Towards an Historical Geography of a ‘National’ Museum: The Industrial Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and the Royal Scottish Museum, 1854-1939. - NMS Research Repository
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Doctoral thesis

Towards an Historical Geography of a ‘National’ Museum: The Industrial Museum of Scotland, the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and the Royal Scottish Museum, 1854-1939.

2013

Abstract

This thesis adopts a primarily process-based methodology to put a museum in its place as a site of knowledge-making. It examines the practices of space which were productive of a government-funded (‘national’) museum in Edinburgh. Taking a spatial perspective, and recognising that place is both material and metaphorical, the thesis explores how the Museum’s material and intellectual architectures were produced over the period 1854-1939. The thesis is concerned to bring into focus the dynamic processes by which the Museum was in a continual state of becoming; a constellation of tangible and intangible objects constantly being produced and reproduced through mobility of objects, people and ideas. Its concern is to chart the flows through space which produced the Museum. The thesis comprises nine chapters. An introduction and a literature review are followed by chapters concerned, respectively, with the built space of the museum and with the people who worked there. A further three chapters consider the nature of that work and the practices of space which constituted the processes of collecting, displaying, and educating, whilst another focuses on visiting. The final chapter discusses how the analysis has constructed the museum as constituted through a complex diversity of material and metaphorical settings on a variety of geographical scales. This critical scrutiny of the museum has, in turn, brought to the fore the place of the Museum in contributing to civic and national identity. Through a case-study of a particular museum, the concern has been to explore how critical geographies of science may be applied to the examination of a museum. In particular the thesis examines how contextual concepts developed largely in conscribed sites such as laboratories apply to a public site such as a museum. The thesis suggests that the ordering terms ‘space’ and ‘place’, combined with a focus on practice and performance, may have more general application in constructing an historical geography of museums as sites of production and consumption of scientific knowledge.

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