‘Now’s the time to find out why, I think you’re the same as me….’ Cataloging and identification

Cataloging activity

We were presented with 10 similar pots and given three different descriptions of a particular pot. The task was to see if we could identify the right pot from the descriptions:

Subjective: We found that the subjective description was the least useful, it was very vague! Specialist: The specialist description included information which we thought to be too expert. Because we didn’t know what a middle period Nasca vessel looked like, this description was of no help to us. However it could be useful if we had access to the book which would help identify the object successfully. For this reason, it is more useful than the first description. But doing this would often be too time-consuming and would be more useful for preparing research for the object rather than identifying it. Descriptive: We found the descriptive text to be much more detailed and therefore of an accurate description. We all managed to identify the right vase from this description so therefore it demonstrates it was the most useful technique! Information such as colour, shape and particular features such as ‘foxes’ helped us distinguish the vase from others. We suggested this description could be improved by including the size and measurements but then discussed how the measurements would be noted.

We learnt that the descriptive approach to cataloging is the most useful because it is a fast and precise method; it is not always specialists who are moving the objects so it is important that the cataloging method is useful to as many staff as possible.

Finally we discussed how these lines of texts may be useful for other reasons, and also how they would function interpretive text panels in the museum alongside the object. Subjective, although very vague and subjective, could be interesting for a curator. The information ‘visitors to the museum really like this object’ might mean that they are more likely to include that object in an exhibition over other objects. Specialist, although too expert, would be useful for research. The fact it has a reference to time period and in particular a book would be useful for finding more information about the object. We thought this would not be useful as an interpretive text panel as it is too specialist and dry for visitors. Descriptive, although useful for cataloging and identifying, would not be used as interpretive text. We discussed that it is too descriptive and states the obvious for visitors; viewers will be able to see from looking at the object that it has a red base and orange interior and do not need to be told this. They are not learning anything from the text. Also Adam discussed that there is often a word limit to the interpretive text panels and this would be seen as wasting valuable characters. Therefore, none of the texts would be thrown away as they are all useful in their own different ways.

Identification activity: Insects, led by Luanne Meehitiya

Utilising resources given to us by Luanne, in two groups we had to take a methodical approach to identifying various species of moths. Even with no expertise in this area, by using appropriate guides, we had to identify each of the species by its physical characteristics and comparison to the guide provided. Both groups managed to complete the task successfully, noting the differences in sizes despite being within the same species, as well as differences between the sex of the species.

Luanne went onto to discuss with the group how the Hawk moth is preserved and that the particular collection we were looking at were over 100 years old. The process and continuing challenges faced when trying preserve the insects gave us a fascinating insight also into the preservation of BMT’s collections. For example, how the pins had to not contain copper, as one had started to disintegrate one of the moths, turning part of the moth green and needed to be changed. An issue with the collection being so old, meant that attempting to compare their colours was difficult as over time they’ve discoloured and faded.

Once we had completed the exercise, Luanne revealed the categorised labels underneath each of the aligned species of Hawk moth. Similarly, underneath each of the moths there were tiny labels, that may have not been noticed until it was pointed out; where each moth is individually labelled with their collectors’ information, as well as where and when they had been collected. These small labels are vital for the collections team in determining each exact specie as well as its history and background.

The task clearly demonstrated the ways in which people, not particularly with an expertise in collections, could go about identifying objects within a collection. The activity was interesting, with a beautiful collection giving us all an opportunity to partake in an interesting comparative situation. We particularly loved having the opportunity to look at the Hawk moths in closer detail than you would normally get the chance to have in a museum- taking time to identify its characteristics and differences to just the Hawk moth species of insect.

 Museum collection stores:

This week we also went into the stores at the MCC. It was fascinating to see how objects are stored and organised by the museum.  It was also highlighted to us the difficulty in categorising the storage of the objects, and how the purpose of the stores can change depending on who is using them. As the museum stores are often open for public tours, some of the cages are organised to be more visually appealing. This can make it difficult to find objects for those using the stores for academic or research purposes.

We also looked at this mummified animal, which demonstrates the importance of technological research in museums. This object was thought to be a mummified hawk, but after being x-rayed at the University of Manchester, it was discovered that the remains inside are that of a monkey. This was of great significance not only to the museum and its visitors, but also to the wider Egyptological community. It will now be used in researching the practice of mummifying animals. Without technological research it would have been impossible to know this without opening the mummy up.


Gemma Ford, Amelia Rochelle-Bates, and Elizabeth Parkes