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Mobile Museum researchers are exploring the circulation of objects into and out of the Kew Museum ever since its creation in 1847. Museum collections founded at this time were designed to be useful – scientifically, pedagogically, and commercially.  They made valuable contributions to the creation of new knowledge by acquiring and displaying specimens and artefacts, and also by re-circulating them.

Considering museums in terms of their collections’ mobility requires re-thinking the way they have functioned historically and what can be done with their collections today.

Kew’s Economic Botany Collection is supported by an unusually extensive set of documents recording the movement of objects through the collection. By examining these and other archives, it is possible to digitally record specimen and artefact transfers and to place these objects in new locations, with new contexts, histories and significance.

Alongside research in Kew’s collections, the project is working with many museums worldwide to which specimens were sent. The differing trajectories of duplicate objects tell their own stories and we are also able to re-contextualise them by sharing the results of archival research with our partners. The project is also working with two London primary schools to recreate – in modern terms – the school museums that were in fashion 120 years ago.

The project aims to:

  • Use archives at Kew and elsewhere to map for the first time, the circulation of specimens and objects in and out of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew (nationally and internationally) creating a unique research resource
  • Provide the first historical study of the role of Kew in supporting and promoting the use of plant specimens and artefacts in school education
  • Research detailed case studies of the trajectories of objects through national and international networks of exchange
  • Add value to biocultural collections in many parts of the world by undertaking the first systematic research on the provenance of materials dispersed by the Kew Museum
  • Share the results of the research with other academic researchers, museum professionals, source communities and educators.






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