The Artefact and the Museum Panel- Most of what we know of the history of mankind is through the traces of objects we have made. The value of these objects in forming an understanding of the development of human culture is without question, so much so that many museums are taking into their collections things which came into being only yesterday. Whether a pre-historic flint axe head or the latest iPhone, all define our history. This can only mean that our artefactual archives are continuously expanding, but how do museums go about selecting which of today’s objects need to be preserved and why? How do they use these to map the lineage of our material culture, and how important are museum collections in giving rise to the new? What are the curatorial processes in place to achieve this?

Our panel of academics and curators, Sam Alberti, Xavier Dectot, Jane Norris and JP Singh, chaired by Chris Breward, helped us reflect on these question. More information on our panel members below:

Sam Alberti and Xavier Dectot – National Museums Scotland

Dr Sam Alberti is Keeper of the department of Science and Technology at the National Museum of Scotland. Sam trained in the history of science and medicine and became interested in museums as the focus of historical study before working in them. He has worked at the Manchester Museum and as Director of Museums and Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons of England (which includes the Hunterian Museum). Sam is an Honorary Professor at the University of Stirling Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy. He has curated exhibitions on race, museum history, and the First World War; his books include Nature and Culture: Objects, Disciplines and the Manchester Museum (MUP, 2009) and Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain (OUP, 2011). His research has focussed on the history of collections, in particular the trajectories and meanings of scientific, medical and natural objects in Britain since 1800.

Xavier Dectot graduated from the École Pratique des Hautes Études, as well as graduating as a museum curator from the Institut National du Patrimoine in 2001. Between 2001 and 2011 Xavier was a curator in medieval sculpture and decorative arts at the Cluny Museum, Paris, France’s National Museum of the Middle Ages. He joined National Museums Scotland in April 2016 as Keeper of Art & Design, having been Director of the Louvre-Lens in Northern France, a thriving and successful extension of the Louvre Museum. Xavier’s other activities include international lecturing and he has written several books including L’art roman en France (2005), Pierres tombales médiévales (2006), and À la table de l’histoire: Recettes revisitées, des banquets antiques à aujourd’hui (2012). He has served as an Adjunct Professor at a number of universities including the École du Louvre and the Sorbonne.

Jane Norris – American University at Richmond

Dr Jane Norris is Adjunct Associate Professor at the American University at Richmond. She is currently writing up her research as a book: Making Polychronic Objects – on different models of time and uses of materials, in the Critical Writing department of the Royal College of Art. She is interested in how the digital impacts our relationship with materials and objects. She has recently presented papers at the Research Through Design Conference in Cambridge; Making Futures Conference at Plymouth University, and the Design Research Society Conference in Brighton. As a design writer, she writes a regular Dictionary of Craft column in the Crafts Council CRAFTS magazine and opinion pieces for design magazine Fiera. Her piece ‘A View from the Throne’ was published in the last issue of Dirty Furniture. She has a piece Touching Knowledge forthcoming in a collaborative RCA publication on archiving this June, together with a short story Re-Pairing in the Virtual Futures Vol 1 anthology published this April. Previously Jane was a Program Leader for a BA 3D Design Craft for ten years.

J.P. Singh – University of Edinburgh

J.P. Singh is Chair and Professor of Culture and Political Economy, and Director of the Institute for International Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh. Singh has published widely, his latest book is: Sweet Talk: Paternalism and Collective Action in North-South Trade Negotiations (Stanford, 2017). His book Globalized Arts: The Entertainment Economy and Cultural Identity (Columbia, 2011) won the American Political Science Association’s award for best book in information technology and politics in 2012. His current book projects is Development 2.0: How Technologies Can Foster Inclusivity in the Developing World (Oxford, forthcoming). He has advised international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, played a leadership role in several professional organizations. He is founding Editor of the journal Arts and International Affairs. Previously he was Editor of Review of Policy Research, the journal specializing in the politics and policy of science and technology.

Chris Breward – University of Edinburgh

Chris Breward is Professor for Cultural History at the University of Edinburgh, where he also holds the positions of Principal of Edinburgh College of Art and Vice Principal of the University (Creative Industries & Performing Arts). He was trained at the Courtauld Institute of Art (BA) and the Royal College of Art (MA, PhD), London, and has subsequently taught at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Royal College of Art and London College of Fashion. Before taking up his post at Edinburgh he was Head of Research at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Chris has published widely on the history and theory of fashion and its relationship to masculinities and urban cultures. Key publications include The Culture of Fashion (MUP 1995), The Hidden Consumer (MUP 1999), Fashion (OUP 2003) and Fashioning London (Berg 2004). He co-curated the V&A’s major Olympic season exhibition British Design 1948-2012. Chris’ latest book is The Suit: Form, Function & Style (Reaktion 2016).