Summer holidays means it’s a really busy time for our sites and there’s so much going on at all our museums – something for the whole family so if you’ve visiting one of our seven museums, I do hope you all enjoy a great experience over the next few weeks.
I spent last week up in north Wales and visited the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh for a few days. Amgueddfa Cymru has a stand at the Eisteddfod every year and it’s a great to engage with people and tell them what our sites have to offer. There was a different theme every day of the week and when I was there on Monday the focus was Neanderthal Wales. The connection is that the Pontnewydd and Elwy Valley Caves are in Denbighshire and were the focus of museum excavations years ago. Then on Tuesday we celebrated the artist John Piper and explorer Charles Darwin both of whom were very inspired by Dyffryn Clwyd. It was good to enjoy the cultural festival, meet new people and see some of our heritage partners.
Whilst I was up in north Wales, I also had a chance to visit our National Slate Museum in Llanberis in Snowdonia where I joined Dafydd Roberts and the team there in welcoming Baroness Kay Andrews. Baroness Andrews, who grew up in Tredegar, has just stepped down as Chair of English Heritage, and has now been commissioned by the Welsh Government to write a report by January 2014 on how the cultural sector in Wales can work together more effectively to address poverty.
At Llanberis currently there’s a new exhibition which showcases the life's work of artist Falcon Hildred, documenting the industrial landscapes and buildings of England and Wales. The exhibition, a partnership between the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust Limited, has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
I also went over to Wrexham for the opening of the exhibition of the Mold Gold Cape at Wrexham Museum. They certainly know their Bronze Age artefacts in the area and they’ve done a spectacular job of the exhibition. It’s well worth going to see if you’re in the area.
After a busy week which really tired me out, I have been relaxing by watching Ken Loach's film, The Spirit of '45. Perhaps relaxing is the wrong word to use in response to a powerfully argued and moving tribute to the achievements of the Attlee government, and footage of the slum conditions of pre-War Britain that shows why such changes were so necessary.
Mughal India Wall Hangings
We are onto our fourth activity of the holidays, this one is linked to the brand new exhibition of paintings and drawings from India collected by the artisit Howard Hodgkins. The pictures are amazing, with so much minute detail and colour, something that our younger visitors have really been appreciating. So many great wall hangings have been created by our talented visitors this week, here are a few!
Museum Education in Wales
Since the late 1990s, when the report ‘A Common Wealth’ argued that museum education needed more resources and a higher profile, there has been a shift within museums. Education is now viewed central to the role of museums and integrated into everything museums do. Museums have always been spaces of scholarship, and there is a clear link between scholarship and education. The purpose of museum education has to be to enhance the ability of visitors to understand and appreciate museum collections.
The new emphasis on learning in museums mainly comes from a change in philosophy within the museum sector, but it is also driven by funders such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, who encourage applicants to include specific learning elements within their projects. It is surely not a coincidence that the Clore Duffield Foundation has funded dozens of Learning Spaces in the past 15 years.
Local context of big concepts
The purpose of the ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project is to lead the way in the implementation of the Distributed National Collection in Wales. This, very much in line with the modern way of viewing museum education, naturally includes a symbiotic relationship with learning. One important way of using museum collections is to integrate them into the school curriculum. Schools should be able to use their local museum as a resource to support their teaching.
In Wales it has recently been proposed to modify the Cwricwlwm Cymreig, and to integrate the Welsh dimension into every subject taught in schools, not only History. In the centenary of the death of Alfred Russell Wallace, who was instrumental in developing the concept of Evolution to explain the diversity of life, schools up and down Wales ought to be able to call on museums for local examples. This local distinctiveness is important in a cultural context; it can also be used as a teaching aid, and this is where the potential of the Cwricwlwm Cymreig lies as a useful integration in the National Curriculum.
There are many positive local examples to illustrate the wider context, for instance Wallace (who was born in Llanbadoc), the naturalist Edward Lhuyd (or Llwyd, after whom the Snowdon lily is named, as well as the Welsh natural history organization Cymdeithas Edward Llwyd), Arthur Trueman's work on Coal Measure stratigraphy, T.N. George's contributions to Welsh geology, geneticist Steve Jones, Bill Frost's 'flying machine', etc. The work of these pioneers could be used to illustrate the subject and make it meaningful at local school level, as well as their personalities heralded as positive local role models.
The Welsh Museums Federation, through the ‘Linking Collections’ project, will develop education resources for schools specifically linked to examples in local museums. These will be available online to teachers. Our aspiration is to create digital and web based resources, derived from museums, which are so easy to use, comprehensive and fascinating that they find a place at the heart of education.
Of course, while museums support formal learning, they can do much more than that and the educational activities of museums should not be limited to the school curriculum. Museums provide experiences and opportunities that many people lack; they stimulate discussion and debate; and they provoke responses ranging from joy and pleasure ('I have never seen that before') to disbelief and doubt ('I don't believe it and you have got to work hard to convince me that it's true'). All of this contributes to both our intellectual and emotional education and development and enhances our lexicon of experiences. And because we know that the habits of museum visitation are formed early in life and passed down from generation to generation, schools are ideally placed to support sustainable numbers of museum visits, and hence the focus on the school curriculum by the ‘Linking Natural Science Collections in Wales’ project.
Fish for Life
This summer is whizzing by, we are already on week 3 of our busy programme of family activities here in the Clore Discovery Centre. This week we have been making beautiful fish kites to promote the diversity in our seas and oceans. We've been finding out more about sustainable fishing and thinking more about the choices we can make when we buy fish to eat. Some great work has been produced and here are some examples.
We have a great team of volunteers helping us with these activities, the last picture shows some of them hard at work helping to prepare materials for our workshop.
Barents Blog 3: The work has begun.
After waiting for 36 hours we finally left port and headed north to the Barents Sea. The sea is incredibly calm  and now we are here it is also a strange shade of pale blue, not at all what I expected. All the time we are accompanied by fulmars, sitting in the water on our lee side  .
We have started at the northerly end of our transect around 72.5°N. At each station we carry out a video survey of the area using a trifid like camera array called the CAMPOD  . It is seen here being brought back into the hangar after its trip just above the sea bed. Inside the control room  the operators log all biological and geological features visible on the video displays. Sitting on the right Gjertrude controls the camera while Geno enters data into the log, behind on the computer is Valerie, one of the geologists, who notes the sediment types and out of sight but to the left is the winch-man who makes sure the array does not crash into the sea floor! The sea bed is rather featureless here, an expanse of mud with few animals visible. Too much of this mud was about to appear on deck.
One of the sampling gears is a 3m Beam Trawl, designed to skim over the surface of the sea floor catching the larger "megafauna" including fish. As you can see from the discoloured sea, swollen net and mud on deck it acted more like a dredge than a trawl [5, 6] . The 'mud-larks' (Torjuis, Gjertrude & Anne Helene) get stuck in and are soon satisfied with their work  . Cruise leader Lys accounts that none is missing and Geno contemplates having to sort the animals from the mud  .
I quite like mud. It usually results in bivalves and I was not disappointed. The large Arctic cockle  is the most obvious but most common were, sorry for Latin names, Bathyarca glacialis  and Astarte sulcata  . Among the other ten, I got two of the species I had come for, over fifty specimens of Mendicula and twenty of Thyasira. You can look at my web site if you want to see more http://naturalhistory.museumwales.ac.uk/britishbivalves/. Perhaps the most appealing are these cushion stars  while the sponge is positively weird  . The cushion stars are apparently the favoured food of the king crab  . The giant was introduced into the region from the north Pacific by Russian fishermen who hoped to make their fortunes but it is turning into an environmental disaster as these voracious predators destroy everything in their advance down the coast of Norway.
No blog days
This happens on research cruises, some vital piece of gear is not working and as usual it has something to do with electronics on the remote camera array CAMPOD. So we are still in Tromsø! 
Talking of small cogs  in big wheels there was also a problem with one of the winches yesterday, but that is sorted.
A reminder that my ship  the "GO Sars" was named after the very famous Norwegian marine biologist who specialised in crustacean and molluscs, his books are still used to this day and are in the Museum's zoology library.
Also in Tromsø are two other research ships the older Norwegian "Hakon Moseby"  named after a Norwegian oceanographer and meteorologist and the massive German "Maria S Merian"  . This ship was named after Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) a naturalist and illustrator [6 & 7] . See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Sybilla_Merian for an account of this gifted lady pioneer who went to Surinam.
The sun is still shining in Tromsø and we have been informed that we sail around 01.00hrs.
Its now 07.30, breakfast time and we are leaving a cloudy Norway behind . If you want to see where we are minute by minute you can see our position on the marinetraffic website
We should be at our first sampling station in 22hrs.
Day 1: Waiting for the ship in Tromsø; Two museums in one day – too much?
Tromsø University Museum  was established in the 1870s, it covers both regional natural history and culture. Small zoology and geology galleries explore northern Norway including an artificial aurora borealis machine (terella) . Zoology is represented by a series of dioramas with a rather familiar sea-bird cliff . There is content on human influences on nature including a view of what the local landscape (including flamingos and parakeets) might look like following climate change .
Geology has more content, not surprising with the rugged exposed landscapes up here. I thought the section on building stones was well done with a montage of polished stones  and a display of local slates . They are very proud of their 10 metre ichthyosaur from Svalbard. No photo here as the reflection in the glass protection is impossible to resolve. Curator Elsebeth Thomsen tells me that the whole gallery will be refurbished soon with walk-over glass for the ichthyosaur.
Much more challenging was 'Metopa' in the Polarmuseet . This exhibition  shows the research work of one of my sea-going colleagues Anne Helene Tanberg seen here on the left at the opening . Metopa is the Latin name of the genus of amphipods that Anne Helene has been studying for a number of years now. The most familiar of the amphipods are the sandhoppers we find on our beaches but Metopa are small cold-water species. In this 28 panel show we are introduced to the morphology, classification and ecology of amphipods and how Anne Helene collects and studies them. For you museologists out there this is a challenging project as the content may not be seen as being for family audience. But Anne Helene has had positive feedback from visitors and school groups including kindergarten. The panels are attractive with excellent photographs of living amphipods  as well as reproductions  from the classic work of 1894 by the Norwegian Georg Ossian Sars, to whom the research ship has been dedicated. I have included some images of the texts [12, 13, 14], so you can debate among yourselves on the style and content. The panels are supported by a case filled with part of her collection and an epibenthic sledge  used to collect amphipods from the ocean floor. Anne Helene has also had workshop days when she has worked in the gallery .
Would this work in Cardiff? I don't know. Here people live much closer to nature, most children will have spent some time messing on the shore and the sea is an intimate part of most peoples' lives.
Celebrating the tercentenary of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792)
In 2013 the tercentenary of the birth of the Third Earl of Bute is being celebrated across Britain with a series of events and new publications. Curators from Amgueddfa Cymru have contributed to a special publication published by Friends of the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, at one of Bute’s former residencies. Maureen Lazarus will also give a lecture at Luton Hoo in the autumn.
Bute was a powerful figure in eighteenth century Britain, both as a politician and as a botanist. He was a friend and confidante of George III who encouraged him to become a politician. In May 1762 he became Prime Minister. However, Bute proved an unpopular leader. Bishop Warburton wrote at the time “Lord Bute is a very unfit man to be Prime Minister of England, first, he is a Scotchman; secondly, he is the King’s friend; and thirdly he is an honest man.”
After a year of political turmoil and dissention, Bute resigned his post. He retired from public life to his house at Highcliffe in Hampshire with his vast botanical library. Here he rekindled his former enthusiasm for botany. Bute worked on several botanical publications and was strongly influenced by the renowned Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. Bute’s best known publication is entitled Botanical Tables containing the different familys of British Plants distinguished by a few obvious parts of Fructification rang’d in a Synoptical method (1785). Its aim is to explain the principles of Linnaeus’s new and controversial taxonomic system. Angueddfa Cymru is fortunate to own a complete set of this rare and exquisite publication.
John Miller (1715-1790) became the main artist of the Botanical tables, a huge task of over 600 illustrations detailing the sexual organs and their number to comply with the Linnaean system. The volumes cover the whole range of plant life from mosses, lichens and seaweeds to fungi and grasses, flowers and trees. Twelve copies of the Tables (each consisting of 9 volumes) were printed by Lord Bute at his own expense at a cost of £1,000.
In his retirement, Bute was quite isolated. He was closer to European rather than British botanists, perhaps partly as a result of his travels on the continent but probably partly due to his unpopularity in Britain. Curiously, he was never elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London or of the Society of Antiquaries, something which his role as a patron alone ought to have virtually assured him. In spite of this rejection, botany was, no doubt, a satisfying way for him to spend his time in later life in order to avoid the melancholy he referred to in the introduction to Botanical tables.
Bute was particularly keen to explain the taxonomic system to women since he felt that this “delightful part of nature” was peculiarly suited to the attention of the fair sex. Botany, under their protection, would soon become a fashionable amusement. True to this aim Bute presented seven out of the ten copies to women including Queen Charlotte and Catherine II, Empress of Russia.
In 1994 Amgueddfa Cymru acquired a complete copy of the Botanical tables. The curators of the collection, as part of their background research, decided to trace all 12 copies. So far ten sets have been traced, seven of which can be identified with their original recipients. Full details of this project may be found in this paper; Lazarus, M.H. and Pardoe, H.S. (2009) Bute’s Botanical tables: dictated by Nature. Archives of natural history 36 (2): 277–298.
Heather Pardoe and Maureen Lazarus
week one of summer 2013
It hasn't been our busiest week in terms of numbers but I can't blame our visitors for wanting to make the most of the lovely weather. Not being as frantic as we often are has meant that families have been able to spend a long time engaging with some lovely handling objects and learnt a lot about Bronze Age design. I have been tweeting pictures of people's creations every day, but here are two photos from the week.
Tomorrow we change activities to look at and make our own Bronze Age shields.
Also I wanted to mention a very exciting family treasure hunt we are running throughout the museum during the school holidays. Cardiff Bay Rotary Club have kindly donated some book tokens as prizes. Come and see us for more information.
Have a nice weekend
More Excting Summer Activities
So the weather forecast is predicting rain next week which is fine as we have plenty going on at National Museum Cardiff throughout the school holidays.
Starting tomorrow and continuing on Sun 21st, Wednesday 24th, Thursday 25th and Friday 26th staff from the Clore Discovery Centre will be running noisy dinosaur workshops based on our newly published children's story book 'Albie the Adventurer'. The book was written by me (Grace Todd) and illustrated by local illustrator and designer Caroline Duffy (google her, she is great)
The workshops will be running at 11am, 1pm and 3pm on the days listed and can be booked at the front desk. They will be loud and lots of fun!
Hopefully see you there.