September 2020
Welcome to the latest issue of e-news from the University of Melbourne Museums and Collections. This electronic newsletter is circulated each month and provides information on current exhibitions, events and news items from the University’s museums and collections. For details of the individual collections explore the Museums and Collections website.


Melbourne School of Engineering collections database

The cultural collections of the Melbourne School of Engineering have been migrated to the EMu (Electronic Museum) collection database. Over 1,800 items have been added to the database, and an online version will be launched later in the year. The database will facilitate documentation and display of the collection, object-based learning and alumni engagement.

It is particularly appropriate that the Engineering collections are now on EMu. One of the most prominent museum databases around the world, the birth of EMu can be traced back to research undertaken in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Melbourne in the early 1980s.

Dr Rao Kotagiri in the Department of Computer Science and Dr Ron Sacks-Davis at RMIT University published a paper in the journal Information Systems in 1983, entitled A Two-Level Superimposed Coding Scheme for Partial Match Retrieval. They demonstrated that a fast information retrieval system could be constructed by coding data in such a way that would facilitate rapid retrieval on large databases.

A Systems Development Group was established in the Department of Computer Science to explore potential commercialisation. Led by Michael Flower, the group included two recent first-class honours graduates – John Doolan and Ian Turnbull, who had both studied with Kotagiri. Another graduate, Bernard Marshall would soon join the group. A beta version of the database was installed at Museum Victoria in early 1984, to test the database structure and interface, and the first production release of Titan 1.0 was installed in 1985.

In late 1986, Knowledge Engineering Pty Ltd was established, and with a development grant from the Australian Government, the team set about developing intelligent and user-friendly interfaces, to transform a coding and retrieval concept into a viable product. Titan was rebuilt into a new system, Texpress, which in 1997 was transformed into EMu. In 2014, the company was purchased by Swedish library informatics company Axiell, which continues to develop and support EMu.

EMu is used by major museums and galleries internationally, including the Smithsonian Institution and Canadian Museum of Civilisation. At the University of Melbourne, it is used by the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne Archives, Baillieu Library Print Collection, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Trinity College, and now the Melbourne School of Engineering.

Image: A Body of Revolution, one of several used to undertake research in fluid dynamics in the 1970s. Melbourne School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne

Bring the Potter to your next Zoom meeting

Don’t want to clean up before that Zoom meeting? Tired of having colleagues see what your kitchen table looks like? Bring the Potter Museums of Art’s exhibitions into your home!

If you are tired of sharing your iso home with family, friends and colleagues during Zoom get-togethers and meetings, the Potter has a solution for you. Images from their past exhibitions are available for you to use as backdrops for your next online gathering. These have been carefully selected to best frame you while on screen, but will also prove an interesting talking point that enables you to bring art (and the Potter) into your next conversation.

Images and instructions for downloading and adding as your Zoom background are available here.

Image: Installation view of My Learned Object: Collections and Curiosities, held at the Potter Museum of Art,  5 December 2015 to 28 February 2016

Grainger Museum Composer in Residence 2020

Noemi Liba Friedman is a multi-genre musician and composer, trained in Jazz Vocal Performance and Classical Music Composition. She studied Mediterranean scales and performance with Yair Dalal (Iraqi-Israeli violinist and Oud player) in his studio in Yafo-Yafa and at the Rimon School of Music in Tel Aviv. Noemi is interested in creating highly textured, exploratory works that often speak to current and unfolding events that she sees as marking our times as extraordinary.

Threshold is a new music work commissioned by the Grainger Museum, composed specifically for the quarter-tone Federation Handbells, along with percussion and voice. Written to be performed in surround sound, the audience will be placed in the centre, when premiered as part of the Multivocal exhibition at the Old Quad, University of Melbourne in early 2021.

 ‘Threshold integrates Arabic and Mediterranean quarter-tone scales within a new music work, depicting the heart wrenching journey of Middle Eastern asylum seekers who arrive here in Australia from the sorrow of war, much as my parents did 70 years ago’, Noemi explains.

‘Authenticity and inclusivity are important to me, so, given the subject matter of this work, alongside five professional musicians, some of whom themselves have migrated from these regions, I have engaged percussionists and musicians from community groups, such as the Building Bridges project which sees Jewish, Christian and Muslim youth working together toward greater understandings.’

‘Twice we have had to move the 2020 performance date due to COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne, but we are resilient and, thanks to the Grainger Museum, the Old Quad and other partners in this project,  we look forward to present this work in 2021, alongside the like-wise rescheduled amazing Multivocal exhibition at the Old Quad.’

Image: Noemi Liba Friedman with the Federation Handbells. Photograph Sahar Aryeh Waits

Into Your Collection

Two new videos have recently been added to the Potter Museums of Art’s Into Your Collection video series. In the first of these videos Kelly Gellatly, Potter Director, takes a fascinating look at several 1875 photographs of Melbourne by the Paterson Brothers. Part of a ten-image panorama (three of which are housed in the University of Melbourne Art Collection), these albumen silver photographs offer insights into the post-Gold Rush grandeur of Melbourne at the time.

In the second video we meet award-winning New Zealand-born artist Richard Lewer to unpack the layers of meaning behind his deeply evocative 2008 work, Every woman’s nightmare (Only to be with you). This work is part of the virtual exhibition currently on the Potter’s website Paying it Forward: Recent Acquisitions to the University Art Collection.

Image: Paterson Brothers, Untitled (Collins Street East)[detail], c.1875. The University of Melbourne Art Collection. Gift of the Russell and Mab Grimwade Bequest 1973

Interactive 3D digital model of thylacine skull 

In addition to human material, the Harry Brookes Allen Museum Anatomy and Pathology has a large number of animal specimens. Many are associated with Frederic Wood Jones, Anatomy Department Head from 1930-1937, such as a bisected skull from the extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger).

It was from one of Wood Jones’ displays intended to illustrate convergent evolution, the principle that unrelated animals with similar lifestyles can evolve to look alike. The thylacine’s appearance and anatomy are very similar to dogs. But this is superficial, they are more closely related to kangaroos and other marsupials.

Wood Jones had an ulterior motive for showcasing this evolutionary principle. He didn’t accept that humankind’s closest relatives are chimps and gorillas, and had an alternative hypothesis that we descended from tarsiers; tiny primates from Asia. Wood Jones wanted to plant the idea that just because two groups share anatomical similarities like humans and chimps that doesn’t necessarily mean they are closely related.

An interactive 3D digital model of the Museum's bisected thylacine skull is now available online.

Image: Bisected thylacine skull. Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, The University of Melbourne 

International House History Mysteries

International House History Mysteries brings together stories and questions from the International House Archives. Each week during Semester Two, there will be a new ‘history mystery’ with an occasional history mystery bonus. So far, questions asked (and answered) include:
  • Why is the Scheps building that shape?
  • Why are there three buildings depicted in the 1955 postcard of International House?
  • Who were the ‘Founders’?
History Mysteries aims to encourage and increase engagement with the International House Collection, especially among the many current college residents in COVID-19 lockdown. The website has also featured in the International House e-news sent to three thousand former residents.

Image: Scheps Building at International House, 1974. International House Archives, The University of Melbourne

Juttoddie Cup

Trinity College has put together an in-depth look into the genesis of one of its most enduring student events, a curious steeplechase known as the Juttoddie Cup.

Established in 1931 by two collegians in an effort to address the issue of ‘initiations’ for incoming students, this frivolous race has grown into one of Trinitys most beloved and long-lasting traditions.

It has not been without its challenges over the decades for the college administration to ensure that the event did not get out of control. This online exhibition draws upon archival images, footage and audio interviews with senior alumni as they recall their experiences of the unique race.

Juttoddie continues today with the same spirit as a ‘relaxed extravaganza of nonsensical abandon’ intended by its founders almost 90 years ago.

Image: A past Juttoddie participant. Trinity College Collection, The University of Melbourne


Webinar series: Tuesday 15 to Thursday 17 September 2020 via zoom

Ever considered how technology might promote discrimination or impair our ability to make shrewd decisions? Or wondered how an AI doctor might diagnose illness just through listening? These, and a host of other questions, will be considered as part of the next interdisciplinary forum in the Potter Museum of Art’s ongoing series that engages with a pressing concern of our time – the theme of ‘machine.’

Presenting a diverse program of speakers from a range of disciplines over three days, MACHINE will explore a series of timely themes – investigating the interface between humanity and machine across fields of research including digital ethics, data analytics, creative writing, visual art and mathematics.

The Potter’s annual interdisciplinary forum program series is developed by Dr Kyla McFarlane, Curator of Academic Programs (Research) in collaboration with Dr Danny Butt, Associate Director (Research) at the Victorian College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Art and Music, University of Melbourne.

Further information and registration

Image: CPU from the NEC SX-4 Supercomputer, showing the cooling fins on each of the CPUs. Melbourne School of Engineering Collection, The University of Melbourne

Prints at the University of Melbourne

Part two of The Hunter Collector: A Cultural Meander through the University of Melbourne Collections, a collaboration between Humanities21 and the Grimwade Centre, Faculty of Arts.

Webinar: Wednesday 16 September 2020, 6.00pm via Zoom
Join this online event on the 16th September to hear about the origins of the Baillieu Library Print Collection
. Covering the entire history of European printing from the mid-1450s and including examples from masters such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Piranesi and Hogarth, the Baillieu Library Print Collection also brings together important groups of Australian prints such as those by Lionel Lindsay and Absalom West’s early (1812-1814) views of New South Wales. Many of these works originate from important gifts, such as those of Dr John Orde Poynton in 1959, of print specialist Harold Wright in 1961, and of Sir Russell and Lady Mab Grimwade.
Further information and registration

Image: Albrecht Dürer, The Promenade, c.1498. Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne. Gift of Dr J. Orde Poynton 1959
Stay connected

Cultural Commons at the University of Melbourne

Stay connected, inspired and engaged with the University of Melbourne’s arts and culture through virtual tours, online collections, videos, catalogues, podcasts and more. At the heart of our community, culture brings us together.

The University of Melbourne’s Cultural Commons provides access to a unique group of museums, galleries, theatres, collections, and knowledge. It represents what we value, hold, discover and create and what collectively helps us to understand what it means to be human.

The University of Melbourne acknowledge and pay respects to the Boonwurrung, Wurundjeri, Dja Dja Wurrung peoples and the Yorta Yorta nation, the traditional owners of the lands on which our venues and campuses are situated.

Image: Display of mallets for percussion instruments, c.1930s. Various makers including J.C Deagan (instrument maker). Grainger Museum collection, The University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne Collections online

Looking for something extra to read while social distancing at home? There are 24 back issues of the University of Melbourne Collections magazine available online for you to explore. Covering all of the University’s cultural collections, the magazines includes a range of fascinating articles written by curators, academics, students and Museums and Collection Project Program volunteers.
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