Ulster Museum: world class

Last week I visited the Ulster Museum, Belfast as part of a  Geological Curators’ Group conference.

They have just spent £17.2 million on redesigning their building and transforming their displays, so I had high expectations! For the most part I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve downloaded my images onto Flickr

A stunning open space at the  centre of the building helps orientate the space. Towering at one end is the giant Window on the world display. A steel framework houses some of the stars of the collection form the Triceratops to a Celtic cross. Glass and steel walkways snake around it to give a close view of the objects.

My main interest was the natural history galleries. They have used a stunning mix of modern and fossil organisms to talk about life as a whole which works very well. Too often in museums, we split fossils form modern animals in an arbitrary way which means very little to most visitors. My main criticism was that some of the displays did look a bit like a book on a wall.

The other main thing that worked really well was the use of hands-on discovery centres on each floor. These were permanently staffed and obviously well used.

Other galleries worked less well such as the very traditional bird gallery which didn’t seem to tell any stories and the Troubles gallery which had no objects.

This is a stunning museum, not perfect, but has done a great job of engaging with the visitor and making the best of a relatively limited collection. Well worth a visit. 

The Geological Curators’ Group

The Geological Curators’ Group (GCG) was founded in 1974 and was set up to improve the state and status of geological collections and curation.

Geology at Manchester Museum

Geology at Manchester Museum

In practice this means they provide support to people working with collections through conferences, training, publications and workshops.  It also provides a fantastic network (that anyone can join) for help and advice.

I have been helping run the GCG for the last few years and have found it really useful place to meet people who are doing exciting things with geology collections. GCG’s annual conference is on Monday in Scarborough entitled A new look at old collections. It will be a great opportunity to find out the exciting things other people have been up to and a chance to look round the new Rotunda Museum. I will be giving a talk ‘Inspiring teenagers with geology’ about the A-level geology sessions we have developed.

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