From the earliest years of its existence as Mason Science College, and from 1900 as the University of Birmingham, objects have played an integral role in our teaching and learning here on campus. Before the advent of audio visual and digital media, lecturers and professors engaged their students through objects, and it is these objects that form the original nucleus of the University of Birmingham Research and Cultural Collections.
In the original plans drawn up for the University's new Edgbaston site in the 1890s, provision was made for at least eight separate museums relating to academic disciplines, 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 collection. Collections held by other schools gradually disappeared in the 1960s through a lack of awareness of their present or future value.
The University’s art collections grew from the 1960s through the dedication of a small number of determined academics who laid the foundations of the collections with commissions and acquisitions of work by artists including William Gear, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. Their example encouraged the University to continue to develop the art collections from the 1990s up to the present day, adding works by commission, purchase or gift by Sonia Lawson, Julian Meredith, Nicholas Pope, John Walker, Hans Schwarz, Peter Randall-Page and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. The collections were consolidated in 1991 when a survey was made of the miscellaneous groups of paintings and works on paper, sculpture, cultural artefacts, and ceremonial objects that were to be found across the University campus and a part time curator was appointed to begin the task of cataloguing, organising and assessing the collections. This programme of cataloguing, assessing and redisplaying the collections has continued in line with historical precedent, when the African and archaeological collections were the first to be given museum-quality display cases.
Today there are five sites which hold collections:
Collections related to the College of Arts and Law include: