Tag Archive for: Research Management

Deputy Director: V&A Research Institute

VARI

VARI — the Victoria and Albert Museum Research Institute is a new programme of research and teaching partnerships to enhance access to the V&A’s collections and develop new approaches to research, training, display and interpretation. I have been appointed Deputy Director of VARI in its initial development phase over the next year: VARI was was launched in 2016 with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation following a successful VARI Pilot Project in 2014-2015. 

 

Nestled inside the V&A Research Department, the Institute aims to co-design new research methodologies that can dovetail a range of different approaches, setting out to foster new forms of collaboration between experts in curation, conservation and collections management; academics from across the humanities, social sciences and sciences; artists, designers and performers; and pioneers in the field of research administration.

Of course, research takes place on a daily basis throughout the Museum, in its Conservation and Collections Departments as well as in its Learning Department and in collections management, where information architecture is a crucial spine holding together objects and our knowledge of them.  VARI also aims to accommodate research interests of visitors as well — both to the South Kensington HQ and to the planned Education Quarter in East London, where the V&A are close neighbours with UCL, London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells, and other significant institutions to be based on what was the Olympic Park.

A portfolio of residencies, Visiting Professorships, Fellowships and Postdoctoral positions will traverse several structured research projects embedded in V&A Collections.  The Leman Album: An Enhanced Facsimile brings together conservation knowledge with textile curators and historians, as well as binding and paper specialists.  Encounters on the Shop Floor: Embodiment and the Knowledge of the Maker seeks to surface and articulate the cognitive aspects of making and knowing, and to position them at the core of the craftsmanship that is everywhere in evidence in V&A collections.  Collections Access and Display Fellowships will experiment with the V&A’s modes and methods for exhibition curation and find new ways of bringing research to bear on the access the Museum gives to its objects.

 

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Further Links: V&A Research Institute Pilot Report; Leman Album in Collections Online; Encounters on the Shop Floor Video by Paul Craddock

[Image References: Facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum; ‘fruit machine’ VARI logo; Album of designs for silk textiles created by James Leman in the first years of the 18th Century — V&A Collection]

Collections-Based Research: University of Reading

researchers_museum_of_english_rural_life_uni_reading

Collections-Based Research Programme Director, University of Reading (first cohort 2013-2014)

An increasing number of researchers from the humanities and beyond understandably want to work directly with material culture: this new programme is focused on skills training to enable these colleagues to collaborate effectively with museum and archive professionals.  As Programme Director, I have been working with University of Reading’s Head of Museums and Special Collections, Kate Arnold-Forster, Professor Alison Donnell of the School of Literature and Languages and Dr Rhianned Smith of the Museum Studies programme to develop the Centre for Collections-Based Research, including the co-design of a unique research skills programme. The programme is built around and in the extraordinary collections, skilled collections staff, and dedicated faculty members who both care for and employ departmental collections in their own research and teaching.  The first cohort of students we are teaching begins this year, and includes several who have received fee-waiver studentships from the University.

 

‘Laboratories’ for the 21st Century, university museums have a key role to play in bringing arts and humanities researchers together with primary source materials in heritage collections.  Straddling museum and faculty practice and disciplines, and having as much experience of working with senior researchers as they do with supporting undergraduate teaching, university collections professionals are inherently interdisciplinary and have been at the forefront of the ‘material turn’ in humanities.  This PhD research skills development programme galvanizes the University of Reading’s collections and the staff that care for them alongside faculty members working in a wide range of subject disciplines.  It is training doctoral researchers across disciplines, whether they will be carrying out research in museums, libraries, archives or universities.

Though some of the learning requirements do overlap, this is not museum studies or library/archive science.  The programme aims to provide postgraduate students with the research skills required to:

successfully navigate collections-based research environments;
develop and answer high-quality research questions informed by multiple methodological approaches including those based in collections;
identify and critique both intellectual and institutional practices and boundaries;  
collaborate effectively with museum and archive professionals as research colleagues

I first visited the University of Reading special collections in the late 1990s when I was completing my MA in the History of the Book on a Commonwealth Scholarship at the University of London.  Reading’s Archive of British Publishing and Printing is an astonishingly rich reserve containing everything from author manuscripts and editorial commentary to printing house ledger books, enabling enlightened researchers to chart the complex connections and counterpoints between modernist aesthetics and market economies (among other things!) through the long 20th Century.

This extraordinarily fertile research asset sits alongside others of equal calibre: the Samuel Beckett Archive and the working collections of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communications are both world-renowned.  Reading is also endowed with two major teaching and research collections which were amassed by two of the University’s earliest professorial appointees — The Ure Museum of Greek Ceramics was founded by Professor Percy Ure on his arrival at Reading in 1911, and Professor of Zoology Francis Cole, appointed in 1907, instated the Cole Museum of Zoology.  Add to this a carefully maintained University Herbarium and the Museum of English Rural Life, and it is clear to see why Reading’s are among the most significant University collections in the UK.

This new Collections-Based Research PhD Programme engages Reading’s collections not only in teaching, and not only as a research asset, but also as a ground in which to teach research skills and methods that are transferable to other endeavours in research arenas that encompass most other collections world-wide.  It is project-based research and teaching.  My own interdisciplinary experience in both research and research management and inter-institutional collaborations is well-deployed here, and I am particularly excited by the range of student subject disciplines in the humanities and the creative arts.  This first cohort includes archaeologists, theatre practitioners, book historians, a typographer working across roman and non-roman letterforms, and a political historian working on wartime radio broadcast propaganda.

[UPDATE: here is the 2015-2016 academic year course schedule]

 

wood_type_university-of-reading

 

The context in which the Reading Collections-Based Research Programme has been developed encompasses a wider national programme financing Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDAs) through the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  Since 2005, the AHRC has awarded full scholarship CDAs to Higher Education Institutions to partner and co-supervise student projects with non-University research centres. Many of these have been with major museums and archives which are recognised by the AHRC as Independent Research Organisations (IROs).  In 2013, the AHRC awarded block-grant funding to several IRO museums, archives and consortia so that the collections-based institutions could themselves define some of the research questions which would be addressed with the studentships.  The huge interdisciplinary potential of these partnerships is accompanied by the doubling of the range of skills that need to be taught, and the division of supervision across two very different kinds of institution.

These skills are just as important for more seasoned researchers as they are for doctoral candidates — the creation of a sustainable research arena between the academy and the archive involves some serious knowledge transfer.  In their 2008 report Discovering Physical Objects; Meeting Researchers’ Needs, the Research Information Network canvassed both UK museum professionals and the researchers with whom they collaborate to uncover some of the issues both face in their collaborations.  Given the fact that both sides of that collaboration have seen funding heavily cut in the intervening five years in this country, both Reading’s Collections-Based Research PhD Programme and the growth of the CDA Programme are very welcome developments.

Meanwhile, given my own interests in graphic design and natural history, I’m thinking of developing an interdisciplinary project to link together Reading’s typographic holdings and the zoology collections — beginning with the ‘type specimens’!

 

8_mm_film_types_MERL_Bartram

 

Further Links:  Collections-Based Research at University of Reading; University Museums and Special Collections, University of Reading; Collaborative Doctoral Awards Programme AHRC; Independent Research Organisations AHRC; University Museums Group; RIN: Discovering Physical Objects, Meeting Researchers’ Needs

[Image References: Handling paper archives at the University of Reading Archives and Special Collections Reading Room; Researchers examining collections at the Museum of English Rural Life; Wood type collections at University of Reading Department of Typography and Graphic Communications; Two types of 8mm film documented during a recent survey of time-based media conducted by Greta Bertram at MERL for the ACE-funded ‘Countryside21‘ project.]

Senior Research Associate: Reconstructing Sloane

Research and Project Management, Reconstructing Sloane (2011 – present)

 

The vast Enlightenment-era collections amassed by Sir Hans Sloane are the foundation-stone of the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum. A major interdisciplinary digital humanities research project to virtually reunite and analyse Sloane’s collections and his own catalogue inventories is now being planned, led by curators and research staff of these institutions. I am collaborating with these colleagues to design, develop and resource the Reconstructing Sloane project. My own related research, investigating collections management as a knowledge producing practice in the early modern period, is supported by both Visiting Fellowships at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and a Research Scholar Affiliation at the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.

 

Sloane’s early modern collections of natural history, ethnographia, antiquities, artworks, numismatics, books and manuscripts are now divided across the three world-class institutions which were created by his gift to the nation: the British Museum in Bloomsbury, the British Library in King’s Cross, and the Natural History Musem in South Kensington.  Over the 260 years since his death in 1753, the materials have followed the paths of the disciplines which they themselves in part had spawned: thus the integrity of the collections and their meaning as a coherent site of early modern intellectual practice has been slowly obscured.

Of course, the collections also changed a great deal, in their form and use, over Sloane’s own lifetime, as he was collecting internationally for some 70 years in a period of immense global and intellectual change. The 18th century is arguably the first period of globalisation, and the relationship between trade and intellectual life in this epoch is a subject of considerable interest in a wide range of humanities fields.  The world in which Sloane paid close attention to the messy business of organic life – irreducible to mathematics –  is also the world of Boyle and Hooke, of Locke and Newton, of Leeouwenhoek and Leibnitz.

This exciting project was first proposed in 2010, when a 350th anniversary of Sloane’s birth in 1660 was celebrated by the British Library with a conference. From Books to Bezoars was a wide-ranging two-day event that showed the astonishing breadth of Sloane’s work and influence, even today.  It was organised by Alison Walker, who has been the driving force behind the Sloane Printed Book Project, which aims to locate and identify all books owned and used by Sloane and subsequently bequeathed to what would become the British Library.  It was common practice then, as today, for libraries to sell off duplicate copies of books: a number of Sloane’s books, well used and full of highly significant marginal notes, were auctioned through the 18th and 19th century – no doubt considered at the time to be the grubbier of any two copies the Library owned!

Later that year, in August 2010, a meeting of curatorial and research staff from the British Library, British Museum, Natural History Museum, the Royal Society Centre for History of Science, the Wellcome Library and beyond took place at the NHM under the auspices of its  Centre for Arts and Humanities Research. I was at that time seconded into CAHR as part of its small dynamic research development team, and for that meeting I collated an overview survey of the state of Sloane collections and research across the three institutions.

Before my secondment ended in Spring 2011, we organised several exploratory meetings internally and between the institutions, and the project quickly developed momentum.  Representing the NHM, I worked with Dr Kim Sloan, curator of the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, and Liz Lewis, Higher Education Partnerships Manager at The British Library, to co-author a 60-page business plan for ‘Reconstructing Sloane.’ Produced in July of 2011, this project development roadmap is now the backbone of the undertaking.  My current research and project management work with the three national institutions picks up from there, and we are now working on project design and resourcing. A particularly exciting prospect is that of working with digital humanities colleagues to quite literally reconstruct, albeit virtually, Sloane’s intellectual world, and to explore what a deep history of ‘information science’ might look like.

Throughout 2012, with support from an Arts and Humanities Research Council ‘Science in Culture’ Networking Grant to the British Museum, the three institutions led some of the most exciting cross-disciplinary seminars and meetings ever to be held about early modern intellectual life and legacy.  These events brought together dozens of disciplinary fields and areas of curatorial expertise, showing just what can be done when museums and universities work together (recordings of many of the proceedings are available online from Backdoor Broadcasting).

 

 

At the Network meeting which took place at the British Museum, I led a breakout session about cataloguing as research, and research into cataloguing itself.  What is of interest to me with Sloane is the unique triangulation between history of science, history of collections, and history of the book – three fields I have always found highly productive.  Sloane’s world is one which could be called ‘pre-disciplinary,’ and requires a highly interdisciplinary team if we are to understand, in the 21st century, what exactly that might mean.

It was nearly 20 years ago that I first heard about Sloane from the man who first brought the history of collections to the attention of other humanities disciplines, Dr Arthur MacGregor.  Arthur edited the volume Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist, Antiquary (1994), which has become the bible of those of us working on the meanings and use histories of Sloane’s collections.  In a more recent publication, Arthur’s Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries (Yale 2007), we read:

“A parallel evolutionary process can be traced between the development of the cabinet and that of the catalogue.  More than mere inventories, catalogues had a dynamic of their own that contributed not only to the formal registration or recording of collections but also to their analysis and explication at several levels.  Furthermore, the catalogue developed a distinct literary and philosophical programme through which it evolved into a genre that, even if (at least normally) dependent on the collection, was more than merely reflective of it.”

I have been investigating the implications of these ‘evolutionary processes’ between the cabinet and the catalogue during research fellowship periods at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, and as an Affiliated Research Scholar at the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Cambridge. This is essentially a study of collections management as science, and though my research remit is not limited to Sloane’s work alone, his meticulous attention to the documentation and organisation of his collection is a major focus.

 

 

Three Collaborative Doctoral Awards focusing on Sloane’s collections are now underway:

Collecting and Correspondence: Sloane’s Papers and Scientific Networks (Supervised by Dr Arnold Hunt, British Library and Dr Anne Goldgar, King’s College London)

Putting Nature in a Box: Sloane’s Vegetable Substances (Supervised by Dr Charlie Jarvis, Natural History Museum, and Professor Miles Ogborn, Queen Mary University of London)

Visualizing Natural Knowledge: Sloane’s Albums of Natural History Drawings  (Supervised by Dr Kim Sloan, British Museum, and Dr Elizabeth Eger, King’s College London)

 

Further Links:  Sloane’s Treasures British Museum; Sloane’s Treasures Natural History Museum; British Library Foundation Collections; Sloane Printed Books Project; From Books to Bezoars; British Museum Collections Online; Backdoor Broadcasting Sloane Workshops Podcasts

[Image References: Onyx Cameo of a Goat (16th-17thc, Sloane Collections), British Museum; view of the Enlightenment Gallery, British Museum; page spread from Sloane’s own catalogue of Miscellanies, British Museum; cabinet drawer (c1670), Centraal Museum, Utrecht.]

Science Voices, Museum Lives

Co-organiser, Science Voices: Scientists Speak About Science and Themselves, Royal Society, London (May 2011)

 

This conference explored the creation and use of historic recordings, bringing science and scientists to skilled historians and the general public through their own vibrant personal voices and testimony.  From oral history to collegial obituary, from witness seminar to ‘personal information files’, scientists are complementing the legacy and understanding of their work with more personal and in-depth records.  Some of these are developed with oral historians and others by scientific peers: how is this important material created and framed intellectually, as well as used by historians in conjunction with paper archives and scientific publications?

My co-organisers for this conference were Professor Brian Cathcart, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University and Dr Felicity Henderson, Events and Exhibitions Manager of the Centre for History of Science at the Royal Society. It was particularly satisfying to return as a researcher to the Royal Society ten years after I had been Development Manager there: it was during my tenure that I had first proposed a Centre for History of Science, and formulated a business plan for it. It is now a very dynamic group, with wonderful staff like Felicity.

The original impetus for the Science Voices conference was the major oral history project, Museum Lives, then underway at the Natural History Museum where I was working in the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research.

Museum Lives was an AHRC-funded research programme to record extensive interviews with Natural History Museum staff — 300 of whom are scientists — about their lives and work with the Museum and with natural history in general. The interviews form a capsule record of the past 30 years and more of developments in biology and biodiversity, climate change and conservation — both environmental and museological. This 30-year period spans everything from the sequencing of the genome to the advent of ubiquitous computing, from digital collections to the Darwin Centre.

Advances in digital recording technologies and in oral history techniques have rapidly increased the number of such projects in science fields. Concurrently with Museum Lives, the British Library National Life Stories unit is running an Oral History of British Science, and the Royal Society’s Dr Peter Collins is interviewing a wide range of people for his History of the Royal Society in the 20th Century. Peter is the Director of the new Centre for History of Science at the RS.

Some of the research questions and issues we wanted to address with the conference were:

Framing oral histories of science: constructing a coherent intellectual framework for interview subject selection and project design

Where science practice and oral history converge: scientific knowledge transfer, lab training and the eyewitness account

When science speaks: the tension between training in objectivity and speaking subjective experience – can oral history interviews engender self-reflexivity in scientists?

Institutions, laboratories, collections: distinguishing between individual, collective and corporate enunciations in oral history of science

Video interviews versus audio interviews pro and con: the specifics of science practice in labs and with instruments, materials and specimens

Making use of oral history in history and epistemology of science: examples of historiographic practice employing oral history records

Relations between archival formats (interviews with scientists, scientific records, and personal papers): issues for researchers and for knowledge management professionals

Oral history digitisation, storage and dissemination: metadata, name authorities, text-mining, discovery resources: how can people find what they need?

 

We brought together an exciting group of people who are either creating, contributing or using oral history recordings in the history of science to discuss the ways in which history of science is both further enriched and further complexified by this material.

Professor Soraya de Chadarevian, from University of California at Los Angeles and University of Cambridge, spoke about her very different experiences of interviewing subjects in the course of her research and using the interviews of others. The slippery problem of relying on transcripts of interviews came up here. Another highlight was Elizabeth Haines, who gave us a really useful framework to understand this wide field that is oral history of science — who has commissioned it and effected it, where, when and why, and what kinds of subjects have been addressed. There were sessions with some of the most accomplished oral historians working in this field, including Professor Tilly Tansey, who pioneered Witness Seminars in the history of medicine.

The Royal Society’s 350-year history takes so many forms and formats that this was also an occasion to explore oral history’s rapport with other records — written, published, imaged. The Head of the Library, Keith Moore, spoke about the RS’s Personal Information Files on Fellows, and Professors Tom Meade FRS and Malcolm Longair FRS spoke about the intricacies and delicacies of scientists writing about each other, in the Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society. The grain of the voice was particularly well addressed by Dr Paul Merchant, whose presentation focused on interviewing scientists about their childhoods.

And of course, Museum Lives, and the difficulties of institutional histories, were ably addressed by Principal Investigator Professor Brian Cathcart and interviewer Dr Sue Hawkins of Kingston University.

The Conference was recorded and can be accessed online at Backdoor Broadcasting. You can also download a copy of the programme as a pdf.

 

Museum Lives: An Oral History of the Natural History Museum  (Principal Investigator, Professor Brian Cathcart, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Kingston University: AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship with the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research at the Natural History Museum)

Oral History of British Science (National Life Stories; for the British Library in association with the Science Museum)

A History of the Royal Society in the 20th Century: oral history interview research  (Principal Investigator, Dr Peter Collins, Director, Centre for the History of Science, Royal Society)

Biographical Memoirs of the Royal Society  (Royal Society Publishing, Editor Professor Tom Meade FRS)

Natural History Museum: CAHR

Vice-Chancellor’s Investment Fund Secondment, Centre for Arts and Humanities Research, Natural History Museum (London):  Kingston University  (2009 to 2011)

 

This key two-year post was central to a small dynamic team developing an arts and humanities research hub inside this national museum with international reach, where 300 scientists are at work studying plant and animal genetics, geology and mineralogy, the structure of the universe, biodiversity, climate change and more.

Having worked at the Science Museum (London) and the Medical Museion (Copenhagen), as well as a number of fine art museums, I was excited to see the advertisement for this post — which was headlined: “Would you like to work in a creative, fulfilling and exciting environment, where you will have the opportunity to explore the world class Natural History Museum collections?”

I felt I could answer that question clearly and succinctly in the affirmative.

The ad continued: this is “an innovative new project, which aims to explore the potential of the Museum collections as a resource for arts and humanities research. With a relevant postgraduate degree and a successful record of applying for and obtaining external research income, you will have the ability to build effective networks within the field of humanities and work in productive partnership with academic colleagues.”  Just as interesting to me as the collections was this opportunity to help operationalise the highly interdisciplinary practice that would be the outcome of a successful integration of arts and humanities researchers into this scientific research institute.

I already had experience of aligning methodologies across arts and science through individual projects, and had been consulted for strategic development advice by institutions such as the Royal Society and the Science Museum vis à vis resourcing the research potential of their collections. This project would be a chance to be directly effective at an institutional scale in implementing change.

The NHM is essentially UK science infrastructure for systematics, taxonomics and biodiversity: the excitement for me was in the potential for enabling productive links between the vast range of biological research methods at the NHM and those of arts and humanities researchers that CAHR, as it came to be known, would bring in.

My work with organic collections and with contemporary molecular and microbiological practices at the Medical Museion was a very good grounding for moving into natural history fields like zoology and entomology. I was at home in both the collections environment and the lab areas: it is an amazing institution and every day of the week there was something astounding to see and understand.

A crucial linchpin of information management about specimens from across the Museum — in Zoology, Entomology, Botany, Mineralogy and Palaeontology — is the incredibly rich NHM Library and Archives. For the 350 pre-digital years of the Museum’s specimen collecting practice, any relevant observations including locations and dates were kept in notebooks and manuscripts, and the trade in specimens involved of necessity various forms of scientific visualisation. Thus 500,000 images of nature from the world over are also part of the collection.

 

 

Taken as a whole, these rich and diverse collections trace a wide spectrum from the history of science to the history of empire, from epistemologies of observational practice to ontologies of data-mining. With associated field notes, films, photographs, diaries, drawings, ship’s logs, correspondence and both GIS and DNA data, the Natural History Museum specimen collections are a rich resource for investigation. Fields as varied as history, philosophy, museology, anthropology, literary studies, film and photo studies, animal studies, cultural theory and area studies relating to South Asia, Africa, China and elsewhere find firm purchase and important primary materials in the NHM collections.

My post involved me in gaining a detailed understanding of the historical and scientific basis of the NHM collections, their management and use. With the generous support of NHM staff, I effected more than 25 specimen collection and laboratory research visits, and produced a 35 page strategy document outlining an appropriate and fundable research programme divided into several interlocking sections:

  • Natural History, Global History
  • Visual Cultures Of Natural History
  • Literatures And Texts Of Natural History
  • Museum As Laboratory: ‘Improving Natural Knowledge’
  • Facilitating Interdisciplinarity
  • Sharing Knowledge

 

Under ‘Natural History, Global History’ I wrote:

The co-production of understandings of the natural world with the development of empires – both financial and geo-political – is the subject of this Research Cluster. The recent ‘material turn’ in historical research is beginning to extend beyond the holdings of cultural museums to address collections whose primary purpose has been scientific investigation, with its attendant specific histories and economies.

The unique qualities of natural history specimens and the geospatial and temporal data which accompanies them means that they function as information-rich pivots for historical investigation. Who collected these specimens – from indigenous groups to Presidents of the Royal Society – and how and why they were collected – from instrumentation and instruction to economic botany – is in essence a history of the world since 1500. The circulation of specimens, ideas and goods is concomitant, and an examination of this nexus over time is a key epistemological endeavour in which the Museum can play a central role.

Humanities researchers are best placed to analyse the often widely divergent and physically disparate sets of written records which can join up dots to plot the movement of ideas and objects through time and space. This would be a contribution not only to history and epistemology, but also to current science, by enabling the reintegration of point reference data with earlier collections.

 

I identified and developed contacts with researchers internationally who have the skills to effect this work, including drawing up a longlist for the Centre Advisory Board, and assisting with its formation. With other members of the team (Julie Harvey, Centre Manager; Dr Charlie Jarvis, Scientific Advisor; Nadja Noel, Project Coordinator) I organised and hosted both pro-active and responsive meetings and collection visits with potential partners, individual and institutional. A considerable part of the post involved enabling and promoting partnerships for CAHR with universities, research councils, foundations, libraries and other major museums.

Zoology, taxonomy and systematics are structurally very interesting activities, with complex institutional and linguistic regimes and instrument practices, and I also developed two research project proposals rooted in these fields. One of them related taxonomic nomenclature to philosophy of language, and another outlined a methodologies-exchange between zoological scientists and animal studies researchers. One outcome of the latter was the lecture programme Unruly Creatures, convened by Kingston Professor John Mullarkey. I also represented CAHR at a range of external conferences, from Scientific Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation to In Kind: Species of Exchange in Early Modern Science and Museums and Restitution.

The Centre ran a number of larger projects during the period of my tenure, some of which I was also directly involved in. I co-organised the conference Science Voices (at the Royal Society) which examined oral history of science as part of Museum Lives — a Kingston University AHRC-funded Knowledge Transfer project to interview 50 NHM members of staff. I also became closely involved in the project initiation phase of ‘Reconstructing Sloane’ — a cross-institutional project between the NHM, the British Library and the British Museum, which intends to reunite, analyse and make accessible the original foundation collections of all three institutions as constituted by Sir Hans Sloane in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Representing the NHM, I worked with Dr Kim Sloan, curator of the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, and Liz Lewis, Higher Education Partnerships Manager at The British Library, to co-author a 60-page business plan for ‘Reconstructing Sloane.’ Produced in July of 2011, this project initiation document is now the backbone of the project, supporting the Consortium’s unfolding work on Sloane.

Institutional business planning, communication strategy creation and implementation, participation in policy and procedure development advocating for the humanities researcher, lecture series curation and management, mentoring, fundraising and more were also part of my work for the Centre. Working across both the Museum and Kingston University, I helped Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences researchers formulate projects through the Museum, and collaborated with KU’s Museum and Gallery Studies director Dr Duncan Grewcock and NHM Public Engagement Staff to design and deliver postgraduate teaching and learning.

Since the end of my tenure, Kingston University has instated five research Fellowships at the NHM Centre under the rubrics I identified in my CAHR strategy document: I look forward to the outcomes.

 

 

You can hear a podcast of my lecture Natural History, Global History, presented at the launch of the Centre for the Historical Record conference ‘Providing Public History: Challenges and Opportunities‘ (10/06/2011) Kingston University.

Further Links:  Centre for Arts and Humanities Research at the Natural History Museum; Unruly Creatures 1; Unruly Creatures 2; London Graduate School, Kingston University; Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation; In Kind: Species of Exchange in Early Modern Science; Museums and Restitution; Museum and Gallery Studies, Kingston University; Centre for the Historical Record; Reconstructing Sloane’

[Image References: Lepidoptera Collections, Natural History Museum; Earth Sciences Librarian Hellen (Pethers) Sharman displaying William Smith’s Geological Map of English (1815) for geological historians; the Central Hall of the NHM]

Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health, Copenhagen

Visiting Associate Professor, Faculty of Health, University of Copenhagen: Medical Museion (2006 – 2007)

 

Working as part of the research team ‘Biomedicine on Display,’ I helped to develop the Art and Biomedicine research stream at the Medical Museion. This included the development and programming of a 30-person international interdisciplinary workshop entitled Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museum Context (with Dr Jan-Eric Olsén and PI Professor Director Thomas Soderqvist) as well as a day-long symposium in collaboration with the Royal Danish Art Academy: Art and Biomedicine: Beyond the Body

My Visiting Professorship at Museion contributed to the research direction of ‘Biomedicine on Display’ in the run-up to the exhibition Split + Splice, for which I was subsequently made Creative Director. ‘Biomedicine on Display’ was the short name for the five-year long project, funded by Novo Nordisk and led by Professor Soderqvist: “Danish Biomedicine 1955-2005: Integrating Medical Museology and the Historiography of Contemporary Biomedicine”

Professor Soderqvist invited me to be involved because of my highly innovative exhibition practice, coupled with experience of working with scientists and a knowledge of both history of science and of the inner workings of museums. The main research events that I was involved in producing jointly with Professor Soderqvist and post-doc Dr Jan-Eric Olsen were as follows.

‘Biomedicine and Aesthetics in a Museum Context’ — a closed international workshop (August 30 – September 1 2007, Medical Museion, Copenhagen). Over 30 participants were involved in this intensive event that involved pre-circulated papers and a very open mind. These are the issues we met to address:

The aim of this closed workshop is to help forge new strategies of making sense of and presenting recent biomedicine in museums, especially taking into account the unique difficulties of rendering visible material biomedical practices in their social, cultural, political, aesthetic and scientific complexity.

The workshop will bring together key practitioners from a range of methodological approaches, including artists with a firm understanding of biomedical practice, museologists and material culture scholars, historians of science, art historians and aestheticians, biomedical practitioners with a knowledge of contemporary bioart, and visualisation specialists.

The conjuncture of biomedicine and aesthetics is a rapidly growing field of artistic practice and academic reflection, dealing with an array of issues, from the public engagement with current biomedicine to methodological overlaps between the practices of artists and laboratory researchers. Museums are key institutions for this hybrid field of inquiry.

 

A sense of the specific issues we were trying to unpick can be garnered from my article (for both the Museion Blog and its Yearly Report) entitled The Huge Invisibles. The list of attendees included Ken Arnold (Wellcome Trust); David Edwards (Harvard/Le Laboratoire); Anke te Heesen (now of Humboldt-Universität); Sharon MacDonald (University of Manchester); Arthur Olsen (Scripps Research Institute); Claire Pentecost (School of the Arts Institute Chicago), Miriam van Rijsingen (University of Amsterdam), Calum Storrie (London), Richard Wingate (Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, King’s College, London), and more.

We also commissioned, with the help of Danish curator Stine Hebert, the highly accomplished sound artist, Jacob Kirkegaard, to make a work for the event. His Labyrinthitis, which was premiered at Museion in the old operating theatre on 2 September 2007, has gone on to be presented in many other contexts, and has been produced as a recording by Touch Music.

 

 

Following hot on the heels of the Workshop and the premiere of Labyrinthitis, we moved — quite literally — down the street to the Royal Danish Art Academy for the public part of the research proceedings, the conference Beyond the Body. This was a collaboration with the Schools of Visual Art, and Rector Mikkel Bogh was our host and partner for the day.  It was wonderful to be able to go from one seat of learning to another, from medicine to fine art, both housed in 18th century buildings, as 21st century interdisciplinary practitioners. Several hundred people were waiting for us at the Art Academy.

They day was organised into sessions of course, and it was possible to immediately transfer to a public arena some of the discussions we had had in the closed Workshop in the preceding days. Among those who spoke, and whom I have not yet mentioned above, were Ben Fry (data visualisation designer); Steve Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble); Ingeborg Reichle (Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften); and James Elkins (E.C. Chadbourne Chair, Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago).*

Medical Museion is one of several museums of the University of Copenhagen, and its collections span some 300 years of medical history. Nestled within the Faculty of Health, which also encompasses the Panum Research and Teaching Institute, a dozen Teaching Hospitals including the Royal Hospital, and the dazzling new Proteomics Centre, the Medical Museion connects a large network of cutting edge health practitioners to the history, origins and critique of medicine today.

As a research institute in history and philosophy of medicine, Museion is not alone in the Faculty of Health. Indeed, it is overseen by the Institute of Public Health, whose social scientists regularly contribute to Museion’s intellectual programme. What is unusual about it is that the primary sources for this research institute are collection objects, not solely archives and texts.

Director Thomas Soderqvist was appointed to Museion a decade ago, and has made of it a research-intensive institution which has welcomed some highly innovative researchers — including me.

“By focusing on integration between research, collecting, education and dissemination beyond the Museum world, the Medical Museion will go beyond the traditional division between universities as pure research-and-teaching units, and museums which are primarily collection and dissemination institutions.”                   Vision Statement, Medical Museion

 

Of course, all university museums have this potential, and all museums effect intensive research into their collections in ways that are not yet fully acknowledged as such — cataloguing collections of material culture requires a level of interdisciplinary skill that few academics can even imagine, for example. What’s special about Museion is that an attempt is being made to look both ways. It’s something that could not be done without agile and highly skilled collections management and conservation — Museion is lucky to have Ion Meyer as Head of Collections, one of the most accomplished conservators of organic material working today, and a consummate museum professional.

Another thing that’s special about Museion is that it is paying close attention to the history of medicine of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.  It’s hard enough for medical practitioners to keep up, let alone a museum — but the skills of medical historians, philosophers and social scientists can make a major contribution to self-reflexivity on the part of those practitioners, and to public understanding and engagement with the huge issues brought up by rapidly advancing biotechnology.

One of the main aims of my post was to create an arena in which a group of highly skilled post-doctoral researchers in history of contemporary biomedicine could collaboratively conceptualise, and then actually make, an exhibition – a project entirely new to them, and for which they had no prior training. Exhibition-making is both an intellectual methodology engaging with material culture and a pragmatic, technically complex task — not for the faint-hearted.

I developed a programme and syllabus to teach these humanities post-doctoral students how to think about – and how to think through – the material culture of their field, and then how to actually make a real exhibition to a defined deadline. Though this was technically post-doctoral supervision of a kind, I certainly learned as much from them as they learned from me — and together we went on to produce an exhibition so successful it won the 2010 Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits of the Society for the History of Technology against stiff international competition from much larger and better resourced institutions. That exhibition was Split + Splice — its co-curators with me were Dr Susanne Bauer; Dr Søren Bak-Jensen; Dr Sniff Andersen Nexø; Dr Jan Eric Olsén; and, until spring of 2008, Hanne Jessen.

 

*An archive of all three events over the five-day period can be found on the University of Copenhagen’s Biocampus website: they part-funded the events as well. Smaller events were no less important in the work of that year — Museion also received Jens Hauser and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.

Further Links: Medical Museion; Jacob Kirkegaard, Labyrinthitis; Royal Danish Art Academy; Dibner Award for Excellence in Museum Exhibits

[Image References: detail of flyer for Art and Biomedicine; a lab desktop at the Proteomics Centre with a pair of dolls distributed by Eppendorf; Jacob Kirkegaard working on Labyrinthitis in the Medical Museion operating theatre]

Allan Fleming Project

Allan Fleming Project: Publications, Research, Archive Management (2007-2011)

 

History of Graphic Design is a budding field that touches everything from advertising to artists’ books, from word and image studies to printing technologies. I first learned about these subjects quite literally at my father’s knee — yes, that knee in the photo above. Thirty years after my father’s early death in 1977, I realised that with the range of research methodologies and approaches that I had garnered in my MA, History of the Book, it would be possible for me to effect a scholarly appraisal of his position in the history of Canadian graphic design. In 2006 I initiated just such a project, which produced among other things two issues of the design and printing journal, Devil’s Artisan, which I edited:  it includes an overview of Allan’s work and several articles by exciting researchers and design historians.

 

My father, Allan Fleming, has been called ‘Canada’s first design guru’. He was certainly the country’s foremost graphic designer in the spectacular mid-century moment when the fusion of advertising and typography spawned a riot of raw talent across the continent, when technologies of design became intimate with the design of technologies, and when Canada, spurred by the lure of its centennial year of 1967, formed itself as a culturally literate nation – replete with a Design Council that he helped to instate.

Allan trained at his own (and my mother’s) expense in the mid-1950s in London and Europe; he honed those skills at the furnace-face of hot metal as creative director (a position then almost unheard of outside Europe) at Toronto’s Cooper & Beatty Type Craftsmen from 1956 to 1962; he burned it all up at MacLaren Advertising (now MacLaren McCann), where he was Creative Director for six years. Finally, in a post created for him, he helped revolutionise the look of scholarly publishing in North America as chief of design at the University of Toronto Press. He died in 1977, aged only 48.

His best-known legacy is the symbol that he created for Canadian National Railways as part of their mid-century modernisation programme. The CN symbol was itself like a train driving Modernist design straight through the 1960s in Canada and beyond, and it still adorns countless bridges and trains over 50 years later.

In 2006, I was invited by Tim Inkster of the Porcupine’s Quill, publishers of Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts in Canada, to guest-edit an issue of the journal about Allan’s work. It turned into a double-volume publication and a much bigger project than that alone.

 

‘DA’, as it is known, is available through abebooks.com and also, as a digital publication, on Zinio. The first of the two issues, DA 62, is packed with information about mid-century graphic design in North America, the conditions in which it took place, and the specifics of the Canadian scene. The second issue, DA 63, contains articles by leading Canadian photo historian Carole Payne and design historian Brian Donnelly. The issues also contain evaluations of Allan’s work and its impact from practising designers working in related fields — Donna Braggins, who, like Allan years before, led a redesign of Maclean’s Magazine, and Robert Tombs, who, like Allan, had been chief of design in a major University Press.

Book historian and Enlightened Librarian Devin Crawley effected a close analysis of archival papers of Allan’s and of the University of Toronto Press, with surprising results. Devin also co-authored with me for DA 62 a finding guide for archival deposits relating to Allan’s work — in Library and Archives Canada, corporate archives and University archives.

And it was indeed in the archives that this project got much bigger — as if writing and editing what ended up being 208 pages including six other authors and a hundred-odd images is not enough!  In discussion with my brother and sister (and our mother,  then still alive) we made a decision to move Allan’s papers and what remained of his substantial book collection to the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University. It was a complex job, both logistically and bureaucratically. But the support and welcome of the York’s fantastic archivist, Michael Moir, made it both smooth and exciting.

A digitisation project has started up, and there are already materials available online through York University’s DSpace. I am hoping that there will be link-ups between York’s growing design archives and its research culture, as is happening at the Rochester Institute of Technology and at the University of Brighton. And I am also hoping that history of design will burgeon in Canada, where so many highly accomplished designers — including my brother, the furniture designer Peter Fleming — are working.

Last year, EYE magazine commissioned an article by me about Allan, and I have a funny feeling that there will be more ‘dad’ projects in the future as well. I wouldn’t mind working with the Canada Science and Technology Museum, which has a number of CN locomotives in its collection, to research the relationship between technological innovation and graphic design. How much bigger could a project get?  Sounds like a ‘history of modernity’ to me.

 

 

Further Links: Devil’s Artisan; DA on Zinio; York University DSpace; RIT Vignelli Center Collections; University of Brighton Design Archives; Peter Fleming; Allan Fleming Feature in EYE 79; Canada Science and Technology Museum Railway Images

[Image References: Portrait of Allan Fleming from 1959, York University Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections. Design Work by Allan Fleming:  CN Engine Drawing; Type-o-file type specimen box, University of Toronto Fisher Rare Book Library Cooper & Beatty Fonds; Cooper & Beatty A Ad, UofT; Canada Year of the Land, CTA; Stamp Style Guide Drawing, CTA; Olympic Stamps, MF; Economic Atlas of Ontario Spread; Ontario Science Centre, OSC]

Consultant: Science Museum

Consultant to the Science Museum, London (2003 to 2004)

 

The revival of national museums as research centres, and an increasing recognition of museum culture as inherently a research culture, has been an important feature of the last 15 years in UK intellectual life.  Following my work as Development Manager at the Royal Society, I was approached by the Science Museum for strategic advice on the structuring of their Research and Residencies Unit; on implementing internal mechanisms for research facilitation; on building partnership networks; and on matching projects to fundraising targets.

The corporate importance of ‘museum research’ started to gain real headway in the early 1990s.  The instatement of a dedicated Research Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum, with post-graduate programmes in history of design run jointly with the Royal College of Art, became a model to follow. For other kinds of museums, such as science museums, this was a difficult route to follow, as it pre-supposed a shared understanding of the value of their work to humanities disciplines.

This situation improved in the UK with the creation of the Arts and Humanities Research Board in 1998, which recognised history of science as an important field, and it began to get really interesting when the AHRB made moves to become a full-fledged research council from 2002. As the case for this was made, a number of museums were approached and asked to consider how they could contribute strategically to humanities research and what they would require infrastructurally to effect such a contribution. When the AHRC — for Council — was created, one of the first acts of the Council was to create a status for non-university research centres, known as Independent Research Organisation status, or ‘IRO.’

The Science Museum has a long-standing and productive relationship with Imperial College, and it both serves and benefits from an international group of colleagues in history and museology of science. Funding this activity, and creating a profile for it, was an important goal.  In 2004, before the AHRB became the AHRC, I was approached by Dr Tim Boon (now Head of Research and Public History at the Science Museum) as a consultant to help shape the Science Museum’s research programme to be fit for purpose.

I have known Tim since my research residencies at the Science Museum from 1996 – 1999, during which time I produced — with his help and that of other curators — both Open Book (1996) and Atomism & Animism (1999). When I was designing a proposal for a history of science research centre at the Royal Society during the tenure of my post as Development Manager, I asked him to be a member of the proposed Advisory Board* and shared with him my 40 page business plan.  He was thus aware that my knowledge of the intersections between history of science, museums and archives, and funding opportunities, were very much up to date.

By 2005, the AHRC had been created, and in 2009 the Science Museum became (as the National Museum of Science and Industry) an AHRC-recognised Independent Research Organisation — just as I began work next door at the Natural History Museum, helping to set up the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research.

 

 

* Though there is now a fantastic Centre for History of Science at the Royal Society, it differs somewhat from the structure I had proposed in 2001, and does not have an advisory board to my knowledge.

Further Links: The Science Museum; Arts and Humanities Research Council; IRO Status

[Image References: bird’s eye view of the Science Museum’s Making the Modern World galleries (co-curators Tim Boon, Andrew Nahum and Alex Hayward); close-up of the reconstruction of Babbage’s Difference Engine at the Science Museum]

Development Manager, Royal Society

Manager, Development Office, the Royal Society, London (2001 to 2003)

 

Successful fundraising is always closely connected to exciting ideas — and is vital to enabling ideas to become form. Having been effective in convincing a variety of arts funders to support cultural projects in which I had been involved, I took the post of Manager in the Development Office of one of Europe’s oldest scientific academies, The Royal Society.  The main project was a capital campaign to redevelop the Society’s Nash-designed, Crown Estate home in Carlton House Terrace.

I came into the post after the architects had been appointed (Stefanie Fischer of Burrell Foley Fischer LLP) but before construction had begun. It was a small office, and I worked closely with Treasurer Professor Sir Eric Ash, and then briefly with his successor, Professor Sir David Wallace.

The most exciting part of the post saw me formulating proposals for a Research Centre for Interpreting History of Science at the heart of the redevelopment, a Centre which integrated the fabric of the building with the holdings and collections of the library and archives. In the Introduction and Background to the Centre business plan, I wrote:

The vision is to create a Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science which will broaden and deepen the understanding of the history of science in Europe from 1660 onwards based on skilled interpretation, actual display and digital dissemination of material unique to the Royal Society Archive and Library. This Archive-based interpretation activity would complement both university teaching establishments in the history of science and museum exhibitions, which base interpretation around an object collection. Here, the history of science would be viewed as an essential part of the project of science itself.

The Royal Society is not a Museum, nor is it a University Special Collections Library. And yet it has been making intellectual history year on year for all of its 340 years, and its Repositorie represents an unparalleled collection of archives, objects, manuscripts and institutional documentation which is central to any understanding of science as a culture and a human activity from the pre-Enlightenment to the present day. Founded before the notion of the public Museum was even fully formulated, it is worth mentioning that Elias Ashmole was a founder member of the Royal Society, and the Society’s Repositorie (now on the UK National Register) pre-dates the Ashmolean Museum’s own foundation by some twenty years.

From Wren, Hooke and Newton to Dirac, Hodgkin and Klug, the meeting of minds at the Royal Society has produced unique holdings increasingly in demand as interdisciplinary study has expanded and the discipline of the history of science has burgeoned. If interdisciplinary Humanities study rightly sees the history of science as cross-cutting most social, cultural, political and economic history, it also understands that the history of science’s institutions and academies consequently become an essential window into the intricacy of these interactions. This is why one of the seven strategic objectives of the Royal Society is to encourage research into the history of science.

… and this is what was proposed:

The Study Centre for Interpreting History of Science would be comprised of:

1. New mobile stacks, environmentally controllable storage, and purpose built work areas for the Archive and Library commensurate with its international significance and increasing active current use

2. A three year digitisation programme designed to mirror the first hundred years of the Archive holdings, contributing both to their long-term preservation and their electronic accessibility: this is as a focussed, institution-led digital profile of the history of the Royal Society’s formation and the Enlightenment

3. A permanently endowed post in Interpreting History of Science designed to integrate and highlight the work of the scholar-users of the Archive and Library, the Royal Society Archivist, and that of sister institutions in the UK and elsewhere: the post’s purpose is to create, out of the Royal Society’s archival wealth, timely multi-platform interpretive materials in the form of exhibitions, publications, study/seminar events and other resources for the history of science

and, to that end,

4. Small, versatile Archive study, education and seminar meeting rooms built to integrate with other seminar activities taking place in the larger Mercer Rooms in the new underground redevelopment as designed by architects Burrell Foley Fischer

5. New exhibition space and facilities — both localised as integral to the new underground redevelopment and mobile with tabletop exhibition cases in the Library Reading Room and Reception area as well as in upper floor meeting areas

6. A unique ‘Archive Bridge’ display structure designed by Calum Storrie to address interpretation of notoriously difficult text-based material in rolling, quick-response exhibitions

These assets and resources will enable the Archive to work in tandem with the expertise of the scholars and historians who regularly consult the Archive and Library and colleagues in other institutions in the UK and elsewhere.

 

I also liaised with colleagues at the Science Museum in order to help negotiate a home-coming of sorts for a number of key instruments and objects which the Royal Society had given in care to the institution best suited to look after them. One of the instruments I was most thrilled to see installed in a bespoke case at the Society when it reopened was Hauksbee’s Air Pump, which I had first seen many years before in the Enlightenment Galleries of the Science Museum.

For access reasons, sadly, the architects were not able to integrate the fantastic ‘Archive Bridge’ — designed by Calum Storrie — into the suite of exhibition facilities the building now boasts.  Calum and I worked closely to devise a multivalent display structure for notoriously difficult paper, book and text-based material to be shown in rolling, quick-response exhibitions. Part ‘open storage’, part plan-chest, part merry-go-round, I hope some day to see his elegantly-designed structure installed somewhere that deserves it.

The redevelopment of 6-9 Carlton House Terrace was completed in November 2003, and though not all of the wish-list above has come to pass in the last decade, much of it has. There is now a Centre for History of Science embedded in the Library and Archives at the Royal Society — and when working at the Natural History Museum, I collaborated with its Exhibitions and Events Coordinator, Dr Felicity Henderson, on Science Voices, a conference about oral history of science.

There were other pleasures, too, such as setting up a programme for serious scholarly work on the portraiture collection, which gave me an opportunity to work with Professor Ludmilla Jordanova, (author of Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture), for the first time. Alongside the then Librarian Karen Peters, and the Archivist Joanna Corden, we also devised a cataloguing programme that was subsequently fully funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, for materials as diverse as the Society’s Early Letters to the penicillin papers of Lord Florey.

And of course, lots of less interesting but quite important things as well — such as a strategy paper on management restructuring of the Development Office for more effective fundraising, and participation in the drafting of the Society’s corporate Business Plan. Over the two years that I was Development Manager, the Office raised more than half of the £7m redevelopment cost.

 

 

Further Links: Centre for History of Science; The Royal Society; Burrell Foley Fischer LLP; Hauksbee’s Air Pump; Calum Storrie; Professor Ludmilla Jordanova; Defining Features: Scientific and Medical Portraiture

[Images: Newton’s Telescope, Royal Society Collection; The Library at the RS around the time when I was working there — no, it is not me in the pic, but yes, my computer really was that big; Hauksbee’s Air Pump installed at the Royal Society, Burrell Foley Fischer LLP]