Issue 20 Editorial
collections, Editorial, Head of Collections, special exhibition
Over the course of a year as Head of Collections and Principal Curator at the Science Museum, I have been inspired by the creativity and energy of our key research initiatives. Major funded projects such as Congruence Engine, which looks at connecting national collections using machine learning, can impact the way museums will work in the future (see Issue 18 of the Journal). But I am also particularly struck by the rigour and imagination of the research that takes place, sometimes quietly, on a more routine basis too, to enhance knowledge and understanding of the collection and share this with broad audiences. From researching potential new acquisitions, to identifying ‘mystery’ objects in store, to horizon-scanning and identifying stories for inclusion in new galleries and exhibitions, research infuses the work of our curatorial teams, and beyond. Of course often this research feeds into our practice rather than a peer reviewed article for this journal, but encouraging creative thinking about collections and audiences is at the core of both – as you’ll see in this issue.
For example, a great privilege of working with the Science Museum Group’s collection is its great diversity and the almost endless possibilities for new avenues of research and re-interpretation. This is perfectly expressed in a paper (Gooday, King and Spurna) that looks again at the Special Loan Collection of Scientific Apparatus exhibited in South Kensington in 1876. By re-examining the event the authors give proper place to previously invisible contributors such as women lenders and commercial instrument makers.
With the growth of our national museum group over subsequent decades, the collection has evolved substantially. This edition of the Journal expresses the astonishing breadth and diversity of the collections we now care for across the Group’s national sites with articles from railway infrastructure to scientific instruments and photography. It is timely to present the full range of our Group’s subject areas as we enter the final stages of our major collection move programme. This huge six-year project has brought objects from all parts of the collection together under the same roof in a new building at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire. From mid-2024, researchers will be welcomed to our new study facilities, and we are excited about the opportunities that closer inspection of the collection will unlock. It is therefore particularly encouraging to share nine detailed object biographies in this issue (see Higgitt). Collected into three themed articles that bring our own objects into conversation with those of international observatories and museums, these make a powerful case for the use of objects in research.