The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy

At the beginning of May, Bryony and myself planned on going up to London for a few days. Before leaving,  I somehow found out about the The Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, probably while researching the recent changes made to The Natural History Museum.

When we were in the area, it took a while to find by foot, but we managed to locate the university building. After walking round a series of corners and an interior flight of stairs, I was amazed at how small a room could house so many specimens!

From a recent essay on science and art:

British biologist Robert Edmond Grant (1793 – 1874), however, is famous not only for his contribution to science through work on sponges and marine invertebrates, but for his influence on Charles Darwin (Ashby 2006: 5). Founded in 1827, the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy was a collection to aid teaching, and exists in that form, open to the public to this day.

‘In London, Grant would continue to teach that species are not fixed; that organisms evolved. At the time, well before Darwin published his work and eventually began to turn the tide of public opinion, this was extremely controversial and even heretical. Grant did not shy away from speaking out on his beliefs and he was caught up in a number of very contentious issues.’

(Ashby 2006: 7)

The museum (only the size of a small classroom) is composed of around 35,000 specimens, all of which survive in a multitude of forms through a variety of preservation techniques. A vast number of them are contained within antique vessels of fluid, but there are also articulated skeletons, taxidermied vertebrates, dried organisms, and even incredibly naturalistic glass models (created by German artist Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolf in the late 19th century).

Concerning one specimen housed in the museum, Byrne and Smith (2003) write (that the jar containing it) ‘…seals and isolates the interior drama of the piece from the circulation and flow of the everyday, quotidian world of objects and materiality.’

Perhaps the same concept could be said to describe Grants whole collection. Today, stepping into the museum is a trip back in time, but as it was in its original period must have been a sanctuary for the ridiculed intellectual. To be surrounded by a lifetime of work, emersed in all of what inspires an individual to persevere is not only admirable, but also desirable.

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~ by Adam Bone on May 22, 2010.

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