Time, Culture and Identity: the co-creation of historical research and co-development of visitor experience in China and the UK

Lead Research Organisation: Science Museum Group
Department Name: Science Museum Research


Time, Culture and Identity will foster creative and commercial collaboration between cultural partners and businesses in the UK and China by exploring the history of cultural and economic exchanges between the two nations through the lens of timekeeping. Exquisite, but rarely-seen clocks from the collection of Beijing's Palace Museum will be brought to life for audiences across China and around the world via new digital experiences, co-designed by UK and Chinese creative businesses. By stimulating knowledge exchange and brokering commercial relationships between the UK and China, the project will develop methods for cross-cultural approaches to connecting audiences with their scientific heritage.

This project will explore the potential of the cultural and creative economy through two interacting strands:

* a collaborative research programme between curators and researchers at the Science Museum in London and the Palace Museum in Beijing, working with scholars at Beijing Jiaotong University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, around a unique collection of 17th and 18th century clocks, manufactured and designed in England, but created for the Imperial court and held in China.

* a co-design approach to the digital interpretation of the clocks involving knowledge exchange between UK and Chinese creative businesses. This will be supported by audience research into the display of the clocks in three locations: Beijing, Hong Kong and London, and will bring together creative companies in both countries to explore new alliances and ways of working.

In this way, 'Time, Culture and Identity' will not only act as an exploration of the long history of cultural and economic exchanges between Britain and China but also a practical example of this in the contemporary context - stimulating knowledge transfer between the cultural partners and brokering commercial relationships between the UK and Chinese creative businesses.

But this project is also designed to exploit a larger opportunity for UK/China collaboration. In its boldest form, the outputs of 'Time, Culture and Identity' will inform a joint effort between the UK and Chinese partners to reimagine the industrial revolution through material culture; to question narratives that focus on the Western development of eighteenth and nineteenth century sciences and technology, and see this as part of a continuum that embraces the Chinese experience of industrial revolution leading to our globally interconnected society.

Whilst such themes are broad and ambitious, by focusing on a single key area - the concept of time as transmitted between the Britain and China in the 18th Century - we will be able to illuminate and test a strand of this larger thesis, and the possibilities of collaborative research, interpretation and creative trade between the UK and China in the 21st century.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of this research are across three diverse areas:

Creative Industries: The project will support sustainable development in China through the Ministry of Culture's creative industry development plan (2016-2020). By creating links between industry and cultural sector partners in China and the UK to co-develop prototype digital heritage experiences, we will foster skill-sharing and develop an increased understanding of how audiences engage with the heritage of science and technology. The project will develop guidelines for creative collaboration and the creation of digital heritage products in the UK and China, creating a long-term resource for members of the creative sectors in China and the UK to engage audiences through new digital products.

Museums and Cultural Heritage: The project will facilitate staff collaboration and knowledge exchange between two leading international museums - the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Science Museum in London - supporting the development of digital interpretation and collections research in both organizations. Audience research on displays staged in Beijing, London and at the Hong Kong Science Museum will improve the three museums' understanding of the needs of different audiences in different geographical and institutional contexts. The digital prototypes interpreting the Palace Museum clocks collection developed by this project will create and test platforms to enable rarely-seen scientific heritage collections to reach different international audiences.

Audiences: By co-developing digital outputs and creating guidelines for the effective interpretation of scientific heritage, the project will support the development of new experiences for rapidly-growing audiences for science and technology in China. The project's exploration of a key past example of commercial and creative collaboration between Britain and China - the clock trade in the 18th century - will create appealing digital interfaces for audiences to engage with museum collections and to explore the changing concept of time.

The project has potential to create a longer-term legacy for UK-China relations via 'soft power' relationships between cultural institutions. The outputs of Time, Culture and Identity will inform a joint effort between the UK and Chinese partners to reimagine the industrial revolution through material culture, creating future heritage outputs and supporting both governments' strategic focus on development of creative industries.


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