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Museum Review: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

October 16, 2015

As you all probably remember, HARN Towers moved temporarily to Glasgow for the HARN 2015 Conference and for the EAA.  While we were there, we worked hard, but also got to go on some lovely tours of Glasgow.  All the HARN administrators went together to the Victorian Necropolis in the eastern part of town, near Glasgow Cathedral.

John Knox monument, Necropolis, Glasgow. Picture by Kate

John Knox monument, Necropolis, Glasgow. Picture by Kate

It was a lovely day and the cemetery was gorgeous.  We also wandered around central Glasgow, which is prettier than one might assume at first.  Some of us went to other places: Ulf came and went through Edinburgh and surely saw some of the town…right ,Ulf?  Kate went to St. Andrews for the day, because, well, Chariots of Fire and the Links, of course!

Club House at the Links, St. Andrews. Picture by Kate

Club House at the Links, St. Andrews. Picture by Kate

The Links logo. Picture by Kate

The Links logo. Picture by Kate

If you haven't seen the film Chariots of Fire, see it. This is part of the film where they're running barefoot on the beach. Picture by Kate

If you haven’t seen the film Chariots of Fire, see it. This is part of the film where they’re running barefoot on the beach. Picture by Kate

St. Andrews is definitely worth the trip if you’re in Edinburgh or Glasgow.  There was a bus—the X24—that went straight to St. Andrews from Glasgow.  It’s cheap and takes you right from city center to city center.  The cities and towns seem like museums unto themselves.  And thankfully, they also contain a number of important museums within them.  This is the first of two Glasgow museum reviews.

Kate, Ulf, and Jon went to finalize some things for the conference (that is, Kate needed to pick up her EAA tartan scarf…) and The Hunterian collections happened to be in the same building, so, as responsible historians, we went to visit.

Welcome to the Hunterian! Picture by Kate

Welcome to the Hunterian! Picture by Kate

According to the museum website, “The Hunterian is the legacy of Dr William Hunter (1718 – 1783), a pioneering obstetrician and teacher with a passion for collecting.”  Based on his founding collections, the museum has continued the spirit of Hunter’s bequest by collecting objects, including artwork, architectural pieces, scientific instruments, coins, anatomical specimens, and more.  “The Hunterian is also home to the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler, the largest single holding of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from his Glasgow home.”  The collections are so vast that they have displayed them in various places around the university.  Ulf, Kate, and Jon visited the main part of the collections in the Gilbert Scott Building at the University of Glasgow; then Ulf and Kate went to see the Whistler collection and some of the Mackintosh collection (which was closed, but we peeked through the windows).

As you enter the Gilbert Scott collection, on the first floor, the original Hunter collections are displayed around the borders of the room.  Roman remains, some remains of the Antonine Wall as well as a number of coins are in the middle of the room.  He was clearly a polymath, like many men of science in his time.  His wealth allowed him to collect a number of objects to study and write about.  You are about to see a lot of pictures.

Mastodon tooth, with Thomas Jefferson quote explaining its significance to the collection. Picture by Kate

Mastodon tooth, with Thomas Jefferson quote explaining its significance to the collection. Picture by Kate

Scientific Instruments. Picture by Kate

Scientific Instruments. Picture by Kate

Roman objects with natural collections in the background. This captures the essence of the collection. Picture by Kate

Roman objects with natural collections in the background. This captures the essence of the collection. Picture by Kate

Part of the Antonine Wall. Picture by Kate

Part of the Antonine Wall. Picture by Kate

Collection of Seals. Picture by Kate

Collection of Seals. Picture by Kate

More of the collections are through a doorway as you continue through the museum.  It is a large room with two floors of galleries.

James Watt directs you into the next room. Picture by Kate

James Watt directs you into the next room. Picture by Kate

Ulf and Jon check out the larger gallery. Picture by Kate

Ulf and Jon check out the larger gallery. Picture by Kate

Some of Watt’s instruments are here, as well as other instruments that helped Scots to participate in the industrial revolution successfully.  Those are on the top floor of these galleries.

Model Newcomen engine. James Watt improved on this engine, making it 10 times more efficient. It went from a thermodynamic efficiency of .5% to 5%. Picture and nerd facts by Kate

Model Newcomen engine. James Watt improved on this engine, making it 10 times more efficient. It went from a thermodynamic efficiency of .5% to 5%. Picture and nerd facts by Kate

It wouldn't be Glasgow without some Kelvin instruments. Picture by Kate

It wouldn’t be Glasgow without some Kelvin instruments. Picture by Kate

On the bottom floor are any number of items, from a mummy and discussion of John Garstang’s work in Egypt, to musical instruments, dinosaur fossils, and a small collection of geologist Emily Dix’s specimens.

Egyptian Mummy. Picture by Kate

Egyptian Mummy. Picture by Kate

Small display of items found by palaeobotanist Emily Dix. Picture by Kate

Small display of items found by palaeobotanist Emily Dix. Picture by Kate

Musical Instruments. Picture by Kate

Musical Instruments. Picture by Kate

A final note on the museum gift shop (you’re not surprised, are you?).  The shop was on the floor below ground floor, and it was packed with a lot of stuff, as one might imagine from the summary I’ve given you of what is in the Hunterian collections.  It was a great shop.  On top of the necessary postcards of items in the collections you wish you could take with you, it had a number of items related to the collections.  I bought this coaster, which is as kitschy in my uni office as you might imagine.

James Watt Coaster. Picture by Kate

James Watt Coaster. Picture by Kate

It also had a few Scottish items, including tam o’ shanters, this one:

University of Glasgow Tam O'Shanter. Picture by University of Glasgow shops

University of Glasgow Tam O’Shanter. Picture by University of Glasgow shops

which depict the tartan of the University of Glasgow.  Ulf tried one on and looked like a dashing, if very tall, Scotsman, but I didn’t get a picture in time.

The collections here, and in the Whistler section, were fascinating.  I (Kate) am a historian of science, so I found the Gilbert Scott building displays more to my liking, but Whistler is also interesting to me and those paintings were very pretty.  If you’re interested in anything historical about anything (paleontology, anatomy, technology, art, architecture, and more), you should visit as many of these collections as you can.  The museum is easy to find, and easy to get to, from Glasgow city center.  See this map.  If you visit, let us know what you think!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. harngroup permalink*
    October 16, 2015 7:40 pm

    I’m now really envious I missed it – and even more envious I missed Ulf in a tam o’shanter!
    Thanks for a brilliant museum review Kate
    Julia

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  1. Museum Review: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow | Adventures in History and Archaeology
  2. Looking back, looking ahead | HARN Weblog

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