How do we make sense of war? A Museum-Whitworth Study Day

On Monday 24th November Manchester Museum hosted our first Museum-Whitworth collaborative study day – ‘Conflict: Making Sense of War‘. The aim of the day was to encourage students to discuss conflict in both the past and present, provide students with an understanding of conflict and stimulate a personal reaction to situations related to collections and artists responses.

The study day was prefaced by a short talk by our Curator of Living Cultures, Stephen Welsh, on the origins of our anthropological collection and some of the links these have to conflict. You can watch that video here.

IMG_0891On the day itself we were lucky to have a selection of students from three different colleges, studying Art, Fashion, History or Politics. After an introductory lecture by Professor Peter Gatrell, from University of Manchester’s School of Arts, Languages and Cultures students were encouraged to interact in various activities designed to get them thinking about how we respond to conflict – looking at art work, museum displays and text – and discuss their own reactions to various scenarios that represented conflict.

The talk by Peter Gatrell was well received, with students asking intelligent and thought-provoking questions. You can watch the entire talk, followed by the Q&A section below, or directly here. It provided students with a glimpse into how artists can interpret the facets of war and the discussions these pieces can produce – inclusive of the building of war memorials and the message they convey.

The afternoon session was shared by an external partner – In Place of War; an initiative that supports artists and creative communities living in sites of war, revolution and conflict to express themselves. Inés Soria-Donlan, Digital Manager for In Place of War, presented the idea of cultural activism through the arts as a way of responding to conflict. It was our colleagues from In Place of War that introduced us to our creative artist that led the final activity – Jun Tzu.

Jun Tzu – aka Jonathan Hamilton – is a Belfast born poet who has lived in Manchester since he was a teenager and writes material that deals directly with his experiences, many of which are linked with the history of conflict in Northern Ireland. He often uses his poetry to create rap and hip-hop songs, and recently brought out his debut album in 2014.

During the study day he was able to share his – and his family’s – experiences with the students and they engaged readily with his knowledge and position, benefiting from the direct and open approach Jun has. As an activity Jun asked each of the students to write a poem, supporting them with an approach he often uses as a starting point for his work. The students then performed these, demonstrating the mature and often complex responses to conflict that the day had stimulated. A few of which are shared below.

At the end of the day some of the comments we received about the day were really positive, see below.

[It was]…”Extremely beneficial – I learnt different views on certain aspects of conflict”

“Helpful – as [my view] was changed by listening to other people’s”

“Deeper discussions and questions – felt like we were only ever scratching the surface”

Students believed their analytical, critical thinking and writing skills all developed during the day and it prompted a number of questions that the students took away with them to continue discussions on the topic of conflict.

Does war create more beautiful art than peace?
Why is art so persistent in remaining through war?
Which information do we need to have to know what is really happening during a [conflict] event?
Can conflict ever be justified?
Is war really worth it?
Is propaganda the result of war?

All in all, it was a very successful day that we believe achieved all the aims we set out and encouraged those involved to express – and develop – their views about conflict given the significance of the centenary of World War War I this year. As a result, we hope to host another similar day in the Summer Term 2015.

If you would like to be informed of this date once it is set, please email to be put on our Post-16 mailing list.

Nature Discovery gallery for Under 5’s is now open!

At Manchester Museum, we have been redeveloping our Nature Discovery gallery as an imaginative space that encourages young children to lead their adults through an object rich exploration of the natural world. Young children will be able to search for creatures, create fantastical stories based on the natural world and immerse themselves in a series of habitats.

‘The Den’ provides a cosy reading area, with animals playfully hiding around the tree trunks.

‘The Meadow’ is full of light and colour, with plants, butterflies, insects and underground animals for children to find.

‘The Treetops’ showcases a variety of birds from our collection for children to spot.

‘The Forest’ is a beautiful and enchanting 3D paper ‘story book’ art installation, developed in collaboration with artist Helen Musselwhite. Between the paper cut trees, children and their adults can glimpse a variety of animals, from small insects to large creatures, highlighting the beauty and diversity of the natural world.

In 2015 we will be using the gallery to continue to develop our programmes for young children and their families, including Baby Explorers, Magic carpet and our Big Saturday family programmes. There will also be an opportunity to develop new programmes for Nursery, Reception and Y1 classes visiting the museum and to offer professional development sessions for teachers to explore the new space in order to plan their own visits.
Please check our Early Years page for updates in January.

Elaine Bates

Early Years coordinator

Cultural Ambassadors visit from Medlock Primary School

On Friday 5th December we had a wonderful group of children from Medlock Primary School. The children were given the fabulous title of Cultural Ambassadors for their school and consisted of a mix group from year one up to year 6. This was a really successful day; they worked together brilliantly, really supporting one another and listening to each others ideas and opinions. The children were challenged to find a ‘Top Ten’ object list from the collection on display across the whole Museum. The children took some amazing photographs, shown below, of the objects that most interested them. They articulated themselves wonderfully, explaining why they had selected the object that they had and why it was worthy of being in their ‘Top Ten!’

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The group then also had a sneak peek behind the scenes over in our conservation department where they amazed us all by how well they took to the process of cleaning one of the Museum’s objects (soon to go on display.) As the group cleaned the plaster cast of a slab from the Nereid Monument they picked up the skills required to make a ‘swab’ which was a tricky set of skills to perfect but the group managed it really well and by the end of their time in conservation they had perfected some really great swabs that were very effective at cleaning the cast, definitely some future conservators in the making!

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We hope to welcome back this group of cultural ambassadors early in 2015.

Well done to everyone who took part!

Join The Natural History Museum’s Microverse project


The Natural History Museum are looking for secondary schools across the UK to collaborate with them on cutting-edge genetic research.

Perfect for A-Level Biology classes or equivalent, The Microverse aims to discover and better understand microorganisms that survive in extreme urban environments.

The project explores buildings as habitats where microorganisms have little access to nutrients, experience both wet and dry conditions, and can be exposed to high levels of pollution.

Schools will collect microorganisms from a local building and send them to the Natural History Museum for DNA analysis.

All participating schools will receive a free pack that includes:

  • full instructions
  • all the equipment you need to take part
  • suggested lesson plans and supporting resources
  • a results report once the samples have been DNA sequenced

Visit The Microverse page on the Natural History Museum’s website to sign-up for this fantastic citizen science project.


VIP Cultural Explorers visit Manchester Museum

Today Year 5 pupils from Buglawton Primary School in Cheshire became one of the first schools to visit Manchester Museum as part of our new Cultural Access Programme.

The children were invited as part of our pledge through the CAP to reach out to new schools and entice more young people to connect with The University of Manchester’s Cultural Institutions; Manchester Museum, The John Rylands Library, Jodrell Bank and The Whitworth.


The children were fantastic investigators and relished the opportunity to handle real ancient Egyptian objects!

We hope the children will return to any of the 4 cultural institutions that are part of The University of Manchester and claim their VIP incentive too!

Well done to all the children at Buglawton Primary School, we hope to see you all again soon.


Exploring frogs with physics!

Last week we were very excited to run our annual ‘Frogs and Physics’ A level study days, which are part of our ‘Engage with the Experts‘ series. These days give A level students a chance to meet current researchers and experts to see how their passion for a subject could lead to cutting edge research.

Museum specimens showing colour adaptations





We started the day by considering why colour is important in nature. This was provoked by a range of beautiful entomology specimens displaying colour adaptations from Manchester Museum’s collection.

Colour adaptations spotted on our Live Animal gallery



The students then explored our Live Animal gallery, where a large variety of amphibians and reptiles are on display, to spot living examples of these colour adaptations. The gallery also contains a window showing some of the behind-the-scene conservation work in which the Museum is involved. Including breeding tanks of endangered Lemur Leaf frogs.


Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology, The Manchester Museum

Andrew Gray, Curator of Herpetology

During our first expert talk of the day, by our Curator of Herpetology, Andrew Gray, one of our red-eyed leaf frogs made an appearance to show off its impressive bright colouration. Andrew explained that amphibians in the wild are under threat due to a range of factors, such as a deadly skin fungus and climate change. He stressed how effective it can be when experts from a range of disciplines work together to tackle the large issues surrounding endangered animal conservation.

Mark Dickinson, from the Photon Science Institute at The University, explores the physics of colour

Mark Dickinson, from the Photon Science Institute



The current research being conducted by Andrew and Mark Dickinson, from the Photo Science Institute at The University of Manchester, is a brilliant example of this type of collaborative working.

In his talk, Mark explored the physics behind colour and explained how physics can help investigate the pigments within the skin of frogs.


The students got to investigat the physical properties of the frogs skin using non-invasive physics equipment

Using non-invasive physics equipment


In the afternoon the students visited the Photon Science Institute. They had the chance to see what a physics lab looks like and to use hi-tech spectrometers, infra-red cameras, and thermal imaging equipment.


Example of student comments from the days:

It was good to have the experts talk to us about their work, I also enjoyed using the equipment and looking at the equipment whilst walking through the lab’

‘Fantastic day!’

‘Thanks to staff and University students for taking the time to help’

If you would like to learn more about the conservation work Manchester Museum is involved with please visit Frog Blog Manchester 


Making a Good Impression with Roman Inscriptions


Great post on our activity with Widening Participation – who organised this Latin Study Day in collaboration with Andy Fear from the University of Manchester’s Department of Classics and Ancient History.
We had a great time and the students got a chance to try out their Latin skills on genuine objects in our gallery too!

Originally posted on Ancient Worlds:

Just got back exhausted but exhilarated from a really successful teaching session about Roman inscriptions with a class of children from both Manchester Grammar School and a Blue Coat School studying Latin and/or Classical Civilisation. The session was led by Dr Andrew Fear from University of Manchester Department of Classics. The idea was to engage schoolchildren with Roman material to help them with their studies and to encourage them to maintain an interest in things Classical.

Earlier this afternoon we divided the class into two groups and one half looked at making impressions from Roman inscriptions using the cliche mould or ‘wet squeeze’ method and the other studied some Roman coins that our Numismatist Keith Sugden had got out in advance for them.

sestertius of Trajan  (AD 98-117 ) obverse

sestertius of Trajan (AD 98-117 ) obverse

The cliche mould technique involves placing a sheet of blotting paper over an inscription and using a stiff brush to push…

View original 534 more words

School Network Choir performs as part of the fabulous ‘Wonderstruck’ event!

The Wonderful Network Choir sing in front of Stan

The Wonderful Network Choir sing by Stan the T-Rex.

On Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th November Manchester Museum hosted a weekend of wonderful musical surprises popping up all over the building. Choirs from across Manchester joined forces with artists Daniel Bye, Sarah Punshon and Boff Whalley to create live performance and original songs inspired by the Museum’s collections. The fantastic children who form part of a local schools network choir sang their hearts out on our Fossils gallery by Stan, the T-Rex, culminating with all the choirs coming together for a grand finale in our Living Worlds Gallery.

This was a really special event that created a very exciting atmosphere throughout the museum all weekend. Many people noted how lovely it was to think about the collections in a new light and how it felt really wonderful to see live performance in this fantastic building.

I wanted to say a huge thank you to all the choirs who helped to create such a special experience for all the museums visitors, and a great big Well Done! to all the children and their families for taking time out of their precious weekends to take part and support this event, thank you.

What a really great weekend of musical surprises,


Grand Finale in Living Worlds, fantastic!

Grand Finale in Living Worlds, fantastic!

The North West Schools Science Competition

There is still time to enter the brilliant Science Competition run by the North West Business Leadership Team. Year 7 and 8 students get the chance to win an iPad Mini (and cash for their school) by submitting an email to on “Why I want to be a Scientist” in no more than 500 words. The closing date for entries is 6th November 2014.

Good luck to all students entering!NWBLT Science Competition

Exploring animals and their habitats with Year 4 children.

This week we had a wonderful visit from a year 4 class at Lower Place Primary School in Rochdale. They were avid explorers on our Natures Library gallery and in our revamped Vivarium space. We loved having you here Lower Place Primary School.

The children were fascinated by the wondrous variety of life and started to focus in on the key features that allow a variety of animals to survive, hunt for food and protect themselves from attack in their natural habitats.

Back in the discovery centre the children worked on creating their own animal by selecting which features their animal would need in order to survive in one of the 3 layers of the rainforest; forest floor, canopy or emergent layer. It was fascinating to see their ideas develop.

A collection of animals that gathered the best responses from the year 4 children are shown here. I think you’ll agree they are pretty amazing.

Can you spot the Frogs amongst the cleverly camouflaged coatings of their skin? Can you identify the features on the sloth that help it to cling on? How is the turtle’s shell useful to offer it protection?

If you would like to learn more about animals and their habitats please do look at the ‘Habitats and You’ session on our website using the link below.

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