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Angela McShane
Tutor in Graduate Studies, RCA/V&A MA in History of Design
Angela McShane

Angela McShane

Welcome to the third issue of the V&A Online journal. This issue was due to be published in February 2011, but was postponed to allow it to be launched in the style of the new V&A website launched in May.  We would especially like to thank contributors and staff for their kind patience and hard work in getting the third issue of the journal up online during this busy and inevitably disruptive period.

In this year’s edition recycling and design emerges as an especially strong theme – a vital aspect of the relationship between design and the environment with which the V&A has long been associated. This is shown in the fascinating, complimentary articles by Pierre Désrochers and Ann Christie, who discuss the Animal and Waste Products Galleries that once filled the basements of the Bethnal Green Museum (now the Museum of Childhood). Both writers illuminate the depth of Victorian concerns about sustainability in the exploitation, design and manufacture of new goods and materials: aspects of economic and environmental management that are commonly assumed to be ‘modern’ phenomena. Ian Blatchford’s article on John Thomas’s sculpture Rachel, investigates a rather different aspect of recycling. He shows how by renewing our vision of objects - simply by moving and redisplaying them – forgotten stories of low-born artisans, whose talents enabled them to reach the highest places, can be newly discovered, explored and assessed. Another way of thinking about the re-use of museum space is analysed in Tillie Baker’s study of seating and circulation around the V&A.

The V&A's remit has always been to educate and inspire new designers and the design industry in general, by making the glories (and disappointments) of past design available and comprehensible, enabling a dialogue between past and present. Dierdre Murphy examines this aspect of the museum by investigating the recycling and renewal of old forms and ideas in the contemporary fashion world. In a very different context, Yolande Crowe shows how a combination of political, religious and economic factors enabled design ideas originating in Persian ceramics and textiles from India and Europe, to become intrinsic elements in the design of 18th century Turkish ceramics.

Conservationist Joanne Hackett’s detailed examination of the materials and techniques in some eighteenth-century English quilts in the collections reveal some unique evidence of social interactions and domestic values in the period. Alice Dolan investigates another aspect of women’s work in the intriguing recycling of prints and fabrics to create ‘adorned prints’ in the 18th century. Unlike these very silent, anonymous, middle- and upper-class domestic objects, a stark contrast is presented in Clare Rose’s discussion of the male, working class production of intarsia patchwork quilts in the 19th century. These objects were expressly ‘public’ in intention – their authorship was claimed and lauded, they were much publicised in the press, being shown as paying exhibits - while the working hours and materials that went into them were minutely enumerated.

Finally, in Elizabeth Walker’s article on the Digital archive the obverse of these questions of retention and recycling are debated. How much of the vast digital archive that is daily created should we allow to become trash – beyond the possibility of retrieval and recycling? Who is qualified to decide what should be kept, and why? In this very contemporary discussion, we find ourselves questioning how the archives of previous ages were created - often as much by accident as design (as so much of the V&A’s collection shows). Is the agency of accident the best way to create an archive? We often hear lamentation of how the ignorance or prejudice of previous ages have destroyed aspect of the past (for example the terrible damage done to the V&A’s buildings and decoration during the middle of the 20th century) how can people of our own era make sure they do not make the same mistakes, while at the same time creating an archive it is feasible to sustain?

The V&A Online Journal aims to provide a forum for research papers from scholars inside and outside the museum, in a bid to promote dialogue and open up new ways of interrogating material culture, current design practice, histories of design and all other related fields. Provided that submissions meet the academic standards set by our Editorial team and peer reviewers, we welcome articles for future issues on the history of art, architecture and design relating to the V&A 's collections, public programme or institutional history; features focusing on new acquisitions or objects linked to V&A exhibitions; reflections on the educational or creative industries role of the Museum and reviews and previews of V&A publications, conferences or displays.

For further details see how to submit a proposal to the V&A Online Journal

We can be contacted at vandajournal@vam.ac.uk.

I would very much like to thank all who have contributed to the successful production of this issue, the authors of individual articles and the following staff:

Journal production and design

Editor, Angela McShane
Sub-Editor, Jasmine Kilburn-Toppin
Picture Editor, Samantha Safer
Copy Editor, Kate Gilks
Research Department, Helen Woodford
Online Museum, Andrew Lewis
Photography Department
Word and Image Department

Editorial advisors

Christine Guth
Christopher Breward
Edwina Ehrman
Glenn Adamson
Jane Pritchard
Jeremy Aynsley
Katie Coombs
Liz Miller
Moira Gemmill
Oliver Winchester
Oriole Cullen
Sue Prichard
Victoria Kelley