Manchester Museum is one of the many inspirations behind an innovative exhibition exploring modern lives in a changing city.


MADE is an eclectic collection of visual arts pieces ranging from sculpture to textiles to digital photography and video installation.

The group of over 60 artists behind the contemporary art show visited places and institutions around the city for ideas and produced this leaflet (left) showcasing Manchester’s historic buildings.

The museum’s Rocks & Minerals gallery provided the starting point for the stunning ‘Curiosity Rocks’ works, which were produced from projected images of crystal slices.


MADE – Curiosity Rocks

Another group of artists took inspiration from the Fossils gallery to produce the ‘Fossils of Technology’ collection, where Stan the T.Rex makes a prominent appearance among the prehistoric-future tech hybrids.


MADE – Fossils of Technology

The exhibition is being staged by Venture Arts, a professional arts studio working with artists with learning disabilities.

According to Venture Arts, MADE began with the idea generated by the artists themselves to examine the changing urban environment and green spaces and “how these two worlds connect and clash”.


MADE can be found in the Engine Hall at the People’s History Museum until October 18. Entry is free.

Summer holidays are now almost over, but if you are still debating as we have, in earnest, which is better – a day at the zoo or a day at the museum – I was presented with the perfect opportunity to tackle this thorny issue when I joined Manchester Museum’s team of volunteers on a grand day out to Chester Zoo.

[Before presenting my provocative findings, I should say in the interests of disclosure that I do work at Manchester Museum but am unbiased and completely free from professional jealousy. Honest.]

  1. ALIVE DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN LIVELY   There is no doubt that Chester’s capybaras are much bigger than their Mancunian counterpart…

Capybara 2Latest

…but the museum’s is arguably more animated.

Louise Thomas - Capybara3 (2) (800x598)

2. “HIDE AND SLEEP?” (B. Hamer)

The zoo is home to a real cassowary, how exciting. Alas, you will have to use all your best Where’s Wally skills to spot it in my photo.

Where's Cassowary II

Compared to – even I can’t fail to get a decent snap of the one keeping a beady eye on Living Worlds

Museum Cassowary


And we think Chester Zoo’s aardvarks need to work a bit on their showmanship skills.

Sleeping Aardvarks

Unlike this born performer.

Lasma Poisa - Aardvark1 (2)


The scourge of the zoo photographer has to be the accidental bottom shot and we were going for something of a record, capturing the less photogenic ends of some of the world’s best-loved species.

baby elephant Kelly Liu

By contrast, Manchester Museum’s baby elephant always presents a demure front.

Lasma Poisa - Baby Elephant


A simples victory for the zoo, one would suppose, since Manchester Museum doesn’t have any meerkats…


Actually that’s a common misconception, you just need to know where to look. (And they cut quite a dash, unlike their feral cousins down the M56.)

Meerkat Mania 3 (2)


Danger DangerThe Unwanted JOb

Enough said.


Chester Zoo is in the process of opening its new islands attraction this summer, where visitors will journey by boat from Coral Sands to Sumatran monsoon forests as tigers lazily pad about the shores whilst overhead a rhinoceros hornbill calls out for a mate.

The Islands Final

Nobody likes a show-off, do they?

OK, even I admit no museum could compete on the whole islands front, so let’s call it a draw and conclude by saying why not visit a zoo and a museum this summer and get the best of both worlds.

And to give you an idea of the attractions you can see at Chester Zoo, here are some fantastic photos taken by the volunteers (many thanks to Brandon Hamer, Patrycja Jurgo, Kelly Liu and Ann Marie Rong for letting me use their best, and not so best, pictures!).

Many thanks also to Lasma and Luke for the museum photos, to Chester Zoo for being brilliant hosts and to the volunteer team for a fab day out.

Written by Louise Thomas

Rachel pringleI first became involved with Manchester Museum in 2007 when I was on a volunteer programme called “InTouch”. One of the new participants in 2008 on this learning program brought in an object to talk about that they didn’t know much about except that even though it looked quite collectable, although they didn’t like it, and so kept hiding it all over the house!

After a bit of research we were able to tell them that it was scrimshaw work, which is carving or engraving that was practised by sailors of whaling ships; whale ivory (teeth), walrus tusk and whalebone were ideally suited for the task as readily available by-products of their industry that were both easy to work with and in plentiful supply. The term originally referred to the making of these tools, only later referring to works of art created by whalers in their spare time. The making of scrimshaws began on whaling ships in 1745 to 1759 and only survived until whaling was banned commercially.

Further research revealed his particular scrimshaw was of a lady called Rachel Pringle.

Rachel Pringle was born around 1753, the daughter of an African female slave and her master, William Lauder. Lauder was a Scottish schoolmaster who fled England in disgrace after he had written and published some attacks on the great, perhaps the greatest, English poet John Milton. Rachel grew up a slave but was afforded liberty  by a sea captain, Thomas Pringle. At this point Rachel dropped the name Lauder and took the name Pringle. Rachel, it seems, could not produce an heir for Thomas Pringle, so Pringle left her. Rachel overcame her adversity, finding another husband, named Polgreen, whose name she then took.

priRachel’s is an inspiring story. Soon she appeared in the records as a property owner. In 1780 further records can be found on Rachel Pringle which showed she owned a hotel and was the first black woman in history to do so. This was not just a hotel, but a prime hotel and in 1786 and 1789 Prince William Henry, later King William IV of England, visited Barbados while serving as a Navel Captain and stayed in Rachel’s hotel. In addition to her hotel, Rachel owned ten properties on Canary Street, now George Street, Barbados. She was renowned in the 18th Century as an hotelier, entertainer of princes and commoners, sailors and soldiers.

Rachel however died at the age of 38, after her death it was recorded she owned several houses, land and 19 slaves, 6 of whom were to be freed from slavery by the terms of her will.

Scrimshaw work can tell a story and often be related to history. Sometimes the work can have high value for as folk art for its primitive look, but most collectors want high detail and a great subject. On some scrimshaws you can find beautiful maidens, couples, portraits, whaling ships, American eagles, political and whaling scenes, home ports or ports visited, and sometimes a tooth is completely covered with intricate stories, some with named places and dates. Surprisingly, most scrimshaw work is not signed.

Written by Shaun Bennett

Further reading

Information about scrimshaws
Biography of Rachel Pringle Polgreen

One of the reasons we love volunteering is because we get to go behind the scenes in the Museum.

Today we volunteered in Entomology with Phil Rispin. Entomology is the study of insects. It sounded very boring but it certainly wasn’t. When entering there is a funny odour which permeates throughout the room, apparently it’s part of the preservation process. The room is lined with old and interesting wooden cabinets and draws that are clearly labelled. These draws hold the third largest insect collection in the UK.

The first drawer we were shown was full of huge beautiful butterflies, these were the “Queen Alexandra Bird Wings” from Papua New Guinnea.  The female is at least six inches long and the largest butterfly species in the world. The male is smaller and more brightly coloured.  Did you know that what gives the colours on butterfly’s wings that look like tiny dust particles are in fact tiny scales? If handling butterflies you have to be very careful as these rub off very easily, exposing the wing’s framework which is transparent.  This can be dangerous for live species in preventing their ability to fly properly as well.

Another insect we saw was the Jewelled Beetle.  Now this is an amazing beetle with an iridescent wing case of purples and greens.  We have found a picture of a dress which was made for an actress playing Lady McBeth in Victorian times.  It has recently been restored and you can see that it is covered with the iridescent wings of this beetle. For those who are worried, the insect naturally shed their wing cases as part of their life cycle, in order to grow.


Another sort of insect shown was the Madagascan Moon Moth, which likes to fly in the day time.

Finally, the edible “Witchiti Grub”, which native Australians consider a delicacy – UGH!  Besides the large collection behind the scenes that we saw a tiny part of today, Manchester Museum has a large collection of insects on show on their galleries, and in the Vivarium where you can spot live beetles scurrying among the frogs and lizards.

So come along, we would love to see you!!

Written by Clare Whittan and Jackie Eaton.

My previous blog introduces the origins of the earth being a molten ball of fire bombarded by meteorites.  It has taken billions of years to calm and cool before any form of life began; for the oceanic and continental crusts to form, for landmasses to clash and crumple up to create our mountains and oceanic rift valleys, for earthquakes and volcanoes to form and reform the landscape, a phenomenon which to this day sometimes catastrophically provide evidence of the colossal molten turbulence below.   A thin layer of crust which has compressed and hardened into rock encases this colossal magma ball.  Billions of years worth of continual layering from life’s detritus still doesn’t detract from the fact it is a veritable peach skin encasing 12,756.32 km (7,926.41 miles) measuring from the equator to the core of violently hot magma. Earth centreThe crust measures just 7 kilometers (4.34 miles) to 48.28032 Kilometres (30 miles) thick.  Slightly shorter through the poles, 7,901 miles (12,715.43 km), gives the earth a very fractionally squashed shape.  I’m not a maths bod at all, but if you’d like to work out the volume using πr2 and whatever else it is to calculate the quantity of earth’s molten fluid, help yourself.  Suffice to say that there are millions of tonnes of magma at temperatures exceeding 5000 degrees and pressures at the core reaching 3.3 million times the atmospheric pressure at the surface. More recent findings since these made 20 years ago now state temperatures here can actually exceed 55000 degrees Celsius, (which is nearly 10,000 Fahrenheit).   That’s hotter than the surface of the sun.  In fact parts can even reach 1000 degrees hotter – something to think about when you’re stuck in traffic.  If this has wetted your appetite, then topics such as earths’ magnetism and avalanches at the Earth’s core might be further topics of interest.  This background however, is in preparation and to help understand the factors behind some of the beautiful rock and mineral formations in the next instalment.

Post by Jennie Trueman

Manchester Museum’s galleries are in a constant cycle of renewal, but none have undergone such a radical transformation in both display and interpretation as ethnography.

For over a century Manchester Museum has opened its doors and invited visitors to explore its collection of extraordinary objects. As the little girl gazes in wonder, pointing at the huge skeleton suspended above, holding her hand, granddad remembers the moment in his childhood, having successfully negotiated the curses of the ancient Egyptian mummies, standing in that very same spot and marvelling for the first time at the huge sperm whale.

Moments like this happen at Manchester Museum every day.

sperm whale

Time moves on and the whale, mummies, and so many others remain alongside popular new additions, not least Stan the T-Rex, yet some objects have not survived time’s test so well. In the early twentieth century the ethnology collection monopolised four of the museum’s galleries, including the entire 1927 extension, yet now it is contained within the one ‘Living Cultures’ gallery, extending in part into the interdisciplinary ‘Manchester Gallery’.


What happened? Other collections have their own ethical challenges—animal rights, display of human remains, authenticity of displaying replicas, etc., so what caused this drive, by both the museum and an increasingly multicultural society, to redisplay and reinterpret the ethnography collection?

In simple terms, anthropology was an academic discipline spawned among the landscape of ground-breaking theories of evolution during the mid-nineteenth century. In this age of imperial European global domination, Western schools of thought used comparisons with indigenous peoples to posit theories of social development from primitive, through savage and barbarous, towards civilisation—placing the ‘primitive’ as something exotic and Other to Western ‘civilisation’. This dialectic has had a lasting influence on science and history, as well as fiction and popular culture.

Further, in many museums there have been concerns that ethnographic objects represent the spoils of empire and are burdened with the guilt of the atrocities of their colonial past. In the post-colonial climate of the late twentieth, this left some museums with often extensive ethnographic collections that no longer rested well with their institution’s vision.

Even in the mid-nineteenth century, collecting was hardly a new thing. As early as the Middle Ages, people of wealth had collected relics as symbols of power, and over time the spectrums of both the collectors and the objects collected broadened to include not just those of religious significance, but also ‘naturalia’—precious stones, shells, tusks and ‘unicorn horns’, and also oddities in jars, like conjoined foetuses; and ‘artificialia’—human-crafted vases, sculptures, coins, scientific instruments, and the exotic objects brought back from Africa, Asia and the Americas. This was the beginning of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’, a concept that encapsulates the wonder of this age at the turn of the seventeenth century. These exotic objects inspired early modern Europeans to question traditional knowledge and move towards new ways of thinking about the world and its objects.


Conceptually, this is not too far removed from today’s museums, and the ways in which visitors are challenged to enter into a dialogue with the world and its cultures.

Along with the morbid intrigue that accompanied Egyptian mummies and ‘monstrous births’, and the phallocentric power symbols of ancient and exotic weapons, Cabinets of Curiosity and early modern museums were often philanthropic, looking to publically exhibit and share their collections as an encyclopaedic knowledge, privileging completism and chronology. Into the mid nineteenth century, this complimented emerging academic disciplines of zoology, botany, numismatics and archaeology, in which things could be named, dated, listed and compartmentalised. In terms of modernity and museum classification, it was arguably the publication of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859 all of a sudden allowed humanity to be likewise studied and labelled.

The consequent rise and development in social and human anthropology, ethnology and ethnography gave increasing currency to collections of objects from indigenous peoples worldwide. It was believed that the observation of ‘savage’ and ‘barbarous’ peoples, through ethnographic research, would help to contextualise archaeological material and further the understanding of how Western society had achieved ‘civilisation’. The resulting drive towards the so-called ‘civilisation’ of indigenous peoples, especially in Africa, was one of the justification narratives used by British and other European imperial forces for their oppressive colonisations.

By the mid-twentieth century, through bequest, donation, exchange and field collection, Manchester Museum had amassed an extensive ethnology collection, including ‘fetish dolls’ and ‘shrunken heads’. Visitors could be reassured of their own civilised ways by looking through the museum’s window onto an altogether different world.


There are many stories, particularly on local online forums for museum memories, from people who remember Manchester at some point having displayed a ‘shrunken head’. Whether or not this was ever the case, this fascination perhaps reveals more about society and popular culture at the time than the display of the tsantsa did about the semi-nomadic Jivaroan or Shuar people of Peru and Ecuador who made and used it.

As the twentieth century moved onwards, thinking became more critical, and museums became more self-aware. There was an increased consciousness in the language used to describe both people and objects, and particularly an increased sensitivity towards the display of human remains. The changes in the ways that humanity is seen and represented, and the laws regarding the storage of human tissue, have had a huge impact on museums that store and display human remains including body parts. This has affected Egyptology, archaeology and ethnography collections alike. Particularly with ethnographic collections, there are numerous instances when this has resulted in repatriations to the physical and cultural descendants, including the high profile ceremony at Manchester Museum in July 2003 in which four skulls were returned to a delegation of Australian Aboriginal elders.


At this time there must have been concerns among museum professionals that this would open the floodgates for disputes in ownership and claims for restitution. By and large this was not the case. It currently seems that access to objects is more important for source communities. Museums with ethnography collections, are meeting this challenge for access in many practical ways, including engaging and collaborating with diverse worldwide communities.

What has this meant for Manchester?

Historically, Ethnology’s shift away from natural history towards archaeology has been connected as much with physical space and staff personalities at Manchester Museum as with intellectual change within anthropology[i]. The Museum’s first curator William Boyd Dawkins, like contemporaries Pitt Rivers and Lubbock, advocated ethnology as a science, with both human remains and artefacts displays as part of the evolutionary process of natural history.


It wasn’t until the appointment of Roderick Urwick Sayce as keeper that there was a significant move of ethnographic collections away from biology. His background was in anthropology and geography, and as elsewhere Bronislaw Malinowski was advocating a disciplinary separation from material culture, it was Sayce who renamed Manchester’s collection ‘Ethnography’, as this best fitted the non-material emphasis and his own links with geography. And it was under James Forde-Johnston in 1969 that there came complete conceptual and physical disciplinary separation of Ethnology from archaeology as well as natural history.

The current ‘Living Cultures’ gallery was conceived by curator George Bankes, whose doctoral thesis was on Moche pottery, with an extensive grounding in fieldwork in Peru. He communicated with both archaeological and anthropological audiences, through direct comparisons with contemporary and archaeological objects.


‘Living Cultures’ was officially opened in October 2003. Bankes intended the gallery to be an ‘object-dense’ exhibition, divided thematically, and that objects should be related to their originating communities. The four main themes of the gallery are ‘Out of Clay’, ‘Weapons and Armour’, ‘Cloth and Clothing’ and ‘Masks and Carvings’.

According to Bankes[ii] there are objects from at least 103 originating communities and this vast number made the involvement of all communities in decisions about how their culture should be represented impossible. His methods of involving source communities included making them aware during fieldwork that objects and photographs were for museum display; a process he used when collecting pottery in Mórrope and Simbilá, and sending images and printed material relating to exhibitions to source communities. It was also Bankes’ intention to include quotations from makers on the gallery information panels in order to give a voice to the originating communities; these however were not included in the final gallery design.

Consultation was made during the design phase with the Museum’s Community Advisory Panel, members of which were able to give additional contextual information to some of the objects intended for display. They were further given a voice by the ‘Rekindle’ project whereby short films were made while they talked about their chosen objects. These films are currently available on interactive screens in the gallery.

Ethnography is a constantly transforming discipline, in which even the language used to describe objects is continually changing. ‘Living Cultures’ went a long way to bring new and divergent narratives out of the museum’s collection. Over a decade on and Manchester Museum is still committed to addressing diverse audiences, and promoting understanding between cultures. Stephen Welsh, the current curator of Living Cultures, works with individuals along with school and community groups who continue to use the collection to explore cultural identity, some of whom have been recorded as a series of short films, titled ‘Collective Conversations’.

Today the museum is still a cabinet, of sorts, it still inspires curiosity in visitors of all ages, and surely there is still a desire to marvel at the extraordinary, but this is done in new ways; reconnecting and collaborating with source communities, and extending this beyond the museum walls and gallery spaces. It is no longer one, unilinear narrative, but a place of shared memories, new stories and collective conversations.

Post by Michelle Scott

[i] Alberti, S.J.M.M. (2006) ‘Culture and Nature: The Place of Anthropology in the Manchester Museum’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 18, Oxford, Museum Ethnographers Group, pp. 7-21.

[ii] Bankes, G. (2006) ‘From Explorers and Encounters to Living Cultures’, Journal of Museum Ethnography, no. 18, Oxford, Museum Ethnographers Group, pp. 23-36.

Easter Island or Rapa Nui, as the islanders call it, is an island in the South Pacific. It is 3700km off the coast of the South American continent and is one of the most geographically isolated, inhabited places on earth. The island was formed 3 million years ago when a huge volcanic cone began to rise up from beneath the sea. Numerous eruptions created the island as we know it today, the last ones being 300,000 years ago. Rapa Nui is on a tectonic plate, but without it there wouldn’t be an island. The Rapanui are believed to have settled there between 300 and 1200 CE and they were of Polynesian origin. The Rapanui speak Spanish but originally they spoke the old form of Rapanui, which is an eastern Polynesian language.

Rapa 1The Rapanui erected stone statues or moai in various places around the island, most facing inland. The statues were erected on stone ceremonial platforms called ahu around the coastline. The moai face inland towards the villages as if watching over the people. Over 800 statues were made on the island. Many of them being carved out of a type of rock called volcanic tuff, and they tend to have large heads and elongated features. The eyes were only put in for ceremonies, when the statues were ‘activated’.

Rapa 2

The Rapanui performed rituals from the moment of birth including when the umbilical cord was cut, the first haircut, first tattoo and coming of age. The most important rituals were associated with death. By invoking the help of the ancestors through the statues the Rapanui believed that their forefather’s spirits would come to their aid when needed.

Rapa Nui’s population may have grown to around 15,000 before the Europeans discovered the island in the 1700’s. During the early 19th century Easter Island became a stopping-off point for whaling ships and other vessels. The Rapanui had little resistance to the diseases that the ships’ crews brought with them. Rats were also introduced by Polynesians, however, there was no known disease associated with them in particular.  In 1862 Peruvian ships involved in what were known as ‘blackbirding’ raids, forced captured islanders to work in South America. The few Rapanui who returned brought with them infectious diseases, which killed a large number of the people that stayed on the island. About a thousand islanders had been taken away for slavery, and the remaining population was devastated by smallpox, which all contributed to the decline of the Rapanui. By the 1870s there were only 111 Rapanui still remaining on the island. The island became part of Chile in 1888 and in 2002 it was reported that the population was around 3,304 inhabitants, almost all living in the village of Hanga Roa on the western coast.

Rapa 5

Post by Shaun Bennett


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