National Museums Scotland is collecting history as it happens.
We have always been a museum of past and present. Contemporary collecting has been core to the development of the National Collections over the last two centuries.
Objects that reflect major shifts in Scotland during the 21st century, or change our understandings of the past, can tell inspiring stories, now and in the future.
Our new film series, Collecting the Present, explores objects we have collected recently that document cultural, political and social change in Scotland.
These films take a look at the personal meanings of objects through the eyes of the people who are closest to them, then place them in their wider cultural context. They show how contemporary collecting is vital for documenting our present, but can also shine new light on our past and give a tantalising glimpse into the future.
By collecting contemporary objects, we can not only reflect diversity in 21st century Scotland, but can talk directly to donors and lenders about how objects reflect their experiences and views.
Eunice is a Scottish supermodel, broadcaster and curator who has worked for top designers including Prada and Alexander McQueen. She has appeared in films such as Ab Fab: The Movie and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. She runs her own fashion label and established The Olumide Gallery in London. She was awarded an MBE in 2017 for services to broadcasting, the arts and charity.
In this film, Eunice reflects on her personal journey, and on feeling conflicted about accepting an award that celebrates the British Empire.
You can see Eunice's MBE and other objects on display in Scotland: A Changing Nation on Level 6 of the National Museum of Scotland.
In this blog post, Eunice explains what it means to her to see objects telling her life story on display in the Museum.
Contemporary collecting records how new interpretations of difficult aspects of Scotland's past are coming to the fore.
This porcelain tea set was used in a pop-up café in Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games of 2014. Over the products of Empire – tea, coffee and sugar – visitors to the Empire Café discussed Scotland’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Specially commissioned poetry by Scottish and Caribbean writers is printed in black and gold on the white porcelain, symbolising the riches created by Scotland’s slavery past.
In the film, Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, together with co-creators of The Empire Café Louise Welsh and Jude Barber, reflect on what the tea set tells us about how we understand the history and legacy of slavery in Scotland.
You can see the Empire Tea Set on display in the Scots in America gallery on Level 5 of the National Museum of Scotland.
In this blog post, Dr Sarah Laurenson, Curator of Modern and Contemporary History, explains how the tea set serves as a contemporary intervention in this display of historical artefacts.
Contemporary collecting enables us to link past and present, and to record the deeply personal stories and hidden meanings that people invest in often surprising objects.
This film explores objects that document community buyouts in the islands of Eigg and Ulva. Land ownership has been a contested issue in Scotland for centuries. Community buyouts aim to redistribute Scotland’s land by putting it in the hands of the people who live and work in the local area.
We have collected a drum made and used by writer and activist Alastair McIntosh in the campaign for the Eigg buyout in 1997. From Ulva, we are collecting the iconic ferry signal sign along with a doorknocker from the home of Rebecca and Rhuri Munro. For this family, the doorknocker shifted from a symbol of dilapidation and insecurity to one of regeneration in the moment that ownership of Ulva transferred to the community in June 2018.
These objects will be preserved in the National Collections and are not currently on display.
Collecting contemporary objects allows us to address current concerns about climate change and evidence of its impact in Scotland.
Skimaker Jamie Kunka reveals the ideas and processes behind crafting wooden skis in his workshop in Birnam, Perthshire. Fusing tradition and innovation, Lonely Mountain Skis are created in response to a vibrant culture of exploring and backcountry skiing in Scotland. Yet this culture has emerged against the backdrop of global concerns about our changing climate.
Two pairs of skis, a book which provided inspiration and an industry award have entered the National Collections, documenting the link between craft, landscape and climate change in Scotland. The items are not currently on display.