My student placement at National Museums Scotland

Having the opportunity to complete a placement with National Museums Scotland was a dream come true for me.

I am currently a student at the University of St Andrews, where I am working towards my MLitt in Museum and Gallery Studies, and this placement was a huge factor in my choosing the programme in the first place. My hope is to one day work in the museum or heritage sector, specifically focussing on learning and access or digital media. I would love to be able to work towards making museums accessible to all, particularly through popular culture. However, while I am in my programme at St Andrews, I wanted to be able to get as wide of a museum experience as I possibly could, so I leapt at the chance to learn new skills and study new fields in the Art and Design Department. 

Art, Design and Fashion galleries at the National Museum of Scotland

Prior to this placement I really had no experience with art and design, and I knew very little about modern art, as I’ve always studied ancient and medieval history. It was such an exciting opportunity for me to learn about a whole new topic, while also learning skills central to the care of museum objects. 

My placement’s main goal was to expand and enhance the database information for the Modernist Collection at National Museums Scotland, as well as adding accession numbers (the main identification number for museum objects), to all the objects. The Modernist Collection was donated to the museum in 2011, and had not yet been fully documented. This was to be my job, along with one other student who was also on this placement.  

National Museums Collection Centre

Most of my placement took place at the Collections Centre in Granton, rather than at the main museum building on Chambers Street. This is where a vast majority of the museum’s collections are housed, in more than 15 buildings! I was blown away not only by the sheer size of the full collection of National Museums Scotland – over 12 million objects – and also by the size of the Modernist Collection itself, which has over 900 objects! As I mentioned, I knew very little about design when I began this project, and now, while I am by no means an expert in modern design, I at least feel comfortable with the subject and even recognise the names of various designers and manufacturers. More than that, I actually enjoy the subject and feel like I’ve become more aware of design, and I look at the form of objects, rather than just their function.  

My supervisor was Carys Wilkins (Assistant Curator, Art & Design, Modern & Contemporary), and she has been an absolutely wonderful guide along the way. I have seemingly endlessly picked her brain about the workings of museums, and she has patiently answered and explained everything to the best of her ability. She’s given me wonderful insight into the museum sector as a whole, which I know will be of use to me moving forward.  

This placement gave me a sense of accomplishment as well, as I was able to feel like I was truly contributing to the museum as a whole, as well as being able to provide more information to the general public. I certainly have an appreciation for collections care now, as so much goes on behind the scenes before an object can ever be put on display.

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