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Showcasing the Future: Socialising Knowledge and Innovation

Project: Research


My recent research includes work on those temporary Victorian and Edwardian events and exhibitions of arts and sciences known as ‘soirées’ and ‘conversaziones’.

The novelist H. G. Wells characterised soirées as occasions at which ‘imminent change was made even alarmingly visible’. They had their heyday in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and provided opportunities for men and women to think about the future as embodied in new goods and technologies at the more experimental stages of their development.

In the wider empire, too, soirées appear to be events intended to promote a culture of colonial modernity which brought together science and art, commerce and discovery, designed to promote trade. John Lockwood Kipling sponsored soirées at the Lahore Museum – partner of the South Kensington Museum (Pioneer, 16th December 1877).

Our research includes exploration of the role of soirees in imagining futures, including the link between public legitimacy and commercial viability in soirées’ promotion of inventions that promised to transform modern living through industry, travel and communication. The transience of these events equipped them to register the shifting demands and expectations of an age in transformation, an age in which the purpose and value of the new arts, technologies and sciences were not yet self-evident and were in need of repeated public performance to establish their legitimacy.

Through study of how changing ideas and design movements were expressed by display, the project also explores the soirées’ permanent legacy in the development of national museum collections.

This research is in collaboration with Dr Mat Paskins, University of Anerystwyth, Dr Tim Boon, Science Museum, Keith Moore, Royal Society; Professor Graeme Gooday, University of Leeds.
Effective start/end date1/01/13 → …

Research outputs