Current projects

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 exiledStuart 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, Stuart Allen National Museums Scotland

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).

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 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.

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.

Sholes Glidden typewriter keyboard

Above: Sholes Glidden typewriter keyboard.

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.


Rose RobertoRose Roberto

Democratising knowledge: Chambers’s illustrated encyclopaedia

This is a project in conjunction with National Museums Scotland, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through a collaborative award.

Supervisors: Dr Rob Banham and Professor Paul Luna, University of Reading; Alison Taubman, National Museums Scotland.

Driven by an investigation of the collection of 20,000 woodblock engravings from the firm of W&R Chambers that are held by National Museums Scotland, this project will examine the first two editions of Chambers’s encyclopaedia (1860–68 and 1888–92). The research will explore how each edition was affected by changes in technology, working practices in the printing and publishing industries, and growth of new knowledge in the late Victorian period. It will also consider the philosophy, implicit in its publication, of a democratisation of knowledge made explicit in the Encyclopaedia’s sub-title: ‘a dictionary of universal knowledge for the people’.

In addition to the wood block collection at National Museums Scotland, the doctoral research will also draw upon business archives of W&R Chambers held at the National Library of Scotland.

You can find out more about the project at Rose's research blog and see the online resource here.

Two editions of Chambers' illustrated encylopaedia

Above: Two editions of Chambers’ illustrated encyclopaedia at Chetham’s Library, Manchester, 2014. Photo by Rose Roberto.

Projects starting October 2018

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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.
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The Cold War in Scotland: Technical Heritage and the British 'Warfare State'

This project will draw on objects from across National Museums Scotland, including Scottish late modern, military, technology, and, especially, aviation.
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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.
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