This paper looks at the nature and trajectory of Dr John Rae collection in the institutional context of the National Museums Scotland. In a letter of 1878, Rae noted that his hobby was ‘in a very mild way, natural history’. As Jonathan King notes, Rae’s collection is diverse reflecting changing circumstances and articulation of taste and purpose. The collection was gifted posthumously to the University of Edinburgh. Kate Rae, Rae’s widow, insisted on a catalogue, placing desires and requirements on the university. She wished to ensure Rae’s legacy by codifying it. When the collection was transferred to the museum, following the early transfer of the University’s collection, it was embraced as part of the larger corpus of material culture that came through links with the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was incorporated into the museum’s intellectual history and has been often displayed. This paper explores the manner in which collections become part of institutional identity how their abilities and potential change and how this legacy is an imbrication of object, person and institution, resulting in a growth in potency - a fulfilment of intent of the original gift.
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