My first post-Covid 19 visit to The Hunterian: Reflections of a student guide

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A student post from Julian Quinault, Hunterian MuSE guide.

Introduction by Hunterian Education Manager, Ruth Fletcher.

In March this year, our most recent recruits to the MuSE programme (Museum Student Educators) were just beginning to try out their recently learned tour material.  Some of them had not even given their first tour when lockdown was announced.  In the subsequent months a number of the guides have helped us immensely by turning their enthusiasm to online engagement, mainly via #HunterianTour on social media. Some kept involved by contributed to this blog, such as Julian Quinault, author of last month’s article on the Antonine Wall. Julian was thrilled to hear of the museum’s reopening and wanted to share the experience of her return trip.

Museums, like many other places of business and entertainment have luckily reopened, with measures for the balance of public safety and allowing access to the culture, art and history. Following my first visit since the reopening, I can say from my experience that the new measures will not dominate your visit. Moreover, having had the experience of ‘visiting’ the collections and exhibits online, I have really enjoyed the chance to revisit the physical displays in the museum setting.

The system is simple and very easy- to- follow. Ticketed entrance is booked online for one- hour slots, a one-way system and two- metre distancing is directed by arrows on the floor and the wearing of masks or face coverings is advised. The communication to all potential visitors is excellent: complete assurance of understanding of the new regulations and what was expected. As an example, as I booked my timed ticket I was asked to agree to adhere to the measures for my, other guests and staff safety.      

The Hunterian’s varied collections, from the Roman remains of the Antonine Wall to the 20th Century and Medical teaching and resources, are all now accessible for the public to view. The collections cover a huge time frame and span the disciplines of humanities and Natural and life sciences. It is a collection that began with William Hunter’s original bequest over 200 years ago (the museum opened in 1807) and has continued to develop since then.

One particular treat of the visit was to see some of the exhibits either placed back on show after a period of absence or being displayed for the first time. Firstly, the Chinese Map (GLAMH:E.289). The incredibly rare map displays the two hemispheres of the world and was designed for the Chinese Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) by the Jesuit Father Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-88). Printed from woodblocks, the Verbiest map provides information on the size, climate, landforms, customs and history of various parts of the world, perhaps the cause of the detail on natural phenomena such as eclipses and earthquakes. Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America is also discussed and is one of the earliest known examples to reach Europe directly from Beijing! The map was away because of its inclusion in the exhibition ‘William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum’, which was first shown in The Hunterian Art Gallery in 2018 and then travelled to Yale University, New Haven, USA.

Two hemispheres of the Chinese Map

Secondly, a Horned Screamer (GLAHM:Z484), which was in the same exhibition, has returned to its former home in the museum’s entrance hall. This specimen from French Guiana is the only surviving mounted bird from William Hunter’s original collection.

Hunter’s Horned Screamer

Thirdly, there was something new on display: a scientific apparatus for the determination of Ohm. The apparatus (GLAM:113570) is the newest addition to the display of the apparatus and patented inventions of Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin). Although this display focuses on Kelvin, it does so with reference to his 19th century contemporaries including Hermann von Helmholz and James Joule. Material from the 20th century includes items associated with the chemist Frederick Soddy (Father of Isotopes) and a large group of mechanical or electronic calculators.

Ohm apparatus

While the museum was closed, The Hunterian’s continued comprehensive presence online via hashtags, live curator’s talks, digital archives, or the blog kept me connected and I was glad to have contributed via an earlier blog post. I personally have found that the combination of virtual engagement and now once again the physical visit has given me the opportunity for experimentation and a sense of collaboration with audiences. In preparing online material, I have gained extended knowledge about the exhibits and indeed an appreciation from a different context!

The new rules are in place for everyone making it critically important that we all work as a collective, balancing experience and safety. As a MuSE (Museum Student Educator) tour guide for The Hunterian I am very sad not yet to be able to welcome you on a physical tour of the museum, I hope that it will be possible in the not too distant future! In the meantime, have a fun, informative and safe visit!       

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