this space for more project updates...

For more information on the project contact Sarah Byrne.

Horniman Christmas Fayre

Remixing pop-up

Tomorrow, 4 December, in our Music Gallery, we will be hosting a pop-up experience where our visitors remix the sounds of our musical instruments using an iPad app called Feed.

On Tuesday, a number of our visiting school groups will compose and remix their own music using instruments from the Music Gallery Hands On Space and the Handling Collection.

And later in the day, visitors in our Music Gallery will have a chance to become remixers.

We will be working with a creative organisation called Incidental which delivers a range of participation, sound and new media projects.

Natural History Bioblitz: 5 Things You Need To Know

1. What is the aim of reviewing the Natural History Collection?

With a quarter of a million specimens to work through, much of it behind the scenes, we felt it time we took a fresh look at our Natural History collection – what we have, how we might make better use of it, how we might tell people about it and most exciting of all, whether we have any gems of historical or scientific importance hidden amongst the collection, with stories to tell, waiting to be re-discovered.

Our aim is to develop a new methodology for reviewing Natural History collections which take inspiration from outdoor Bioblitz events. These events bring together scientists, amateur naturalists and members of the public to get involved and record as many species as possible in an area over a very short period of time. The aim is to increase local as well as scientific knowledge and foster a greater appreciation and understanding of local wildlife.

Our project takes this idea and uses it to develop a new way of reviewing thousands of Natural History specimens in a short time, in concentrated bursts, bringing in experts to help quickly identify star specimens, allowing us to celebrate them fully and bring them into the public eye.

We will share our knowledge and skills using social media to promote and stimulate discussion about our collections amongst different audiences and also share the resulting methodology across the sector, ensuring better use of our Natural History collections into the future.

2. Who is involved and how long will it take?

The project runs for 12 months (until September 2013) and will directly involve the Keeper of Natural History, Jo Hatton; the Deputy Keeper, Paolo Viscardi; and the Natural History Project Co-ordinator, Russell Dornan and invaluable input from dedicated volunteers. The Collections Management, Documentation, Digital Media, Learning and Conservation departments are also involved to varying degrees.

In addition to museum staff and volunteers, external specialists will play a vital role in the project, as will community groups and the wider public.

3. What practical actions are you taking to reviewing the Collection?

Before the reviewers come in and the reviews themselves get underway in January, the Natural History department is working towards reconciling and updating the records for 250,000 specimens (by comparing data held in our registers, record cards, the specimens themselves and the computer database).

This vital work will bring together any relevant information for experts to use and allow each review to run quickly and efficiently. It will also help to capture the results more effectively too.

Part of this process involves reorganising some of the areas within the Natural History store; again, to facilitate a smoother review process. Making sure all specimens are located in their logical place and creating extra workspaces to make the reviews more efficient.

4. How do you plan to involve the general public?

We plan to engage with our wider community in different ways, holding on-line conversations and workshops to help us target and develop the most appropriate use of our material into the future. We aim to share our methodology and findings both with the general public as well as the museum sector.

With new insights into the collection, we hope to deepen this involvement and foster people’s love of wildlife, develop new and interesting displays and ways of working, as well as potentially uncovering exciting new research opportunities.

Follow us on Twitter for updates about the project and insights into what we're discovering: @HornimanReviews

5. What do you envisage being the biggest challenge?

The sheer amount of material needing to be prepared and then reviewed in a relatively short space of time will be challenging. Also coordinating all those different reviewers, some of which may need help at the same time!

Lydia's favourite gallery

We asked Lydia, who works in our central office what her favourite Horniman object was - she chose the whole Centenary Gallery.


  • Centenary Gallery, The Centenary Gallery houses more than 1,000 artefacts from cultures and civilisations across the world.
    The Centenary Gallery houses more than 1,000 artefacts from cultures and civilisations across the world.

'What is your favourite object?'

I think I have a favourite gallery, rather than a favourite object. The Centenary Gallery is my favourite.

'Why is it your favourite gallery?'

It’s just the whole atmosphere in here that I like. It feels very different to all the other galleries in the museum. It feels peaceful and calm in here. The lighting makes a big difference to the whole atmosphere.

'What are the objects are you most drawn to?'

I like the ‘Reliefs in Alhambra style’ as they remind me of the architecture in Beijing because of the tiles and patterns.  I went to Beijing recently and I really liked the amazing buildings which were so old but very well preserved.  I was amazed by the details and their sheer beauty. I found the reds, golds and greens very beautiful.  I also like the objects in the Tibetan shrine in this gallery.

 'Is there anything you would like to have in your home?

If I had something it would probably be a statue or a mask. Although, I do like the Gope Boards from Papua New Guinea. They are painted wooden ritual objects. I really like the colours which would fit perfectly in my home! I’d probably just have a couple; I wouldn’t want all of them that would be too much.

Omalo's favourite object

We asked Omalo, who works in our ICT Department, what her favourite object in the museum was - the Sudanese dung bowls.

'Why did you choose these objects?'

What drew my attention them was a little drawing that a school child had made in one of the comment cards. He had drawn the dung bowl with horse dung in it and it was steaming!

 That made me think, oh that’s fascinating - the fact that something as humble as animal dung can be converted into bowls that are so beautiful. They are used as part of a girls or young woman’s  dowry at a wedding for storing things that she would find useful in her married life. Things like perfumes and flour.

I found it really, really, interesting that you see something that looks really nice but it’s made from something as humble as animal waste.

'How do you think it has been painted?'

You can see it seems like gum mixed with red earth, then painted with a thin layer of gum.  It is probably be gum Arabic from the plant which will act as varnish and seals it.
White is from whitewash, black from soot, and reds from local soils the blue could be from commercial dying.


What would you like on a postcard?

If you're passing through Gallery Square in the next few days, you'll have a chance to test an ipad app called WeCurate, which asks people to work together to select a shared collection of postcard images.

A small team of researchers from Goldsmiths University will be there to test the app. The research hopes to understand how doing digital activities together can lead to people being more actively engaged with cultural content.

Their project involves researchers from Goldsmiths University and Artificial Intelligence Research Institute, IIIA-CSIC, Barcelona, Spain and Institute of Research and Information, IRIT-CNRS, Toulouse, France, and is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The dates that WeCurate will be in Gallery Square are: 26, 27, 28 November, 1 December (until 1pm), 2, 6 and 7 December.

Let us know on twitter or facebook if you had a go, and what you thought.

Intriguing cheese horse - what can you tell us?

A few weeks ago, we found an intriguing object in our collections - a horse made of cheese.


We don't know a lot about this horse - it's made from cheese, it's from Poland, and came into our collections in the 1950s.

What can you tell us about it? 

We found the cheese horse while working on a three-year project, called Collections People Stories, to review our anthropology collections. We're hoping to find out more about the collections, what they are and what they mean to our visitors and communities.

Update: London's Polish Cultural Institute pointed out another cheese horse in Krakow's Ethnographic Museum. Their cheese horse - called Bar'ańczyk - is made from sheep's cheese, and was a toy gift for children.


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