Tag Archives: Virtual Museum

Our collections go virtual!

Catherine Dack, Research Support Librarian, Library Services, writes about our contribution to the virtual museum.

Special Collections recently contributed digitised versions of some of our collections to The Uncertain Space, the new virtual museum for the University of Bristol which officially launches this week.

The Uncertain Space is a permanent museum space which will host a changing programme of exhibitions. It is just like a real-world museum, but is experienced online or in a virtual reality headset. The first exhibition, Secret Gardens, has been co-curated with a group of young Bristolians. It explores connections between the University’s public artworks and selected objects from across the University’s rich collections, underpinned by the interest of our ‘Secret Gardeners’ in activism and climate change.

Items from Special Collections that feature in the first exhibition include:

Kaleidoscope magic lantern slide (DM3192)

Kaleidoscope children’s magic lantern slide (DM3192).This kaleidoscope mechanical chromotrope magic lantern slide for children dates from around 1870-1880. The slide has two panels and was designed to be inserted into a lantern slide viewer. The handle of the viewer would be turned, so that one panel would move while the other remained stationary, giving a kaleidoscope effect. The slide comes from a collection donated to us by Paul Raphael in February 2023.

The Sea-Dragons as they lived by John Martin

'The Sea-Dragons as they lived' from 'The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons' by Thomas Hawkins (1840).John Martin (1789-1854) was an English Romantic artist, known for his dramatic, apocalyptic scenes. The engraving, The Sea-Dragons as they lived, depicts plesiosaurs attacking an ichthyosaur, while pterosaurs feed on the body of a second ichthyosaur. It forms the frontispiece to The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons by Thomas Hawkins, published in 1840. Thomas Hawkins (1810-1889) was a Somerset fossil collector, who collected fossils from Lyme Regis and the Dorset coast, which are now held in the Natural History Museum.

Danckerts’ Atlas (DM511)

The title page from an atlas of 1690, produced by Justus Danckerts (1635-1701).The title page from an atlas of 1690, produced by Justus Danckerts (1635-1701) who was part of a Dutch family of mapmakers, based in Amsterdam. The illustration depicts the titan, Atlas, holding up the sky. Our copy of the atlas came to the University of Bristol Special Collections as part of the Bristol Moravian Church Archive.

The exhibition also includes digitised material from Archaeology, Anatomy, The Botanic Gardens, Earth Sciences and the Theatre Collection.

You can view the exhibition online or book an appointment with Special Collections to view it on one of our VR headsets.

You can read more about the making of The Uncertain Space and its first exhibition on the blogs of our colleagues from Library Research Support and Theatre Collection.

First impressions of Special Collections

Nicky Sugar, our new Head of Special Collections, looks back over a busy few weeks.

It’s now 4 weeks since I came up the hill from Bristol Archives to join the university as Head of Special Collections. I still have a huge amount to learn, but thought it was time to share some first impressions!

Some of the Special Collections team in our reading room.

Some of the Special Collections team in our reading room.

Being local, I already knew that Special Collections holds a wide variety of unique and interesting material and is looked after by a fantastic team. It makes a huge difference to students and researchers to work with original sources, not just for scholarship but to find proof of past events which can impact the present. There is also enormous potential to work with people in the university and across the city to increase access to the collections, and that really excites me.

Colleagues exploring the Virtual Museum, which features treasures from Special Collections.

Colleagues exploring the Virtual Museum, which features treasures from Special Collections.

So these are a few of my highlights, in no particular order…

  • I attended the launch of “The Uncertain Space” – the university’s brand new Virtual Museum. This displays treasures from our collections alongside curated items from other university art, archive and audiovisual collections in a unique virtual space. We met some of the young people who had worked on the first exhibition and tried out the headsets for ourselves.
  • We hosted my first alumni event, for a group of ex-students who visited Special Collections. Several offered to send us items from their time in Bristol, and they were keen to hear how we can capture digital material to create the university archive of the future. As well as treasures from the university’s own archive, the alumni heard talks from colleagues about the Historical Photographs of China and the Wildfilm Archive.
  • The Wildfilm Archive is a unique resource for studying the history of wildlife filmmaking, an important part of Bristol’s cultural heritage. In my last job I was involved in a project to examine the role of wildlife collections in responding to the ecological crisis, and I see huge potential here to develop this area of our work. With this in mind, some of us met with Peter Bassett, the wildlife history ambassador who rescued much of the collection, to discuss next steps.
  • A team from the Brand Department at Penguin Random House visited us to look at iconic material from the Penguin Archive. This was a great example of the inspiration that historic collections can provide to innovation and business development.
  • On a gloriously sunny day I had a trip off campus to the SS Great Britain, where our collection of Brunel material is held by the team at the Brunel Institute. The material has huge relevance for STEM education, the history of migration and many other topics, and we discussed our shared commitment to making it available to diverse audiences.
A beautiful day to find out more about our Brunel Collection.

A beautiful day to find out more about our Brunel Collection.

My other main highlight has been meeting new colleagues in the library and wider university, who have all been incredibly generous with sharing their expertise and future plans. The amount of new information I’ve absorbed has been almost overwhelming at times but I can definitely see it all coming together in some innovative ways to share the collections more widely. I look forward to providing an update on it all soon!