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The Antarctic Cataloguing Project is drawing to a close…

Monday, October 31st, 2016

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The Antarctic Cataloguing Project will be coming to an end in less than two weeks, and so will my time at the Polar Museum. I can’t believe how quickly the two years have flown by!

The project set out to create a fully researched and illustrated online catalogue all of the Antarctic objects in the museum’s collection. This involved describing, measuring, photographing and condition-assessing each object in the collection, and conducting research to find out more about the objects, the people who used them and the expeditions they were used on. The project also aimed to cross-reference the objects in the museum with material in the Archives and Picture Library at SPRI (e.g. if we have Scott’s goggles, have we got a photo of him wearing them or a diary entry where he refers to them?), and with comparable objects in other national and international collections, and to embed the resultant information in the catalogue itself. Quite a lot of work for one person in two years! Needless to say, I felt somewhat daunted by the task when I started in November 2014…

I spent the first three-four months of the project developing cataloguing guidelines and a consistent structure for the catalogue records which would work for any object in the museum (be it Arctic or Antarctic, modern or historical, object or artwork) and which would also correspond with the Picture Library and Archive catalogues where possible. I also did extensive work to cross-reference the different keyword and classification systems already used in the Museum, Picture Library and Archive catalogues to create standardised and structured systems and develop controlled termlists where possible. (I’m a bit of a cataloguing geek so this job was perfect for me!) Details of this work will be available on the project page on the museum website.

It wasn’t until February 2015 that I was ready to start looking at the objects – and since then I’ve looked at every single Antarctic object in the collection (about 2400 items) and have produced detailed catalogue records in the new consistent structure for each, with neat descriptions and new photos. These are now available on the online catalogue, and I’m really hoping that we’ll be able to add an advanced search on the website in the coming weeks.

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The Antarctic catalogue is available at www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/catalogue

A team of volunteers has worked on a parallel project to draw together existing biographical information about expeditions and expedition members to create biographical catalogue records for them. These will form a shared resource between the Museum, Archive and Picture Library and we’re hoping that these will become available online in due course – so if you’re looking at an object belonging to Scott, you’ll be able to click on his name and it will bring up his biography. I’ve also had the assistance of an absolutely brilliant volunteer who has done extensive research on some of the lesser known Antarctic expeditions, and also on the manufacturers of objects in the collection.

In addition to all of this (because I didn’t have enough to do!), we’ve been busy making five short films about life in the Antarctic on the themes of clothing, transport, food, navigation and science. Each film features objects from the Polar Museum, interviews with guest contributors talking about their experiences in the Antarctic, and historic and modern photographs. Look out for a blog post on these in the near future.

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I’m really going to miss the Polar Museum and SPRI, but it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable two years and I’m really pleased to have ‘completed’ the catalogue (in as much as cataloguing work is ever complete). My biggest sense of achievement comes from having photographed the sledges over three very hot days in August. Many of the sledges are stored on the top shelves of our very small ‘large objects’ store and I had not-so-secretly been hoping that we would run out of time before we had the chance to photograph them. It was utterly exhausting and quite nerve-wracking at times, but it’s brilliant to know that they’re done.

I’d like to say an enormous thank you to everyone at the Polar Museum, particularly to Sophie and Christina for all of the condition assessing, to Chris and Tom at the Department of Biochemistry for all of the photography, and to all of the volunteers who’ve helped on the project.

Greta

 

Top polar reads: what do you recommend?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

I’ve been the curator of the Polar Museum for a little over a month, and unsurprisingly the learning curve has been steep! As well as getting to grips with the running of the museum and all the practicalities that come with that, I’m trying to very quickly get up to speed with the history of the polar regions.

I asked twitter for some reading recommendations. I’ve ended up with a list that combines a combination of quick-hit short articles, about all sorts of things ranging from an unusual form of ‘cold turkey’ to polar aviation (thanks to @lizbruton and @dannybirchall), and some fascinating sounding books that I’ll work my way through over time, like @gabridli’s suggestion of The Idea of the North. I’d love to know what you would recommend, so get in touch with us and we’ll share your favourite polar reads.

The first book I’m reading is Michael Smith’s Polar Crusader: A Life of Sir James Wordie. Wordie was a geologist, and in 1914 he joined Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic on board the ship Endurance. Here at the museum we’re marking the expedition with By Endurance We Conquer’, our current exhibition. It relates the astonishing journey that expedition members undertook for survival after Endurance was crushed by the ice in Antarctica on 21 November 1914. Given the drama and heroism of that tale, it might seem strange that I haven’t leapt straight in with Shackleton’s own book SouthWith my background in the history of science I’m intrigued to learn how much scientific research and data gathering Wordie was able to do on the trip. One striking thing is that so much useful scientific material survived the expedition given the extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Tell us about your top polar reads by getting in touch with us on twitter @polarmuseum, commenting on our Facebook page or using the hashtag #polarreads.

First steps: welcome to our new Curator

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Last week, we said hello to our new Curator, Charlotte Connelly. Charlotte joined us from just down the road, where she is researching the history of electrical science at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Before that, she worked as a curator at the Science Museum, including as a content developer for the Information Age gallery that opened last year. Charlotte’s background is in the history and philosophy of science, and she has particular interests in the history of polar science, the use of historic reconstructions for understanding scientific ideas and processes, and visitor participation in museums.

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“Excitement, trepidation, a few nerves – the start of any new adventure is always going to come wrapped up in a few emotions. This week I started my new job as curator of the Polar Museum, and those thoughts were sloshing around my mind as I took tour of the museum and considered the even greater expectations and risks that intrepid polar explorers faced as they set out on their long expeditions. Becoming the museum’s curator is far less risky, but certainly comes with its own challenges. I’m looking forward to getting to know the collections, and all the people who care for and about them – from volunteers to visitors, and museum staff to scientific researchers.”

Charlotte