As cultural institutions, a key part of the BM's, BL's and NHM's Strategic Plans is to involve the public in the cutting-edge research that takes place both in our institutions and in universities. Therefore, we fully expect that the development grant will have beneficiaries beyond the immediate participants. While the large scale project will seek to design a range of activities to disseminate our findings to each institution's audiences and beyond, there is potential for the exploratory award to have impact in various ways though most specifically in providing content and context to improve each institution's representation of Sloane and his collections.
For instance it will contribute to developing the character of the BM and NHM's 'costumed live performer' of Sir Hans Sloane in the way he presents Sloane, his collecting practices and scientific work to our audiences. The Sloane actor will be invited to contribute to one of the workshops. In addition it will provide us with an opportunity to explore whether the 'Sloane actor' and other 'live-interpretation' engagement strategies might also be involved in our large scale project. We will also schedule two public events on 'Sloane's Treasures' as part of the NHM's 'Nature Live' programme.
Building on the success of 'Slavery and the Natural World', which focused particularly on Sloane's collections (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/collections-at-the-museum/slavery/index.html), the report will also contribute to the development of online resources about Sloane both for general interest audiences and for schools at key stages three and four.
Our report findings will also coincide with the commencement, should we be successful, of our CDA students. Our work will not only feed into their early research, but part of their remit will be to plan a small exhibition at the BM and put together a series of public events at King's College London, and so the findings from the workshops will also contribute to the very early stages of this work.
A plan also exists to develop a large loan exhibition to be hosted by one of the institutions which 'Sloane's Treasures' and the wider scale 'Reconstructing Sloane' project will feed into.
Finally, the exploratory award will give us a great opportunity to begin thinking about the kind of public activities we might seek to develop as part of a larger scale grant. Representatives from each institution's Public Engagement and Learning and Audience teams will attend the workshops and there will be a public engagement expert in the Advisory Group. This will contribute to the way we develop innovative and engaging ways to involve the wider public in our work and disseminate our findings to our audiences.
The 'Science in Culture' theme provides an ideal framework within which to study one of the largest and most significant collections of natural and artificial curiosities assembled during the Enlightenment. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), physician, traveller, natural philosopher and man of letters, was responsible for gathering together one of the greatest collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His collection of thousands of manuscripts and printed books, multiple albums full of pictures and numerous objects (including a vast range of botanical and zoological specimens) was part of the great transformation of knowledge in the early Enlightenment - an age of intellectual curiosity and confidence, in which public debate was supported by a vibrant network of new print publications (including illustrated travel journals and catalogues of collections). Sloane's collection was remarkably wide-ranging, eclectic and diverse, suggesting both an urge to organize and classify, but also to value the unique, strange and anomalous. On Sloane's death in 1753, his will ensured that his encyclopaedic collection formed the foundational collection of the British Museum, but parts of it were later dispersed to other institutions, particularly the Natural History Museum and the British Library. Within these institutions, the collections were housed in different departments according to their nature (e.g. animal, vegetable, mineral, book, drawing, manuscript). The ways in which Sloane assembled his great collection using his networks of correspondents embodies the idea of 'Science in Culture'. However, as a consequence of the way in which the original collection has been divided, research on it has tended to be narrow in focus and discipline-specific, with very little cross-over between scientists, historians and other arts and humanities specialists.
Sloane's Treasures will provide the opportunity for three of the UK's major cultural and scientific institutions - the British Museum (BM), British Library (BL) and the Natural History Museum (NHM) to collaborate with leading academics from the arts, humanities and scientific communities to develop a large scale research project based on the three institutions' rich holdings of Sloane's great collection.
To do this, we will hold a series of three workshops, one at each of the partner institutions (BM, BL and NHM). Workshop attendees will attend all three workshops to enable us to develop and build successively upon the discussions held in each. Each workshop will open with contributions from invited academics and curators to stimulate discussions. Participants will have the opportunity to explore parts of the Sloane holdings at each institution, and key objects will be selected to encourage and focus discussion. The workshops are designed to encourage analysis about how the diverse archival, printed and physical material comprising Sloane's collections might most effectively be studied by multidisciplinary groups of researchers to evaluate and understand Sloane's work as a collector, natural philosopher and man of letters. Sloane's Treasures will also use the workshops to explore how current and developing technology can assist this research and to look at the ways in which the museums' wider audiences can be engaged and by what means (public events, exhibitions and our websites).
Sloane's Treasures' findings will be posted on the Project website, which will be set up within the first month of the grant award. Interim reports, produced following the first and second workshops will be posted on the website. The final report will address how research themes identified during the workshops might be developed into a large scale project between the three institutions, how digital resources will assist the research and how the BM, BL and NHM's wider audiences might engage both with the workshops' findings and any larger scale project.