11 Questions to a Museum Blogger

It’s been a great digital couple of weeks for museums: last week we had #MuseumBlogs where the variety and quality of museum bloggers was celebrated and we got to big up each other and our blogs; and this week we can all enjoy seven days of concentrated museum love for Twitter’s #MuseumWeek. Since today is all about #MuseumMemories I thought I’d post this because a few of the questions are all about that.

This began when the Naturkundemuseum, in Berlin, started a blog chain with Jenni Fuchs from Museum 140. Jenni had eleven questions to answer, then pass it forward and so on…forever.

I have the dubious honour of having been nominated to answer these 11 #MuseumBlog questions twice. Luckily for me, the two gents who nominated me (Paolo Viscardi and Sébastien Magro) chose mostly different questions. So here are my eleven answers times two-ish.

From Paolo (click for his blog)

  1. Who are you and what do you blog about?
    • I’m Russell Dornan and I blog about museums, natural history and, sometimes, art (when connected to science).
  2. Why do you blog about museums?
    • I started because I wanted to keep a record of the work I was doing for my traineeship. It made sense to combine my love of writing and photography to keep track of what I was doing, highlight the museums I worked for, show people the fascinating world behind the scenes and simultaneously create a body of work that prospective employers could see. I enjoy doing it and it’s a great way build a network of friends or colleagues all over the world. It’s also my job now.
  3. And which post on your blog was the hardest to write?
    • This question is hard to answer. I’ve yet to write a post which was particularly difficult (maybe I need to be more sophisticated?). All Art is but an Imitation of Nature was tricky in that I could have written so much more but I wanted it to be reader-friendly. It was also weird because I barely used any of my own photos which made me feel a bit odd.
  4. Which is your favourite museum?
    • Crikey. I was blown away by Berlin’s Naturkundemuseum. It was at once historically rich and refreshingly cutting edge without falling into the trap of making everything loud and brash. How can you not love the museum with the world’s tallest mounted dinosaur skeleton!?
  5. Do you think you’ll still be interested in museums in 20 years time?
    • Yes, definitely. I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t be, especially with so many working hard to be dynamic destinations and present history or science in new ways. Even if all museum were closed in twenty years time then I’d be mourning them, trying to resurrect a few and so still would be interested. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen!
  6. What is your earliest museum memory?
    • Visiting a museum in Köln with my dad and seeing a life-size dinosaur statue. I was about seven. It was particularly memorable which answers one of Sébastien’s questions below.
  7. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?
    • It was the Grant Museum. I went with some friends and we saw all sorts of amazing natural history specimens. I said hello to the glass jar of moles and tried to decide on something to adopt…
  8. Share a museum selfie?
    • Museum Selfie!
  9. If you could build a museum, what kind would it be?
    • I think I’d build a museum out of a carefully selected collection of other museums’ deaccessions/disposals. I’m fascinated by why some things have ended up in that pile, whether it’s awfully common, a poor example, decay has set in, etc. I realise it’s an impractical endeavour and may not be such a draw but tracking an object or specimen’s history is interesting and I think that’s just as true, if not more so, for those destined for the bin.
  10. What is the most popular post on your blog?
    • Sadly, it’s a post about COSHH. I wrote it as it was part of a mini project during my traineeship. The post is tiny and not very informative but people land on it daily. Other than the homepage it’s the most visited. People really need better COSHH resources online, clearly! (All Art is but an Imitation of Nature is a close second.)
  11. What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?
    • The oddest search term is definitely “phony shetland pony”! It was one of the multiple choice answers on a TV quiz show and it tickled me so I tweeted it. Someone must have Googled it and landed on my blog through my Twitter feed embedded on it. That tickled me even more. The phrase still makes me laugh!

From Sébastien (click for his blog)

  1. What do you like about blogging?
    1. I love being able to take photos of amazing things a lot of people would never get to see and share it with them. Connecting to many different people around the world with similar interests is great.
  2. Which post on your blog is your personal favourite?
    • That’s hard to answer. The post I wrote about natural history in art is a favourite because it was the first one which wasn’t just another diary-style entry. It felt more like a discrete article and was very well received. As well as that one, I enjoyed the Berlin series: it was a lot if work during a very busy time but it was fascinating and it led to me guest blogging for überlin.
  3. If you had a whole week just to blog: which subject would you like to thoroughly research and write about?
    • I think I would choose something along the lines of science and art again, perhaps involving taxidermy. The challenge is to write about that from a fresh angle which still engages readers and excites them about taxidermy. My dream post would be about doublepreps but I’ve spent a long time researching that already without much success. If anyone knows anything…
  4. If you could ask anyone at all to write a guest post for your blog (you can be as utopian as you like), who would you chose and what would you ask them to write about?
    • A piece from Sir David Attenborough about either the importance or his love of natural history museums would be great (if a little obvious). In a totally utopian world, someone like Carl Akeley or Edward Gerrard would be epic. I’d ask them to write about how taxidermy has changed since their day or perhaps get their thoughts on how it fell supremely out of favour and is now making a huge comeback. And what do they think if it as a fine art?
  5. What has been your most memorable museum experience/earliest museum memory?
    • As mentioned above, the one which sticks in my head is visiting a museum in Köln with my dad when I was a child. There was a metal tyrannosaur statue guarding it and my jaw hit the floor. It was so lifelike and imposing; I’m not sure who was more giddy, my dad or I. I often think of my dad when I visit amazing museums as he would love to have seen them. I’m sad to not have visited the NHM with him. It would have blown his socks off!
  6. What was the last museum you visited and how was it?
    • As above, it was the Grant Museum. A uni friend was visiting for the weekend so a bunch if us hung out. She’d wanted to go the NHM (again) but I vetoed that and made them go to the Grant. We’d mostly all studied zoology but I was the only to have been before. Needless to say they loved it.
  7. Share your favourite photo with us that you took at a museum.
    • I’ve taken hundreds of photos at museums and it’s very hard to choose one out of all of them. Here’s one of my favourites (fluid specimens are very photogenic). See my Flickr for more.Sweet, little Mustelid.
  8. If time and money were not an issue, which museum in the world would you most like to visit?
  9. There are many big and famous museums, but which is your personal favourite ‘hidden gem’?
    • I think it would have to be the Grant Museum. It’s small but packed; a real cave of wonders for fans of natural history and far too many people are unaware of it. Where I work now and the Horniman (where I worked previously) aren’t as well known as they should be either. People either seem to have no idea about Wellcome Collection or, if they do know it, it’s one of their favourite places ever.
  10. Do you have any insider tips on any of the museums you have visited or blogged about?
    • Some people don’t realise the glut of museums in Bloomsbury: you can visit Wellcome Collection, the Grant, the Petrie and the Brunei in one day as they’re so close together (and all worth a visit).

Passing the baton

Now it’s my turn to nominate three poor, unsuspecting souls. I choose you:

Here are your 11 questions.

  1. What made you want to start a blog?
  2. What advice would you give someone just starting out with their blog?
  3. If you could guest write on anyone’s blog, whose would it be?
  4. If you could ask anyone to write a guest post for your blog (anyone at all ever), who would you chose and what would you ask them to write about?
  5. Do you work in a museum? If not, where do you work? Tell us about your job.
  6. Do you tweet? Why or why not?
  7. If you could be the director of any museum, which one would it be and why?
  8. Tell us about one of the best blog posts you’ve ever read.
  9. What’s your favourite museum shop?
  10. If you could own a single object or specimen from a museum’s collections, which one would it be and why?
  11. Show us the best photo you’ve taken in a museum.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Answer the eleven questions – you can adapt them a little to fit your blog, if you like.
  • Include the Best Blog image in your post, and link back to the person who nominated you (that would be me, by the way, or more specifically, this blog post).
  • Devise eleven new questions – or feel free to keep any of these ones here if you like them – and pass them on to how ever many bloggers you would like to.
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