Skip Navigation or Skip to Content
sneachda-skis.jpg (1)

Dr Sarah Laurenson

Dr Sarah Laurenson
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.

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

Dr Sarah Laurenson is Principal Curator of Modern and Contemporary History and Head of the Modern and Contemporary History Section. She is responsible for the Scottish collections representing cultural, social, political, military and domestic history from c.1750 to the present. Sarah also has principal curatorial responsibility for the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride and the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle. 

Sarah's broad research interests span the period of Scottish history from 1750 to the present day with an emphasis on Scottish cultures and identities, and on the ways in which shifting engagement with the physical landscape and natural environment has shaped – and continues to shape – the material world. Sarah’s doctoral thesis from the University of Edinburgh, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, examined Scotland’s jewellery craft from 1780 to 1914.  


Her recent book The Material Landscapes of Scotland’s Jewellery Craft, 1780-1914 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2023) was shortlisted for History Book of the Year at the Scottish Book Awards in 2023. The book explores the historical development of craft skill in the Age of Industry, with a focus on how the use of jewellery materials extracted from Scotland’s natural landscapes – namely precious metals, agates and crystals, and freshwater pearls – throw light on the complex and shifting relationships between people and the natural world since the mid-eighteenth century. Other research interests include: the relationship between people, objects and environments in the Highlands and Islands, and the material culture and contemporary legacies of Scotland's colonial histories. In 2018-19 Sarah was co-Investigator on the project, The Matter of Slavery in Scotland, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. 


Sarah joined National Museums Scotland in 2017 when she was appointed as Curator of Modern and Contemporary History and was made Senior Curator in 2020. During this time Sarah had specific responsibilities for developing the Scottish History & Archaeology Department’s innovative contemporary collecting programme, which documents the impact of social, cultural, political and environmental change in twenty-first century Scotland. Sarah was Acting Principal Curator and Head of Modern and Contemporary History from 2021 to 2022, and made permanent in her current role in August 2022. 


Sarah is Co-Chair of the Scotland Research Group at National Museums Scotland, and is on the Advisory Board for the George Bain Collection at Groam House Museum. 


Sarah supervises the work of two doctoral students, Euan MacLeod and Laura Scobie, both funded by the AHRC. Euan’s work is focused on Gaelic material cultures in collaboration with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, University of the Highlands and Islands: ‘Cultar Dùthchasach: Materialising Gaelic Cultures in 21st-Century Scotland’. Laura Scobie’s research on the material culture of Scottish whisky, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, is titled ‘Material Spirits: Past and Landscape in the Material Culture of Whisky’. 


Sarah Laurenson (forthcoming) The Material Landscapes of Scotland's Jewellery Craft, 1780-1914 (New York: Bloomsbury).

Sarah Laurenson & Stana Nenadic (forthcoming), ‘Metals and Jewellery’ in Stana Nenadic (ed.), A Cultural History of Craft in the Age of Industry (New York: Bloomsbury Academic).

Sarah Laurenson, ‘The Matter of Slavery at National Museums Scotland’, in Emma Bond and Michael Morris (eds), Transnational Scotland: Empire, Heritage, Stories (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming early 2022).

Sarah Laurenson, Calum Robertson & Sophie Goggins, ‘Collecting COVID-19 at National Museums Scotland’, Museum & Society 18, no.3 Special Issue: ‘Isolation as a collective experience’: Museums’ first responses to COVID-19 (October, 2020).

Sarah Laurenson Material landscapes: the production and consumption of men’s jewellery during the Scottish gold rush of 1869, History of Retailing and Consumption 2:2 (July, 2016).

Sarah Laurenson, ‘Fair Isle Knitting, past and present’ in Laurenson, S. (ed) (2013), Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present (Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications, 2013).

Laurenson, S. (ed), Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present (Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications, 2013).

Find out more

Back to top