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Centre for Museology

Dr Sam Alberti

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Sam Alberti has left the University of Manchester to take up a new post at the Royal College of Surgeons of England


Sam is a historian of museums, and holds a joint appointment between the Centre for Museology and the Manchester Museum: as well as teaching the Art Gallery and Museum Studies MA programme, he is Research Fellow at the Museum. He studied chemistry at Durham and history of science at Imperial College before writing a Ph.D. on Victorian natural history at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield. Prior to joining the school he undertook post-doctoral research at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Sam is interested in the relationships between museums and universities; he is completing a monograph on the medical museum in Britain; and he is interested in the cultural meanings of zoological specimens.

Current PhD Students

Current Research

History of the Manchester Museum

Sam is the Manchester Museum's resident historian, and his monograph, Nature and Culture: Objects, Disciplines and the Manchester Museum, was published by Manchester University Press in September 2009.

Pathological collections in nineteenth-century Britain

The Human Tissue Act came into force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 1 September 2006. This legislation is the result of a decade of debates on the retention and display of human remains. As controversies surrounding the retention of human remains and the use of bodies as art continue to grip public attention (as demonstrated by the controversial work of Gunther von Hagens and Anthony Noel Kelly), the Act has thrown into sharp relief the importance of informed research into the meanings and use of human remains. Sam Alberti is researching the history of pathological and other anatomical objects, placing contemporary discussions into a much-needed historical context. It will result in an in-depth study of the variety of collections in Britain in the long nineteenth century, an era of intense interest in pathological displays, heterodox and orthodox, in which the museum emerged as the hegemonic site for science and medicine and the body was mapped in material culture in unprecedented detail. This study will expose the meanings of human remains to anatomists and audiences, and the passage of the body parts from hospital ward (or grave) to collection. This project is undertaken in conjunction with the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

University museums

The Centre for Museology draws on the Whitworth Art Gallery  and the Manchester Museum extensively not only in learning and teaching, but also in research. The past, present and future of higher education collections in the UK and elsewhere is central to the research interests of Helen Rees Leahy and Sam Alberti.

Maharajah the elephant
Maharajah the elephant

The afterlife of animals

Sam is interested in the scientific, historical and cultural meanings of zoological specimens in museums, from spirit specimens to taxidermic mounts. Using object biographies of particular 'charismatic megafauna', he is currently studying the role of museums in human-animal relations. In collaboration with colleagues in the Manchester Museum and elsewhere, Sam is seeking to promote a wider understanding of the preservation and provenances of specimens and to suggest new ways to develop collections as both natural and cultural heritage. A collaborative volume of animal biographies is underway, as well as a pilot study evaluating the value of this work to current museum practice.

Sam's roles include

Selected Publications