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Dr Sarah Laurenson is Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary History.

Sarah Laurensen

Sarah Laurenson is responsible for the department’s contemporary collecting programme. Her role involves collecting objects that document the impact of major social, cultural, political and environmental changes in Scotland. The emphasis is on collecting material to represent what is distinctive about Scotland today in a global context, mindful of the differences within and across the country. A strong focus is on objects embedded with a sense of place, and on objects which link to existing collections to demonstrate how the past continually shapes the present. Laurenson is Chair of the Contemporary Collecting Working Group, which brings together colleagues from across the Museum to work collaboratively on the practical and intellectual dimensions to collecting the present day. She is responsible for the Scottish history collections from 1980 onwards, and looks after the post-1750 Scottish jewellery collections.


Laurenson’s core research interest is on the ways in which shifting cultural engagement with Scotland’s diverse landscapes shapes the material world. Her doctoral thesis from the University of Edinburgh, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, examined Scotland’s jewellery craft from 1780 to 1914 with a focus on the development of skill, and the relationship between geological knowledge and cultural production across rural and urban areas. Her current research looks at the material culture of Scotland’s mountains and coasts in an era marked by concerns around environmental change.

Prior to joining the museum, Laurenson worked as a tutor and visiting lecturer in social history from c.1650-2000 in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. She has also worked as a curator with Museums and Galleries Edinburgh, and has experience as a curator and researcher of historic and contemporary Shetland textiles.

Research interests include: contemporary collecting; the material culture of the Anthropocene; the impact of shifting ideas of the Scottish past and landscape on material culture; the jewellery craft from the 18th century to the present day; and the perceptions of craft skill through time.


Selected publications

  1. Laurenson, S. (forthcoming) The Material Landscapes of Scotland's Jewellery Craft, 1780-1914 (New York: Bloomsbury)
  2. Laurenson, S. (2016), Material landscapes: the production and consumption of men’s jewellery during the Scottish gold rush of 1869, History of Retailing and Consumption
  3. Laurenson, S. (2013), ‘Fair Isle Knitting, past and present’ in Laurenson, S. (ed) (2013), Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present (Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications).
  4. Laurenson, S. (ed) (2013), Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present (Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications).
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