Collecting the Contemporary

Collecting the Contemporary: A Handbook for Social History Museums is a major new publication which addresses one of the most fundamental issues facing today’s history museums: why and how to engage with contemporary collecting? In a format which is approachable, attractive - and above all actionable, this new book is packed with stimulating thinking and international case studies from some of the leading practitioners and thinkers in the field.

Many museums collect contemporary objects, stories, images and sounds. But reasoned policies and procedures are very often lacking. And – given the uniquely detailed record of contemporary life recorded by today's ubiquitous media – how best are museums to record and present contemporary life in their collections?

This overview of contemporary collecting in a social historical context is well overdue. Original source material, ideas, developments and research have never before been brought together in a single volume. This book brings together practitioners from around the world to provide a contemporary and convenient reader which aims to lay the foundations for future initiatives.

Collecting the Contemporary will help you answer these key questions... and much more besides:
  1. How best should we engage with contemporary collecting? 
  2. Should we collect to fill gaps in the existing collection? 
  3. How best to record modern urban life? 
  4. How might we best engage with minority communities? 
  5. Should we aim to link past and present?

Also available: Contemporary Collecting: Theory and Practice

This groundbreaking, 628-page book, with 80 colour illustrations, includes: 

1. Introduction
Owain Rhys, Community Participation and Engagement Manager, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Zelda Baveystock, Lecturer in Arts Management & Museum Studies, University of Manchester
2. Strategies
A Question of Value: Issues in Contemporary Collecting Practice
Michael Terwey, Chair, Social History Curators group

Developing Contemporary Collecting in Wales
John Marjoram, Coordinator Contemporary Collecting Wales

Collecting the Current Now and Then: A Perspective on Acquiring Contemporary Artefacts in History Museums
Steven Miller, Seton Hall University MA Program in Museum Professions and previously Senior Curator of the Museum of the City of New York

“A Picture of the Past and a Mirror of the Present”: Iorwerth Peat and the Origins of the Welsh Folk Museum
Elen Philips, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff

3. Approaches
100 Years of Contemporary Collecting: Revisiting the Collection of Sailor Tattoos at the Maritime Museum, Stockholm
Mirja Arnshav, Research Coordinator, National Maritime Museums, Sweden

Collecting the Home in Different Ways: SAMDOK’s Ethnographic Method Compared to Other Approaches
Harriet Purkis, University of Ulster and Past Chair, Social History Curators’ Group

Exploring the Jungle: Contemporary Archaeology Gets a Little Bit Darker
Stuart Rathbone, Field Archaeologist, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology

“Oi, Get Orf Moy Laand: Recent Departures in Contemporary Collecting and the English Countryside
Ollie Douglas, Museum of English Rural life, University of Reading

Let’s Talk About Sexuality: Capturing, Collecting and Disseminating LGBTQ Oral His- and Her-stories
Sean Curran, Institute of Education, University of London 

4. Challenges
Collecting Contemporary Consumer Technology
Suzanne Fischer, Oakland Museum of California and Steven Lubar, Brown University, Providence, RI

The Memorial and the Museum: Strathewen’s Poetry Tree 
Peg Fraser, Research Associate at Museum Victoria, Australia

Collecting Challenging Contemporary Histories: Terrorist Attacks in London and New York City
Jennifer Kavanagh, Audience Engagement Manager, Science Museum, London

5. Futures
Transecting the Strand Union Workhouse: An Excursion into Social History Along Digital Geo-Located Paths
Juliet Sprake and Peter Rogers, Design Department, Goldsmiths, University of London

Curating the Sensorial: Digital Mediation and Social Engagement with Place, Objects and Intangible Heritage in Australia 
Francesca Veronesi, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Save Our Placards!
Guy Atkins, writer and independent curator and Georgina Young, Museum of London

6. International Case Studies
Amsterdam Museum
Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
Birmingham Museums Trust
Bristol Museums & Art Galleries
Cardiff Story Museum
Chicago History Museum
Colchester & Ipswich Museums
Edinburgh City Museums
Gothenburg Stadsmuseum
Kentucky Historical Society
Museum of European Cultures
Museum of Liverpool
Norway's National Network for Contemporary Studies (Samtidsnett)
Te Papa Tongarewa | Museum of New Zealand
Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Upplands Museums, Sweden

Owain Rhys is Community Participation and Engagement Manager at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and the author of Contemporary Collecting: Theory and Practice.

Zelda Baveystock was the first Keeper of Contemporary Collecting at Tyne & Wear Museums, and subsequently played a significant role in the launch of the Museum of Liverpool. She is currently Lecturer in Arts Management & Museum Studies at the University of Manchester.

PAY ATTENTION TO THIS BOOK! Distilling an enormous measure of wisdom from professional collectors internationally, its essays seamlessly blend the theory and practice of collecting, and case studies illuminate the rationale behind real-life acquisition decisions. Curators of special collections should absolutely take note, but any reader interested in the why and how of collecting objects—or indeed of collecting anything — will find much of value in this book.

Collection Management, 2015, 40:1.


This lively and provocative new volume offers valuable new insights for anyone interested in how history museums can remain engaged, vital and relevant to diverse constituencies in the 21st century. 

Prof. Richard Sandell, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Contemporary collecting is a creative, polemical, and even subversive process as well as a documentary one. This groundbreaking book explores both the dark and the light in the best of current practice. 
David Anderson, President, The Museums Association | Director General, Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museums Wales

Contemporary collecting today is the social history collection of tomorrow. This is an engaging and timely exploration of contemporary collecting’s past; discussing the challenges and revealing potential new directions for the future. 
Michelle Lees, Chair, Social History Curators’ Group


A much-needed volume, rich in ideas, perspectives and methodologies. Useful both as a handbook, and as inspirational food for thought.
Dr Eva Fägerborg, COMCOL – International Committee for Collecting (ICOM)


The book captures the extraordinarily complex and thought-provoking decisions that go on at grassroots around contemporary collecting; but also illuminates the wider theoretical, strategic and political debates in which these decisions sit. The book’s international scope adds to its strength. Today’s curators will find stimulus and encouragement in the pages. Future historians will find a fascinating account of professionals responding creatively and humanely to a rapidly changing world. I enjoyed this a lot. 
Dr. Cathy Ross, Honorary Research Fellow, Museum of London


An excellent analysis of the range of issues thrown up by contemporary collecting practices, relevant to practitioners and museum scholars. Essential reading for those wishing to develop a reflective curatorial practice that engages with contemporary social issues. 
Professor Andrea Witcomb, Director, Cultural Heritage Research Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Deakin University, Australia


Fascinating and educative, the editors bring together a compendium of UK and international contributions that throw light not only on the challenges of contemporary social history collecting but on many of the broader issues of museology over the last 30 years, particularly in terms of curatorial practice and community engagement. Both scholarly and a page-turner, the book will repay reading for anyone in the museum business.
Iain Watson, Director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Title: Collecting the Contemporary: A Handbook for Social History Museums
Pages: 628
Colour illustrations: 80
Size: 203 x 127 mm
Date: 2014
Editions: £69 [paperback] | £89 [hardback] | £49 [eBook]

ISBN: 978-1-910144-28-2 [paperback]
ISBN: 978-1-910144-29-9 [hardback]
ISBN: 978-1-910144-30-5 [eBook]

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We offer all our readers an unconditional guarantee: if, at any time, you decide this book’s not for you, simply return it to us for a full and prompt refund. 

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