Conference article

From Royal to National: The Changing Face of the National Museum of Scotland

Amy Clarke
The University of Queensland, Australia

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Published in: Great Narratives of the Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:12, p. 169-178

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Published: 2012-10-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


Since devolution in 1997 Scotland has been a nation increasingly conscious of its national brand. The Scottish government has undertaken several international partnerships in the fields of culture; education and commerce; and through its rhetoric and policy the government appears to be encouraging a global perception of Scotland as a nation in the throes of a ‘New Enlightenment.’ The National Museum of Scotland (and former Royal Museum) has benefited from this alleged cultural renaissance; having reopened July 2011 following its second renovation in less than 15 years. Comprised of two separate buildings; the former Royal Museum (1854) and the Museum of Scotland (1998); the National Museum of Scotland’s most recent construction program restored and modernised the Royal Museum structure; which had originally been built as an Industrial Museum before receiving Royal status in 1904.

Given the fact that the Royal Museum’s origins were in part a testament to Scotland’s position in the United Kingdom and British Empire; the current Museum’s new form communicates much about the evolution of Scotland’s national identity and its relationship with the world Scotland’s evolution from 19th century industrial powerhouse of the British Empire to the increasingly independent ‘Enlightened’ nation of today has been echoed by the ever-changing form of its national Museum. This paper will explore the evolution of the National Museum of Scotland from its origins as an Industrial Museum to its modern conception and will ultimately seek to show that the National Museum of Scotland fulfils an alternate role as an historic artefact in and of itself; as much a victim of Scotland’s evolving identity as the historic relics it houses.


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