The Bradford's National Museum research project was part of the reinvention of the National Science and Media Museum.
It aimed to experiment with how the museum's two new strategies (focusing on science and technology, and celebrating being a distinctively Bradford museum) could be combined to create a new role for the museum in Bradford.
When the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television was set up in 1983, it was at a time of optimism for Bradford. Bradford was the first deindustrialising city to launch a tourism campaign—Bradford: A Surprising Place—celebrating equally the Brontës, curry and rolling out a red carpet for the first arrivals. The new museum was part of that moment.
Yet 20 years later a different story was being told. Further severe funding cuts looked likely in the 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review, leading Science Museum Group Director Ian Blatchford to indicate the potential need to close one of the group's northern museums (also including the National Railway Museum, York, and the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester). 45,000 people signed The Bradford Telegraph & Argus petition to keep the museum open.
Five years on, the museum did not close and it started to reinvent itself.
The reinvention focused on two key strategies. The first was to make the most of its connection with the Science Museum, with the Wonderlab gallery and the change of name to the National Science and Media Museum. The second was to become better connected in Bradford.
The Bradford's National Museum research project was part of this reinvention.
We recorded lots of open conversations with people in the city about Bradford and about the museum in Bradford. These were collectively analysed with staff in the museum to prompt ideas for institutional change that could lead to a new role in Bradford for the museum.
How the museum came to be in Bradford
We looked at the histories of the museum. How did it come to be here and how can being based in Bradford shape the museum's future?
Telling Bradford stories
We explored the unique opportunities for interpreting the science and technology of media that come from such a cosmopolitan and well-connected city. Bradford stories were the focus of an exhibition held at the museum in March 2019, for example.
We used the idea of Bradford being well connected to other local places in ways that bypass capital cities and global cities (such as London or Mumbai)—which we called translocal connections. We did this to see if we could respond to the networks that are in and stretch beyond Bradford to reimagine the role of the 'national' museum.
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and was initiated by the University of Leeds in partnership with the National Science and Media Museum.
The additional project partners were:
- BCB—Bradford Community Radio
- Bradford Museums and Galleries
- Aamir Darr (Independent Educational Consultant)
- Tim Smith (Freelance Photographer)