Research is core to our activities as a Museum, crucial to our stewardship of collections and to the intellectual development of subject knowledge.

Research is fostered through curatorial work, enquiries, projects and grants undertaken with other institutions and universities worldwide. It is communicated to the wider public through temporary and permanent exhibitions, lectures, conferences, as well as workshops, and social media. Research is essential to the dynamic reappraisal of our collections and knowledge about art, society and the world around us. The research we do has national and international relevance. 

Curatorial departments conduct research programmes across the broad range of collections disciplines. Many members of staff hold honorary or adjunct positions in universities leading to doctoral programmes and are involved in university teaching and examining.

The research programme is guided by the Research Strategy Group, a senior management committee. It includes the Director, the Directors of Collections and Public Programmes, Trustee representatives with university experience and all heads of collections departments who drive research. Meeting regularly, it encourages research activity and gives it strategic focus. 

In recognition of our work, National Museums Scotland has been validated as an Independent Research Organisation by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Research projects

Research also provides opportunities for us to strengthen our relationships with museums and communities across the country. Here are some examples of current research projects.


TWeed (Tetrapod World: early evolution and diversity), is a significant collaborative research project exploring our world-class collection of Palaeozoic fishes and early tetrapods (animals with four limbs) and the mystery of ‘Romer’s Gap’. This is a time in the Early Carboniferous period (from 360-340 million years ago) when back-boned animals moved onto land for the first time, but about which little is known. Now, for the first time, new fossils from the Scottish Borders, promise to reveal a much clearer picture of terrestrial life at this time. We are working with colleagues in the Borders to explore this and we will shortly be touring an exhibition nationally to present these findings to the nation.

You can find out more about the TWeed project here.

Military Collecting: Hidden in plain sight

Our research interests often combine with our sector partnership interests, opening up new areas of research. In 2013-15 we ran two research projects with the National Army Museum in London crossing two departments, World Cultures and Scottish History and Archaeology. The focus was military collecting and the non-European collections of regimental, corps and service museums.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh funded a series of workshops which allowed us to bring together military historians, anthropologists and regimental museum curators from around the UK and further afield. The British Academy/Leverhulme funded a research assistant who reviewed military collections held in regimental museums across the UK, looking at two campaigns in particular: the French and Indian War or Seven Years War (1755-1763) in North America; and the Younghusband Mission to Tibet in 1904.

Research repository

Recently published books and articles by National Museums Scotland staff can be found in our Research repository.

Our research is carried out over four themes:

  • Collections and Collecting
  • Understanding the Natural World
  • Material Culture: Creation and Use
  • Identities and Cultural Contacts

The archive enables us to make our research more widely available to all and to ensure materials are preserved to maintain access in the future.

You can go to the Research repository here.