In Renaissance Europe, before Natural History was a recognised term for the study and research of living organisms, the beginnings of such esteemed institutions as the Natural History Museum were appearing across the continent. The further Europeans traveled and explored, the more strange and fascinating the objects, animals, and cultures they would encounter. Most of the time these strange encounters with unknown things would result in the object in question being killed/trapped/stolen/bought and brought back to Europe. They would then be stored and displayed in Cabinets of Curiosity which were to be the precursor to what we now call a museum.

The collections that made up the cabinets of curiosity during the early renaissance years in Europe began expanding and dividing, as the amateur collectors and well-funded natural historians became better informed about them. Early collections would consist of a mix of taxidermy, skeletons, animal horns, religious artefacts, works of art, historical relics, and antiquities, without any separation between them. One of the most prolific British collectors during the 1600-1700 was Sir Hans Sloane. His first trip to Jamaica began a lifelong obsession with Natural History that culminated in him procuring the largest private collection of specimens in the UK. His voracious appetite for collecting made him purchase and inherit many more volumes of catalogued plants and animals from other collectors. Upon his death in 1753 he bequeathed his entire collection to the British government. It was this collection that became the Natural History Museum.

As collecting pushed beyond a simple hobby for royalty and aristocrats, it became a hugely important tool and initiated the advent of the biological sciences as we know them today. They became embedded in the British education sector, with most major universities providing a dedicated museum and collection for student research. The Grant Museum is the only remaining zoological museum solely for educational use in London. It is part of University College London and contains specimens from the entire animal kingdom dating back to the early 19th Century.

The collection contains a huge variety of objects including freeze-dried, fluid-preserved, pinned entomology, and skeletal specimens. Only 7% of the collection is on display but it is clear that many of the items were collected and displayed as oddities. Similarly, you can sense that this is a university collection, used by and curated for students. The first thing you see upon entering the main hall is a jar of moles and the skeleton of a dugong. The first of which has its own twitter account and seems to continuously attract visitors back to the museum.

Grant Museum Of Zoology

Rockefeller Building

University College London

21 University Street