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Research & Innovation Spotlight


Sophie Thomas

Title:

English

Office:

English

Specialization:

English

Biography:

Museums figure prominently in the Romantic period, situated as it is between and alongside the establishment of several major western European museums: the British Museum in 1753, the Louvre in 1793, and the National Gallery in 1824. My current research project investigates the historical significance of the museum as an evolving cultural institution during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, and examines its close relationship to a set of key tropes associated with Romantic literature and visual culture, in particular those related to memory, antiquity, and the re-imagining of the past.

One of the things I reassess is the conventional distinction between the curiosity cabinets of the pre-Romantic period as loose aggregates of curious, striking and singular things, and the Victorian museum as a systematic, collective, and rational ordering of knowledge. I argue that this linear and orderly approach to the history of museums leaves Romantic collections and museums in an undifferentiated middle zone, as expressions of an obsolete, or a simply transitional, model. Significant collections and museums of the period, such as those of Richard Greene, Ashton Lever, William Bullock and John Soane (visit, for example, the Sir John Soane Museum), need to be more precisely situated in terms of their engagement with contemporary debates about what a museum can and should be, and in terms of how their strategies of collection and display can better inform our understanding of the historical relationship between Romantic and modern museums. Because many prominent private collections of the period no longer exist, or have been subsumed into large public museums, we have overlooked their importance not only for our understanding of the Romantic period, but also for the field of museum studies as it has subsequently taken shape.

Department:

My current research project investigates the historical significance of the museum as an evolving cultural institution during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, and examines its close relationship to a set of key tropes associated with Romantic literature and visual culture, in particular those related to memory, antiquity, and the re-imagining of the past.