Challenging collections: The public engagement role of the University of Aberdeen’s museums

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While many university museum collections have developed from close links between disciplines, research and collecting, collections have also been part of the public face of universities for centuries with donations by alumni and friends. In Scotland, there is now an explicit recognition by government of the importance of public engagement and the social impact of universities alongside their teaching and research roles, with resulting opportunities and challenges for university museums. This paper focuses on the response of the University of Aberdeen’s museums and their role in the university’s public engagement with
research strategy. In particular, it considers how the museums’ exhibitions, schools service and events programme have been affected, and how ideas of co-curation and co-production of research have affected the roles of academics and curators. It also discusses how changes in university teaching and the development of research that focuses on the history, social and political roles of museums is highlighting the importance of museum processes and activities in place of collections-based research and teaching. The paper argues that there
is thus a specific role for university museums as places for challenge and experimentation instead of their traditional role as repositories of factual knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-89
Number of pages8
JournalUniversity Museums and Collections Journal (UMACJ)
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

This paper has grown out of discussions with many people about the history of the University of Aberdeen’s museums and the purposes of museums and collections. I would particularly like to thank colleagues past and present in the University and fellow members of University Museums in Scotland, while I would also like to thank the organisers of the Ghent colloquium for creating such a friendly and interesting discussion in person and on paper.


  • University of Aberdeen
  • public engagement
  • Museum Dogme


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