Current projects

Projects starting October 2018


Julie HolderJulie Holder

Collecting the Nation: Scottish history, patriotism and antiquarianism after Scott (1832-92)

This project is a collaboration between National Museums Scotland and the University of Glasgow. It is funded by a collaborative award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Supervisors: Dr Catriona Macdonald and Prof. Dauvit Broun, University of Glasgow; Dr Stuart Allan and Dr Fraser Hunter, National Museums Scotland.

Joseph Anderson, Keeper of the Museum of Antiquities , with its displays in the Royal Institution, c.1890.

Above: Joseph Anderson, Keeper of the Museum of Antiquities, with its displays in the Royal Institution, c.1890.

From 1832 to 1892 interpretations of the Scottish past were contested and debated in both academic and public spaces. In 1832, the father of Scottish antiquarianism Sir Walter Scott died. Like many Scottish antiquaries, he was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which had established a museum in Edinburgh. The Society’s collections were transferred to the nation in 1851. By 1891, the museum had become the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and in 1892, had published the entire Scottish collection in a comprehensive, illustrated catalogue.

The project will examine the relationships between collecting, representing and writing about the Scottish past during this period in relation to concepts of Scottish nationhood and history. This will be done by researching the archives and publications of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to assess how material artefacts were used as evidence to represent and write Scottish history. The project will also assess the influence of methods and ideas from Scandinavia, Europe and the rest of Britain on collecting, representing and writing national histories.

Blog posts by Julie Holder


Georgia VullinghsGeorgia Vullinghs

Loyal exchange: the material and visual culture of Jacobite exile, 1716-60

This project is a collaboration between National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, funded by an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Supervisors: Professor Viccy Coltman, University of Edinburgh, and Dr Stuart Allan, Keeper of Scottish History, National Museums Scotland.

Finger ring with crowned "JR" under crystal, given by James VII on the night he fled from London on 1688 to Sir Peter Halkett.

Above: Finger ring with crowned "JR" under crystal, given by James VII on the night he fled from London on 1688 to Sir Peter Halkett. 

From 1716, the exiled claimant to the British thrones, James Frances Edward Stuart, and his court lived in Italy, and after 1719 it settled permanently in Rome. Scottish collections reflect the significance of material and visual culture in articulating, promoting, and prolonging the Jacobite cause in exile. Using the museum’s collections alongside letters and papers from the time, this project will attempt to track the movement of objects and images between the exiled Stuart court and their supporters in Scotland. It will bring a better understanding of how material culture was used by supporters to express loyalty to the cause, as well as what that loyalty was based on. Through the exchanges between court and supporters, a material and visual language of Jacobite sympathy emerged, which endured thereafter in the romantic popular culture of the post-1760 Jacobite ‘lost cause’. This research will examine how that language was originally developed through networks of personal and symbolic exchange.

You can hear more from Georgia on Twitter @history_geeks


Sonny Angus

The Material Culture of Scottish Mass Politics 1815-1914

This is a collaborative project between the University of Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland which focuses on the materials used in extra-parliamentary politics from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the beginning of the First World War. This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Supervisors: Dr Gordon Pentland, University of Edinburgh; Elaine Edwards and Dr Stuart Allan, National Museums Scotland.

Necklace of silver, amethysts and green and white enamel, the colours of the suffragette movement: English, Birmingham, by Arthur and Georgina Gaskin, c. 1910

Above: Necklace of silver, amethysts and green and white enamel, the colours of the suffragette movement: English, Birmingham, by Arthur and Georgina Gaskin, c. 1910.

By the end of the 18th century, politically active individuals (both radical and loyalist) were well experienced in the use of materials as a means of communicating, expressing and imposing their ideologies. Such experience was not lost in the mass political action of the 19th century. The many movements which made up a century of almost relentless political agitation made good use of a widely varied arsenal of objects. Flags and banners were borne through lively processions by bodies of uniformed tradesmen, who often chose to decorate themselves with political medallions. Live demonstrations of the workplace were carted through these processions, showing men and women working at forges and spinning frames. Often, these live demonstrations created further objects, such as medallions, which were distributed among the crowds. Mass production also meant the creation of materials for less public use. Ceramic figurines, plates, cups, jugs were all emblazoned with political symbolism and sold for display within the home.

Previous research on the political movements of the 19th century has tended to focus largely on textual sources, which, while useful, are mostly reflections of the ideologies of these movements' leaders. This project will instead examine these objects and the contexts for their use in order to gain access to the individuals who utilised them. In doing so, the ideologies, motivations and beliefs of the rank and file of mass political movements can be centralised and a more complete understanding of the nature of these movements revealed. 


Laura VolkmerLaura Volkmer

Transferring Scientific Objects: unpacking the intellectual ownership of scientific apparatus transferred from universities to museums

This joint project between the National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh is part of the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Supervisors: Dr Niki Vermeulen (University of Edinburg) and Dr Dominic Berry (LSE); Dr Tacye Phillipson and Dr Sam Alberti (both National Museums Scotland).

Projection polarimeter by Newton & Co. Part of the University of Edinburgh Natural Philosophy Collection

Above: Projection polarimeter by Newton & Co. Part of the University of Edinburgh Natural Philosophy Collection.

Who owns the intellectual interpretation of an object once it has been added to a museum collection? Taking National Museums Scotland as a case study, this project investigates if an object maintains or changes its intellectual context once it moves from being a current item held at a university to a historic artefact in a museum. The project looks at four different collections: the Playfair Collection (1858), the Natural Philosophy Collection (1973), the Scottish universities collecting project (1985-87), and ‘collecting for the future’ (2017-2020).


James InglisJames Inglis

Typewriters and Commerce in Scotland, 1875-1930

This project is a collaboration between National Museums Scotland and The University of St Andrews. It is funded through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Supervisors: Professor Aileen Fyfe and Dr Malcolm Petrie, University of St Andrews; Dr Sam Alberti and Alison Taubman, National Museums Scotland.

Sholes Glidden typewriter keyboard

Above: Sholes-Glidden typewriter keyboard.

Between 1875 and 1910 the sale and use of typewriters in Scotland grew dramatically. While in the mid-1870s few people had even heard of the new-fangled American invention known as the typewriter, by 1900 there were dozens of retailers in the major towns and cities of Scotland that specialised in a whole range of writing machines of the most weird and wonderful designs.

This project utilises the extensive collections of typewriters held in the National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh and Glasgow Museum Resource Centre, to shed light on the commercialisation of typewriters in Scotland between 1875 and 1930. By researching the history of these collections, this project will tell the story of the manufacture and marketing of typewriters in Scotland. Actively engaging with these collections will involve cleaning, repairing and operating some of these machines to gain an insight into the practices of typewriter users in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 


Projects starting October 2018

Understanding colour in Renaissance embroidery: new analytical approaches

This project will seek to answer key questions about the manufacture of Scottish and English embroideries in the national collection, the raw materials and dyestuffs used and their relationship to continental European examples.

Supervisors: Collections Services and Department of Art and Design, National Museums Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.

Above: Square purse of white satin with petit point embroidery in coloured silks, and lined in pink silk: English, early 17th century.

National Museums Scotland's internationally significant collection of European textiles and dress is 50,000 objects strong, dating from the 14th century to the present day, and is the third largest in the UK after the V&A and the Bath Fashion Museum.

At the heart of this collection is an outstanding group of over 30 Scottish and English embroideries dating from the mid-16th to the late-17th century. Its quality and breadth, as well as the techniques represented, make this collection of national significance. Despite the significance of workshop production in England and Scotland to textile scholars, very little art historical research has been undertaken.

The PhD will seek to answer key questions about the manufacture of these objects, the raw materials and dyestuffs used and their relationship to continental European examples. The development of non-destructive analytical platforms (eg direct desorptive MS techniques such as Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Electrospray Ionization (MALDESI)) which will underpin this study, is essential for the future scientific analysis of museum collections. Thus this PhD will bring fundamental progress to both the heritage science community and the field of historical textile analysis. 


The Cold War in Scotland: technical heritage and the British 'Warfare State'

The project will draw on objects from across National Museums Scotland, including Scottish late modern, military, technology, and, especially, aviation. Assessing material from 1947–1991, the student will explore provenance, acquisition, and (where relevant) mode of display of both civilian and military objects (such as civilian and military aeroplanes, typewriters, computers and missiles).

Supervisors: Department of Science and Technology, National Museums Scotland and the University of Stirling.

Sparrow or Skyflash airborne missile

Above: Sparrow or Skyflash airborne missile capable of attacking both sub and supersonic targets at high or low altitudes, manufactured by Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in conjunction with Marconi and EMI in the UK, c. 1978.

The project will explore how these objects related to their Cold War context and thereby analyse their meanings, values and authenticity. Thus, the proposed PhD project tackles the fundamental issue of the material legacies and heritage of the Cold War in Scotland: how does a (civilian) object become a Cold War object? And what are the implications of this civil/military dichotomy for museum exhibitions and engagement?

The project will answer these questions with an interdisciplinary methodology, drawing on critical heritage and museum studies, history of science and technology, and Cold War history. The student will have a degree of freedom to shape the project to their own interests and specialism, given the wealth of material available, and we anticipate that a number of innovative connections between collections will emerge from the research.


Coinage, landscape and society in the borderlands: economy, politics and identity in Scotland and northern England, 1136-1603 

This project departs from traditional museuological numismatic research by seeking to return coins to their original landscape, material and social contexts. The geographical focus of this project will be the borderlands of Scotland and England from the 12th to 17th centuries.

Supervisors: Department of Scottish History and Archaeology, National Museums Scotland, and the University of York.

Silver Groat of James III

Above: Silver Groat of James III, the first Renaissance-style coin portrait outside of Italy, minted in Edinburgh, c.1485 

The successful student will employ and develop a range of innovative methodologies to help facilitate the examination of inter and intra-regional distinctions according to settlement type, political and economic centres, and communication routes.

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) surveying will be two key technical methodologies which will be employed to answer the research questions already identified for the studentship.   

Taking coinage as a key body of material evidence, the student will take account of the political, economic, and sociocultural relationships that developed in this key period of intense nation-building, which was characterised not only by conflict, but by ongoing cross-border contact and exchange.

The project will be guided by a number of key research questions, including:

  • What are the characteristic medieval and post-medieval coin deposition patterns of the border counties of Scotland and England, and how do they compare to national patterns?
  • What role did rural and urban settlements play in trade and exchange in the borderlands?
  • How did religious institutions in the borders affect the use and exchange of coinage?
  • To what extent was the monetary relationship between Scotland and England influenced by political, economic and cultural trajectories?
  • How can theories of border cultures be used to explain the social dimension of coinage and its role in constructing personal, ethnic, regional and national identities? 

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