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Professor Sandra Kemp

Director, The Ruskin-Library, Museum and Research Centre, Professor

Sandra Kemp

County College



Tel: +44 1524 593589


I am Director of The Ruskin, Library, Museum and Research Centre and Visiting Professor at Imperial College London.

I lead the international collaborative Universal Museums project, funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and LABEX, with co-investigator Hervé Inglebert, Professor of History at the University Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. In partnership with the V&A, Science Museum, Musée de l’Homme, Musée du quai Branly and Musée des Arts et Métiers, this transnational project explores the role of museums in critical enquiry through collections, display and engagement with diverse publics, and in building knowledge across disciplines.


The Ruskin: Museum of the Near Future

My aspiration is to continue to be a leading innovator in cross-disciplinary and public-facing research. It is my belief that as inherently dynamic institutions, constantly reinterpreting the past in light of the present, museums are important sites for the development and exchange of object-orientated interdisciplinary knowledge and expertise, re-imagining as well as re-interpreting our understanding of individual and collective identity, and of how we see the world.

Research Interests

My research focusses on questions arising from museum practice:

  • how we use collections to facilitate news ways of doing research and new ways of connecting people with heritage;
  • the value of the past in the present and whether and how our understandings of the past may provide pathways to the future;
  • visual aptitude and draughtsmanship as powerful conceptual tools and the importance of education in observation in all disciplines;
  • how interdisciplinary and hybrid forms of knowledge are crucial in a world where the ways in which we make and communicate knowledge are rapidly changing.

The Ruskin Library Collection provides a unique perspective on the foundations of 20th and 21st century artistic, social and political developments and is of outstanding research interest on account of the range and importance of the materials it contains. As a future-orientated thinker who was deeply committed to social and cultural values, Ruskin’s writings on European visual arts, well-being, conservation, political economy and social welfare spoke powerfully to the 19th century, but were prescient for our own. The collection provides the ideal locus for collaborative cross campus and cross disciplinary research. This will be the focus of the new Lancaster University Ruskin Research Centre for Culture, Landscape and the Environment.

Career Details

As an academic and curator, I have worked at the Universities of Oxford, Southampton and Glasgow, the Royal College of Art, the V&A, the Science Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. My exhibition, Future Face: Image, Identity, Innovation, funded by the Wellcome Trust at the London Science Museum, explored the long intellectual union of the art, design, technology and science in the analysis of the face as a 3-D bar-code of identity, and explored what faces might be like in the future. At the V&A I co-ordinated V&A research in partnership with the Bard Graduate Center, New York, for an exhibition and related publications on John Lockwood Kipling and the international legacy of arts and craftsand led collaborative research on the historical role of museums in the imagination of the future, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

My background is in English Literature, with a D.Phil from Oxford University, with research specialisms in 19th century literature, including literary and feminist theory, and training as a curator. For the past fifteen years my work has been located within the disciplines of futures studies in relation to visual and material cultures, both the historical dynamics behind the development of futures knowledge and current methods of futures expertise. I have extensive publications, including Kipling’s Hidden Narratives (Blackwell), the OUP Reader in Feminisms with Judith Squires, the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction with Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter; Writings on Writing with Lisa Lewis(Cambridge University Press), Italian Feminist Thought with Paola Bono(Blackwell) and Future Face: Image, Identity and Innovation (Profile Books).

I am an experienced leader of academic, public and corporate programmes with a successful international track record of delivery of major collaborative research projects and exhibitions. I have initiated and led public engagement and visitor events at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and SciFest Africa; and have secured EPSRC and the Nuffield Foundation funding for major public engagement programmes, working in association with biomedical scientists, medical physicists, surgeons, sculptors, filmmakers, painters and photographers.

External Roles

My Visiting Professorship at Imperial College follows my four year Senior Research Investigator role in the ICL Department of Materials at Imperial College, and my work as Royal College of Art (RCA) Research Director from 2000-2008 when I initiated research staff and student collaborations across design, material science and computer science, in partnership with science-based industries, government agencies, and the creative and cultural industries.

I am a member of the international jury of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

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