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Modern and Contemporary History

Our modern and contemporary collections represent cultural, social, political, military and domestic history in Scotland from c.1750 to the present day.

The collections document the impact and legacies of Enlightenment, industry and empire that marked the transformation of Scotland during the later-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They chart a line through the major international conflicts and profound social shifts of the twentieth century, telling stories about continuity and change in Scottish life right up to the present day.  

Notable collections include: Scottish decorative arts, from precious jewellery to glass and ceramics; unrivalled bagpiping collections and the material culture of working life, from ploughs to weavers’ tools. We hold extensive material representing military history and rural life, reflecting the strength of the foundational collections of the National War Museum and National Museum of Rural Life.  

Our innovative contemporary collecting programme is focused on representing the twenty-first century with an emphasis on what is distinctive about Scotland in a globalised world, and of the regional and cultural differences within the country. We also actively collect objects that shed light on how the past continually shapes the present. 

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Meet the Team

Dr Sarah Laurenson
Principal Curator of Modern and Contemporary History

Responsible for: The Modern and Contemporary History section, Scottish history collections from c.1750 to the present day.

Research interests: The relationship between material culture and the Scottish landscape; cultures, identities and industries in the Highlands and Islands; Scottish decorative arts and the historical development of craft skill; colonial histories and legacies.


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Dr Georgia Vullinghs
Assistant Curator, Modern & Contemporary History

Responsible for: Modern and Contemporary Scottish history collections, with an emphasis on collecting material that reflects current and recent Scottish politics, culture, and society.

Research Interests: How the Scottish past is engaged with in the present; Jacobite material culture; women’s experiences; gender histories.


Dr Calum Robertson
Curator, Modern & Military History

Responsible for: Scottish history collections, c.1750 to 1850; the military collections c.1750 to the present; and the bagpiping collections.

Research interests: Arms and armour; bagpipes and bagpiping traditions; the material culture of faith and migration; Scotland in the age of Enlightenment; museum and collecting histories.


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Dr Ailsa Hutton
Curator, Modern and Contemporary History (currently on maternity leave)

Responsible for: Scottish history collections c.1850 to 1980, working and rural life collections c.1750 to the present, as well as the Scottish Life Archive.

Research interests: Scotland's social histories; travel and tourism in Scotland; craft production in rural Scotland; history of NMS collections.


Dr Rosie Waine
Postdoctoral Researcher

Responsible for: Research associated with ‘Reclaiming Romance: highland dress and the material culture of the Highland Revival, c.1750- c.1900’, a five-year project funded by the William Grant Foundation. The aim of this project is to survey and reinterpret the tartan and Highland dress collections held by National Museums Scotland, interrogating aspects such as materials, dating, appropriate categorisation, and past ownership.

Research interests: The cultural history of textiles in Scotland; the commercial history of tartan; the ‘revival’ of Highland dress in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the material culture of Jacobitism, with a focus on dress and personal adornment; patriotic identities in Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries.


Oliver Taylor
Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary History

Responsible for: Supporting all curatorial activity across the Scottish Modern & Contemporary History Section.

Research interests: The domestic space in late-nineteenth century Scotland, in particular the history and the material culture of lives lived in the Scottish tenement.


Dr Julie Holder
Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary History

Responsible for: Supporting all curatorial activity across the Scottish Modern and Contemporary History Section.

Research Interests: Scottish antiquarianism; museum and collecting histories; development of material culture methodologies; Scottish social and cultural history; mapping faith collections in Scotland; representing disability in museums; and the material culture of modern consumerism.


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