Editorial: Issue 19
At a recent Science Museum research workshop, one of the Museum’s Trustees asked me what my favourite Journal issue was. Given that I’m the Editor I was surprisingly stumped. I thought about some of the special issues I’ve been very proud of and the individual articles that I’ve found personally fascinating because of the topic, or liked because they were well written, or that looked beautiful on the page because of the way they presented visual media, but none of those things stood out separately. We ended up talking about how some of my favourite types of article are object biographies, as these take the reader into the deep stories of the collections that are the essence of what a museum is, and also how curiously exciting it is once objects are in the midst of research, whether that’s in a museum or a university seminar series.
But this still doesn’t quite answer the question. If I think about where the Journal is really successful, it is almost always at a point of balance – between publishing young researchers and experienced authors, for example, or when an issue gives a place to both museum professionals and university academics or features a range of museum departments and expertise – curators, conservators and audience researchers – while reflecting the experiences of regional, national and international practitioners. Probably this is something that can be covered by words like ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘intermedial’, but the Journal can demonstrate it in practice. For me there is a ‘sweet spot’ where an article can creatively embrace a subject, methodology or format but also work alongside other articles in a way that encapsulates the variety of work that museums do. This issue provides a good example of this: If I was going to pick an article that I love because of the way it uses the Journal’s capacity to show sound and image it would be Emmeline Ledgerwood’s study of the experience of government research scientists working at a point of change in the organisation. The author’s use of oral history techniques and combination of photography and audio here completely bring to life an important story that is also poignant, as you hear in their own words how much these scientists loved their work and felt its loss. But this article also sits alongside two audience research articles (by Esme Mahoney-Phillips and Naomi Heyward et al) – a reminder of the research that goes on in different parts of museums – here into public attitudes to contemporary collecting and into young children’s engagement with object displays. Two object-focused articles (discussing a 1970s synthesizer and an Indigenous Australian shield respectively) bring us back to the collections and the power of the object biography format. And finally, another article which might have formed my answer to that Trustee’s question of a favourite piece: Prasannan Parthasarathi’s eloquent argument for the importance of the Indian cotton trade in the rise of Manchester’s industrial power with its beautiful images of Indian fabric. Prasannan’s article comes out of a keynote lecture at the Science Museum Group’s annual conference sponsored by the Journal. The conference was designed to inform thinking about textiles in general and ‘Cottonopolis’ in particular – one of the most important new galleries in development at the Science and Industry Museum. By sponsoring and publishing the keynote lecture the Journal not only adds the voice of a significant international scholar to the issue but plays an active role in bringing scholarship together with our own museum practice. Balance and collaboration again – which it seems form a more accurate description of my favourite Journal enterprise.