Josephinia imperatricis

This plant isn't a humble nettle, but josephinia imperatricis, named after Empress Joséphine, the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Joséphine (1763-1843) filled the Malmaison Palace in Paris with exotic plants from the lands her husband Napoleon had conquered.

What can this botanical watercolour by Pierre-Joseph Redouté tell us about the relationship between empire and science?

Hettie Ward, Assistant Keeper in the Fitzwilliam Museum's Department of Paintings, Drawings and Prints, tells us more.

Iron prosthetic hands

Two iron prosthetic hands in the Fitzwilliam Museum's Armoury speak of the dangerous life led by high-ranking knights and master gunners in the sixteenth century. 

The advent of gunpowder warfare in the 1500s saw soldiers sustain horrific injuries and more amputations than in previous centuries. Prosthetic hands like these (which were very, very expensive) contained complex mechanisms to allow for some movement. 

Vicky Avery, Keeper of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, tells us more.

Figurine from Naukratis

This tiny object is less than 3cm tall, but it reveals the complexity of modern relationships with ethnicity and multiculturalism - and how we perceive the past.

The terracotta figurine head was excavated from the site of the ancient city of Naukratis in Egypt. It dates to the time of the Roman Empire, when Naukratis was an important Roman trading centre.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology's catalogue describes the subject as an "African man". But is that how a viewer of the Roman era would have described it?

Phyllis Wager's typewriter

When Phyllis Wager travelled to East Greenland as part of a British expedition in 1935, it was so unusual for women to travel to the Polar regions that special permission was needed from the Foreign Office.

What can her Remington Home portable typewriter, which travelled with her on the expedition, tell us about the contribution of women to polar science; the untold stories of the Inuit people who travelled and worked alongside the British team; and how we think of polar expeditions more generally? 

The Hume diamond collection

In the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is a collection of 144 uncut diamonds. It is likely that these were excavated in Brazil by enslaved miners at the turn of the nineteenth century.

How can we tell the diamonds' horrifying story? And what parallels can we draw with the exploitation of child and enforced labour today to fuel the consumer demand for high-status electronics?

Dan Pemberton, Collections Manager at the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, tells us more.

Ibo maiden spirit mask

This carved wooden mask was made around a hundred years ago by the Ibo people of Nigeria.

While we know a good deal about the British anthropologist who collected it in southern Nigeria, we don't know the names of the Ibo people who made it, saw it, wore it to dance, or made the music for the performance; or of the maiden spirit the mask represents. The mask also tells of the negotiation of gender roles, as the mask was worn by a male dancer to evoke a feminine ideal.

Necklaces from Mount Carmel

Two artefacts from Mount Carmel, Israel, speak of a twelve-thousand-year-old mystery - and two trailblazing archaeologists.

A pair of shell and bone necklaces in the collection at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology date to around twelve thousand years ago - before people began to settle down to farm. How can we use these objects to highlight the stories of their excavators, pioneering archaeologist Dorothy Garrod and her colleague and gay rights campaigner, Francis Turville-Petre? And were they really necklaces at all? 

British Sign Language alphabet plate

This small, rather damaged child's plate is a recent find. It was excavated in the centre of Cambridge in the mid-2000s.

It features two alphabets, British Sign Language and English, and hints at the rich and complex history of Deaf culture not often explored in archaeology museums.

Eleanor Wilkinson, Teaching and Collections Assistant for Archaeology at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), tells us more.

Charles Elcock's microscope slides

Meet Charles Elcock, a man whose profession is now mostly forgotten.

As a professional "microscopist", Elcock built his career on his ability to produce microscope slides. His microscopy kit and slides, now in the Whipple Museum reveal his incredible skill. But Elcock and craftspeople like him don't often feature in the stories we tell about scientific discoveries. 

Alison Giles, Learning Coordinator at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, tells us more.


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