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Pamphlet written in the hand of William Herschel giving instructions for the use of his Newtonian reflecting telescope with altazimuth stand
Autumn 2023, | Editorial

Issue 20 Editorial

Jessica Bradford


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.


Jessica Bradford

Jessica Bradford

Head of Collections & Principal Curator

Jessica Bradford is Head of Collections and Principal Curator at the Science Museum. Previously, as Keeper of Collections Engagement, she led the engagement strand of the Science Museum Group’s transformational One Collection programme, which is relocating over 300,000 objects to a new home at the National Collections Centre in Wiltshire. As well as reimagining in-person access for researchers, schools and the public, she worked closely with the digital team to enhance access to collections online, through blogs, articles, video and audio. She has provided curatorial direction on projects ranging from exhibitions and galleries, to SMG’s Wikimedia partnership and the augmented reality app, Wonderlab AR.

In addition to roles at the Science Museum, Jessica was co-Head of Public Engagement and Programmes at the History of Science Museum at the University of Oxford in 2021 and Lead Curator of TEDxLondon between 2015 and 2017. She has a degree in Modern History and an MSc in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine


Jessica Bradford
Published date:
18 October 2023
Cite as:
Issue 20 Editorial
Published in:
Autumn 2023,
Article DOI: