LONDON'S FIRST CANBINET OF CURIOSITIES

OutHere-LDN-Grant-1100-11

UCL's Grant Museum is a relic to colonialism's sinister interest in the unknown. 

In Renaissance Europe, proto-museums began to appear across the continent. The further Europeans explored, colonised and exploited the rest of the world, the more objects they encountered. Most of the time these encounters with the unknown would result in the object in question being killed/trapped/stolen/bought and brought back to Europe. They would then be stored and displayed in Cabinets of Curiosity ­– the precursor to what we now call a museum.

As collecting pushed beyond a simple hobby for aristocrats, it became an important tool and initiated the advent of the biological sciences as we know them. It became embedded in the British education sector, with most major universities providing a dedicated museum and collection for student research.

The Grant Museum is the only remaining zoological museum solely for educational use in London. It is part of University College London and contains specimens from the entire animal kingdom dating back to the early 19th Century. The collection contains a huge variety of objects including freeze-dried, fluid-preserved, pinned entomology and skeletal specimens. Only 7% of the collection is on display but it is clear that many of the items were collected and displayed as oddities.