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Issue 20

Welcome to the Autumn issue of the Science Museum Group Journal. This is an open issue that is especially strong in demonstrating the power of museum collections in research – the ‘material turn’ about which so much has been written. A case in point is the mini-collection Revealing Observatory Networks Through Object Stories in which Rebekah Higgitt approaches the study of observatories across the world by gathering nine ‘object biographies’ into three thematic papers in each of which three authors discuss objects illustrating the main theme. Archival objects are also studied here: Lucy Slater delves into the National Railway Museum’s civil defence archive to explore the railway’s response to nuclear threat, and Max Long analyses two data notebooks (A and B) in which pioneer natural history film-maker F Percy Smith recorded his craft. Graeme Gooday et al revisit the ‘Special Loan Collection’ of 1876, suggesting that it should be seen as an exercise in crowd-sourcing loans (mostly returned) rather than the basis of the permanent collections of the Science Museum. And Jo Gane adds a practice-based dimension to her research on the impact of experiments by a group of nineteenth-century Birmingham-based chemists on new photographic silver-plating techniques by reconstructing those techniques herself. The issue also includes obituaries of key contributors to science museum research and practice – Trevor Pinch and John Ward – and three book reviews.

Issue 20 (Autumn 23)

Research grant successes

The Research and Public History department at the Science Museum Group has recently been successful in winning three major grants that will help us rethink responses to big cultural issues, develop our curatorial practices, and make connections with overseas researchers. Long Histories of Collaboration (MaILHoC) is a 600,000 EUR bid to the ‘heritage, society, and ethics’ call of the Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage (JPI CH) administered by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) in France. Over the next two years, MaILHoC will see postdoctoral researchers employed at the Science Museum and our partners Aix-Marseille Université in France and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain examining the ethics of industrial patronage on museums of science, technology, and medicine. The project will begin in May 2022, with recruitment beginning shortly. 'Science through the keyhole: revealing scientific practices through workspaces' was a successful AHRC Network grant proposal. It will investigate three core questions: What is a scientific workspace? How does space constitute scientific practice (and vice versa)? And how can historical workspaces of scientific practice be recreated, evoked, and interpreted for museum visitors? Finally, a British Council Connections Through Culture UK-South East Asia Grant has been awarded to colleagues at The National Museum of Indonesia (which holds the Indonesian medical collections). This grant will pay for contributions to three online workshops as well as at least one visit from an Indonesian delegation.

Invitation to contribute to the Journal

We welcome contributions to the Journal on all topics relating to the work of global science museums from international curators and scholars. The next deadline for authors is 1st April 2024 allowing for possible publication in the Autumn ‘24 issue. This will be an open issue without a special theme so, as ever, we invite papers relating to the history, communication and display of Science, Technology and Medicine. We are also interested in papers that reflect on changing curatorial practice or discuss contemporary issues such as decolonialism and diversity, as well as encouraging ‘object-focused’ papers that explore collections and material culture. We continue to develop new kinds of article and particularly welcome papers making use of visual media – please do contact us if you’d like to discuss a possible submission. If you have general questions about article submission or if you would like to contribute an article, discussion or review piece please don’t hesitate to contact the editorial team at [email protected]


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The Dana Research Centre and Library

The Dana Research Centre is located in the Wellcome Wolfson Building at the rear of the Science Museum, in South Kensington, London. Opened in 2016, the Dana Research Centre aims to promote the Science Museum as an important centre for scholarly research and it is home to the Museum’s Research & Public History Department, and to the Museum’s students and funded research projects. The Centre also provides a library with a selection of books and journals, a reading room and public access to the Science Museum’s electronic resources. Here the public can access and order items from the Museum’s extensive and rich library and archive collections stored at Wroughton (the Group’s large storage facility near Swindon). Do come and visit us to pick up a library card and browse the collection. More details, including the address can be found here. General questions about Library aspects may be directed to [email protected], and more general research programme enquiries to [email protected]

Collaborative Doctoral Awards

Six projects within the Science Museums and Archives Consortium (SMAC) start this year, including projects on the design mediation and consumption of Kenwood’s kitchen appliances, collecting the boundaries of art in the Science Museum, and, at the National Railway Museum, Between Worlds: Kenneth Cantlie and locomotive engineering in Africa, the Americas and Asia. 18 applications to the 2020 CDP round are now being assessed.

The Museum recently received AHRC Follow-on Funding for the project, Communicating Time and Culture. This builds on the findings of the original project Time, Culture and Identity, a collaboration between the Science Museum and the Palace Museum, China. It will fund a series of cultural events associated with the upcoming exhibition Zimingzhong: Clockwork Treasures from China’s Forbidden City and will allow us to engage different audience segments with the displays.

Please contact us at [email protected] if you wish to develop a proposal for future deadlines. Further details about the doctoral awards is given on the Science Museum’s Research and Public History webpages here.

Research Seminars

The Science Museum’s Research & Public History department continues to support a range of workshops, conference and seminars. Full details of all future seminars will be published here soon.


The new Space Seminar Seminars Series 3: Sample Return Missions are live now. The first session focused on Moon samples (Apollo), with scientists and museum specialists from NASA Johnson Space Centre, Science Museum, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and University of Manchester. The second session will focus on asteroids, in particular the Hayabusa2, OSIRIS-Rex missions, and will take place on Tuesday 28 November 2023, 12.30 – 14.00, on Zoom, with scientists and museum specialists from JAXA, Cite de le’space and University of Rowan.

Please sign up below:

Session 2 – Asteroid (Hayabusa2, OSIRIS-REx) 14 November 2023 (

Session 3 – Mars (Mars Sample Return, Martian Moons eXploration) 28 November 2023 (

Congruence Engine exhibit

The Congruence Engine project reaches a milestone of public visibility on 28th October, when we open our first exhibit at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle. Comprised of four short films displayed on a large screen, the exhibit is designed to show the ambitions and potential of the approach to linking industrial collections that the project is pioneering. One film, somewhat poetic in style, is an introduction to the project. The other three are about specific investigations within the project: into industrial folk songs, mapping the distribution of steam turbines (a local Newcastle product) and recreating historical environments by applying AI to historical photographs and films. For those of you not near Newcastle, we will be making the films available via the project website later in November.


On Tuesday 5 December MaILHoC will be hosting a private event with distinguished anthropologist Adam Kuper, author of the recently-published The Museum of Other People (Penguin Random House, 2023). Exploring the nineteenth-century origins of the museum as well as its twenty-first century dilemmas, Kuper asks how we can best ensure the future of the metropolitan museum is an ethical, appreciative one. Professor Kuper's talk will take place in the Dana Studio, and will be followed by an opportunity for discussion. If you are interested in attending this event, please email [email protected]


Keep up to date with all the latest research news, events and Science Museum Group Journal articles by following us on X/Twitter: @SMGresearch