History of the Collections

From its existence as Mason Science College, and from 1900 as the University of Birmingham, objects have played an integral role in University life, teaching and research. Before the advent of audio visual and digital media, lecturers and professors engaged their students through objects. It is these objects, along with the art collection, that form the original nucleus of the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections.

In the original plans drawn up for the University at its new Edgbaston site in the 1890s, provision was made for at least eight separate museums relating to academic disciplines taught there including Commerce, Applied Chemistry, Metallurgy, Mining, Engineering, Geology and Physiology. The extended collections in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, Physics and Astronomy and Department of African Studies and Anthropology contain the majority of the original collections, some of which were built up over decades by purchase, gift or bequest.

The collections were consolidated following an initiative taken in 1991 by the Vice-Chancellor Sir Michael Thompson and the Registrar David Holmes. A survey was made of the miscellaneous groups of paintings and works on paper, sculpture, cultural artefacts, and ceremonial objects that were housed at the University.

The unexpected new knowledge gained from this survey galvanised the University into appointing a University Curator to begin the task of cataloguing, organising and assessing these newly identified collections, and any others which might later emerge.

The formalised collections became the collective ‘University Collections’ later renamed the ‘Research and Cultural Collections’ and received museum Registration in 2008, then full Museum Accreditation by Arts Council England which continues today.

For further information about the history of the collection and collecting practices, please see our Collections Development Policy.