Research & Scholarship

Research is 'a process of  
investigation leading to  
new insights effectively  
shared' (Higher Education  
Funding Council for England). 
Research underpins every 
activity at the V&A, and  
is shared with national  
and international audiences,  
increasing knowledge,  
understanding and enjoyment
of the designed world.  
The V&A Bookshop
Left: The V&A Bookshop (opened in May 2009) stocks a wide range of publications relating to the V&A and its collections
      'Much of the work in Digital
Pioneers is astonishingly
beautiful and seems both
brave and preScient.' Alice Rawsthorn, New York Times


Collections are the starting point for all V&A research. Staff and scholars research objects, their care and contexts, sharing their knowledge through publications, exhibitions and permanent displays, as well as through internal study groups, and Subject Specialist Networks and Research Clusters that link UK-wide specialists. The V&A administers qualifications that recognise the skills and knowledge of Museum staff, such as NVQs and the Assistant Curator Development Programme. Research is widely accessible to our audiences, in the galleries, on the website, in our public programme, in books, articles, lectures and conferences, handling sessions and collaborative projects. The V&A offers services such as monthly Opinions afternoons, where the public can have their own objects identified
by curators.

Publications about V&A collections

The V&A's commercial arm publishes a comprehensive range of academic books intended both to disseminate knowledge and inspire creative practitioners. In May 2009 a new V&A bookshop opened, designed as a research resource as well as a store, increasing book sales by 120% since 2008/9. Stephen Jones Hats: An Anthology was named Best Limited Edition at the British Book Design and Production Awards 2009.

A number of publications this year linked to the new Medieval & Renaissance galleries. The flagship book, Medieval and Renaissance Art: People and Possessions by Glyn Davies and Kirstin Kennedy expanded on the scope of interpretation in the galleries to make connections across periods, and placed V&A objects in their social, political and artistic contexts. A series of related publications explored the period through specific themes: Death and Art: Europe 1200-1530 by Eleanor Townsend; Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe by Angus Patterson; Medieval Jewellery in Europe 1100-1500 by Marian Campbell; Italian Renaissance Frames at the V&A: A Technical Study, by Christine Powell and Zoë Allen, and Renaissance Secrets: Recipes and Formulas by Jo Wheeler with Katy Temple. Academic articles about the project continue to be published internationally, featuring for example in dedicated issues of the V&A's Conservation Journal (Autumn 2009), and Renaissance Studies: Journal of the Society for Renaissance Studies (February 2010, to be republished as a book October 2010), and a series of articles in The Burlington Magazine (including November and December 2009).

Related research in specific collections is continuing. Paul Williamson's two-volume catalogue of Medieval ivory carvings is the distillation of 30 years of

scholarship. The first volume, Early Christian to Romanesque, will be published in August 2010. Working with conservators, scientists and scholars, the structure and physical properties of the ivories, as well as their functions and histories, have been reassessed. One example linked to both the catalogue and the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, is a collaborative research project with the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin, for which a key V&A object formerly known as the Eltenberg Reliquary (about 1180), was deconstructed and identified using new evidence. It is now known to be a medieval tabernacle from Cologne.

Other major catalogues currently underway include Rowan Watson's Catalogue of Western Illuminated Manuscripts in the National Art Library, V&A, from the eleventh to the early twentieth century; Dutch and Flemish Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, by Sir Christopher White and Jane Turner; and French Furniture 1640-1800, by Carolyn Sargentson, supported by Sotheby's.


The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries project demonstrates the range of research at which the V&A excels. Curators and conservators examined objects and documentary evidence to ensure objects were

interpreted and presented in the most appropriate manner. For example, a corner of the floor of maiolica tiles known as the Petrucci Pavement (about 1509), made for the Sienese palace of Pandolfo Petrucci, was reconstructed for the galleries and is displayed under glass just below floor level. Research revealed that the tiles had originally been arranged in an Islamic star and cross pattern with classical grotesques on individual tiles, reminding us of the ongoing cultural interchange between Christian and Islamic countries during the Renaissance.

Conservators and technicians worked together to develop new ways of installing large, complex and fragile objects, while in-house mount makers pioneered new techniques to produce state-of-the-art metal mounts.

Interactives like the 3-D digital reconstruction of the Church of Santa Chiara, Florence (about 1494-1500), produced in collaboration with the University of Sussex and funded by the Bonita Trust, are the result of extensive curatorial research.

An Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)- funded Knowledge Transfer Fund enabled the Royal College of Music and the V&A to transcribe and record period music specific to V&A objects.

Below: Corner of a tile pavement from the Petrucci Palace in Siena, made around 1509, conserved and reconfigured for display in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. Designs of the individual tiles were inspired by the decoration of the recently excavated Golden House of Nero in Rome while the pattern of the tiles' assembly shows the influence of Islamic design.

Corner of a tile pavement from the Petrucci Palace in Siena
One of the music pieces produced for the galleries involved research into this knife
Left: One of the music pieces produced for the galleries involved research into this knife. It was made in about 1550 and features musical notations on both sides of its blade: one for a blessing to be sung before the meal; the other for a prayer of thanks to be sung after the meal. It is part of a set of knives now spread across the world. The music from these knives has been combined to create polyphonic, or multi-voiced, songs. Recordings are accessible on the website and in the galleries.  

Visitor research

The V&A has a reputation for excellence in audience research and development. The most significant evaluation this year was an in-depth look at visitor profiles and responses to the Sackler Centre for arts education which opened in 2008. MUSE, who carried out qualitative evaluation of the impact of the Sackler Centre's intellectual agenda, concluded that the Centre and its programme had achieved exceptionally positive responses to both its programming and overall aims.


The V&A was one of the first museums to calculate and work to reduce its carbon footprint. It is pioneering in developing green museum practices, advocating natural ventilation and light in galleries, using sustainable materials in exhibition design, improving facilities to recycle waste and engaging staff to save energy. In June 2009 the V&A won a Gold Green 500 award in recognition of the work it has done to reduce its carbon footprint.

Growing new knowledge

This year the V&A's holdings of computer art and design (work made using the computer as a tool or medium) have boomed.

The recent addition of two major collections (the Computer Arts Society Collection and the Patric Prince Collection) and over 80 pieces new to the V&A in 2009/10 means that there are now well over 450 pieces of computer-generated artwork at the V&A.

The major exhibition of contemporary digital art and design Decode: Digital Design Sensations in partnership with SAP was complemented by a historical display Digital Pioneers (7 December 2009-21 April 2010), which interpreted the work of the pioneering artists and scientists who produced early computer-based art. The book Digital Pioneers by Honor Beddard and Douglas Dodds was published to coincide with the display. There was also a seminal conference and a themed 'SAP Weekend: Digital Design Festival' attended by over 13,000 visitors and supported by SAP volunteers. Linked to all of these outputs are research projects such as the AHRC-funded contextualisation, cataloguing and digitisation of the collection in partnership with Birkbeck College, University of London.

Right: Pen and ink machine drawing on paper, 'Untitled', 1964, by Desmond Paul Henry, given by Elaine O' Hanrahan, exhibited in
'Digital Pioneers'.

  Below top: 'Digital Pioneers', the V&A's first exhibition of early
computer-based art in the Julie and Robert Breckman Prints and
Drawings Gallery.

Below bottom: The Sackler Centre, featuring the display 'Making
Glover' (4 December 2009-30 March 2010), charting the creative
journey that former Digital Media Resident at the V&A, Jo
Lawrence, took to make the animation 'Glover'.
Pen and ink machine drawing on paper, 'Untitled' 1964, by Desmond Paul Henry

Forthcoming exhibitions

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990
This forthcoming exhibition (24 September 2011-8 January 2012) will be the outcome of intensive research into the diverse international style strategies of the period, bringing together architecture, design, fashion, graphics, pop music, film and video. Arguably the most contentious 'style' label of the last century, Postmodernism as a practice in architecture and design emerged in the early 1970s as a challenge to the orthodoxies of high Modernism. Rejecting the sleek and serious forms which preached the rhetoric of function, postmodern designers exploited a rich and eclectic range of sources to create subversive statements about style and identity in a globalised, speeded-up and consumer-driven society.

New research for this exhibition reveals the range and diversity of intent on the part of those who became associated with Postmodernism. Working with many of its major protagonists as well as its detractors, the curators, partly funded by the RCA and University of Brighton, have uncovered many new contexts for design. New acquisitions for the show range from '80s designer fashion to unique ceramic pieces; from costume for avant-garde performance to rare architectural works.

British Design 1948-2012
Timed to coincide with the 2012 Olympic Games when the world will turn its attention to Britain, this exhibition (31 March-12 August 2012) will document the transformation of design in Britain between the 'Austerity Games' of 1948 and the global competition taking place in 2012. It will be the first exhibition to examine the ways in which designers born, trained or based in the UK have produced innovative and iconic works that have transformed the lives and dreams of people across the world.

A major research focus is the history of collecting and exhibiting postwar design at the V&A. A survey of the Museum's holdings has already brought to light key objects from the furniture, textiles and product design collections never previously displayed, including a large group of Design Centre Award winners ranging from street lighting to stereos. New research into individual designers and their networks has looked, for example, at designers trained by the Architectural Association who moved into furniture and interior design in the 1950s and '60s.

Casablanca Sideboard, 1981
Left: Casablanca Sideboard, 1981, made by Ettore Sottsass for
Memphis and acquired, in part, with the assistance of Memphis.
The sideboard was inspired by the widespread use of plastic
laminates in commercial environments, and shows the use of
kitsch materials for high-end design. It is a key object in the
forthcoming Postmodernism exhibition.

Conferences and lectures

The Sackler Conference for arts education, From the Margins to the Core? (24-26 March 2010) explored the shifting roles and increasing centrality of diversity and equality in museum and heritage policy and practice today. Jointly organised with the University of Leicester, it was the most significant conference to date on the subject. It was informed by the V&A's recent £1 million HLF-funded Capacity Building and Cultural Ownership Programme and the resulting 2009 evaluation, which looked at diversity and the V&A. The conference was an important opportunity to draw on a richness of perspectives and help the cultural sector to formulate a joint vision for the future. The Sackler Conference for arts education is generously funded by a grant from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation.

Planned in collaboration with the Warburg Institute and RIBA, Plaster and Plaster Casts (12-13 March 2010) examined artists' relationships to this medium and its use both as inspiration and as part of the working process. The theme has strong links to the V&A, which from its inception has created a study collection of plaster casts and electrotypes to inform its visitors.

The AHRC-funded conference Decoding the Digital (4-5 February 2010) was a moving and historic dialogue between the original pioneers of computergenerated art and those working in the field today. It brought together artists, designers, curators, collectors and theorists to explore this new medium, and included seminal events such as an in-conversation between practitioners Paul Brown and his son Daniel Brown.

Alongside conferences, a range of symposia, courses, talks, lectures, films and in-conversations forms a vital part of the V&A's programme, disseminating research and provoking debate. Short courses combine theory with practical skills, for example 'Staying Power: Exploring Black British Identity through Photography' (30 March-1 April 2010), HLF-funded, which combined research at the V&A and Black Cultural Archives (BCA) with street photography and new skills in Photoshop. Notable in-conversations this year included an interview with fashion icon Barbara Hulanicki, and Tim Brown, Chief Executive of IDEO (the global design consultancy based in California), discussing IDEO's philosophy with design critic Alice Rawsthorn.

The V&A is celebrated for its commitment to learning. This year the Museum of Childhood was awarded a Sandford Award, recognising quality and excellence in the educational service and facilities at UK cultural heritage sites.

Right: Poster for the film 'Beyond Biba' which premiered at the V&A, followed by an in-conversation with Barabara Hulanicki.

Right: View from the first floor of the Museum of Childhood,
showing the café and main entrance.
Poster for the film 'Beyond Biba'
View from the first floor of the Museum of Childhood readers consulting the general and special collections in the National Art Library
Left: Busts of former Museum Director, Frances Philip Cunliffe Owen (1829-1894), former Keeper of Museum Art Collection, George Wallis (1811-1891), and former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), look over readers consulting the general and special collections in the National Art Library.  

Research networks: PhDs, exchanges and collaborations

The V&A uses its international networks to develop and spread knowledge, and strengthen its reputation as a centre of academic excellence. 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the University of Sussex/V&A exchange programme: curators teach at Sussex, and Sussex-based academic staff contribute to V&A projects for a year. The V&A also has longstanding international annual exchanges with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, and is constantly participating in new exchanges. PhDs completed this year and funded by the AHRC's Collaborative Doctoral Award Scheme include Sarah Bercusson (Queen Mary, University of London/V&A) 'Gifts, consumption and ritual exchange in Italy in the second half of the 16th century' and Verity Clarkson (University of Brighton/V&A) 'The Cold War "émigré" exhibit in Britain: Cultural Exchange, Diplomacy and Trade c.1945-75'.

Collections-based research includes a major project at the Museum of Childhood funded by the HLF, the Fidelity UK Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. Over the next three years curators will be researching and mapping out the British toy-making industry

and its contexts in the 20th Century. They will catalogue, conserve and digitise the archives of toy manufacturers in the collection, and interview people associated with toy manufacturing past and present. Another example is the five-year AHRC-funded partnership with the University of Reading, 'Giving a Voice to the Nation: the Arts Council of Great Britain & the Development of Theatre & Performance in Britain 1945-1995.'

V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design

The V&A's Research Department and the School of Humanities at the Royal College of Art jointly run the V&A/RCA MA in the History of Design - a two-year full-time Master's degree programme. The course introduces students to the skills of object-based analysis and the context of design practice. The MA degree has three specialisms: Design and Material Culture 1650 to the Present; Renaissance Decorative Arts and Culture 1400-1650; and Asian Design History 1400 to the Present. This year has seen unprecedented student numbers.

Right: In the heart of the Museum the National Art Library
welcomes scholars, collectors and the general public to
consult its modern and historic collections.

'The idea that providing Britain's skilled industrial workers with design models would improve the quality of their products led to what eventually became the UK's National Art Library, based at the V&A. The library, which now holds a million items, is run by the museum's Word and Image department.' Corinna Lotz, Museums Journal
In the heart of the Museum the National Art Library

Research facilities

Research facilities at the V&A provided access to our national collections to 43,135 visitors in 2009/10. These include the National Art Library, a public reference library focusing on global art and design history, the Prints and drawings Study Rooms and RIBA Study Rooms, the Learning and Interpretation Research Library and, at our London Olympia site, the Archive of Art and Design and the Theatre and Performance study collections.

Digital initiatives

The V&A was ranked first in the UK and third worldwide in a Times listing of Museum websites. V&A collections and activities online received over 20.6 million virtual visits from across the world. The website is currently being redesigned to maintain its reputation as a leader in the field. A major aspect of the redesign is establishing user profiles which will record all visitors' interactions with the website, from high resolution downloads to comments on blogs and the development of community pages. There are also plans to use the semantic web.

Over one million objects are available through the new version of the Museum's collections database

  'the website of the victoria and albert museum in london is one of britain's finest, overflowing with film and audio clips, plus page after page of information about the treasures in its collection.' Mike Peake, The Sunday Times

'Search the Collections' launched in 2009. Researchers now have unprecedented access to all of the Museum's object records and site visits have tripled since the launch. A new mobile application was developed too, enabling visitors to search the V&A's collections database from their phones.

2009 marked the end of the three-year government-funded National Museums Online Learning Project, mainly used by schools and the educational sector. This significant partnership project led by the V&A pooled expertise and resources to improve museum websites, engage new audiences and transform the way visitors think about and use existing digital collections.

Research and engagement with the V&A has been facilitated by improved visibility on Google, as well as links via sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. The V&A leads the museum field in encouraging user-generated content. The World Beach Project is the only international museum project to have had contributions from every continent including Antarctica. Devised by former V&A artist in residence Sue Lawty, it invites people to upload their images of drawings made with stones on beaches.

The V&A website hosts two vibrant records of V&A research and knowledge: the V&A Conservation Journal and the V&A Online Journal, a combination of V&A and external research and scholarship on the V&A's history, collections and public programme.

Right: Visual showing how the redesigned website may appear.
Visitors will be able to search under key terms and the site
will pull together all relevant material.

Visual showing how the redesigned website may appear