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Susan Newell

MA work

Ceramics as ‘applications of geology’, an exploration of the collection of the Museum of Practical Geology, c. 1835–1860

In 1835 the new Geological Survey was allocated premises for a museum in London with the twin goals of displaying geological specimens brought back by their surveyors and 'specimens' demonstrating the 'applications of geology'. To demonstrate the use of clays and minerals in ceramics, the museum amassed a large and varied collection, the majority of which survives in the V&A today.

My dissertation explores the museum's activities with particular reference to ceramics.  I discuss how the brief to instruct about geology was embodied in the museum's new building erected in 1851, and also examine the ways audiences may have interacted with the collection.  The importance of the ceramics collection in establishing a taxonomy for British wares is also investigated: while the rationale behind acquisitions was ostensibly scientific, I suggest other motivations came into play, such as the legitimisation of the institution and the medium of pottery, through association with elite antiquarian interests.

The museum's collection of historical and contemporary English ceramics is thought to have been unique.  I turn to France to investigate this claim for the collections further, and find early state collections of English pottery there, acquired through different motivations of trade rivalries.

Finally, using the museum’s ceramics catalogue of 1855, I focus on its interaction with contemporary manufacturers. Using rare surviving correspondence, I present a case study of the tile manufacturer Maw and Co, to examine the symbiotic nature of the museum’s relationship with a particular manufacturer.

In conclusion, my dissertation hopes to recover a ‘lost’ nineteenth-century collection of renewed relevance today given growing interest in the potential and properties of materials.


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2016

  • Decorative arts specialist with extensive experience in the public and private sectors. My skills include all aspects of curatorship, including the management, acquisition, display and cataloguing of collections. My recent MA in History of Design at the Royal College of Art has allowed me to hone my research and writing skills while taking an inter-disciplinary approach to object histories. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills. I am seeking a role in museums, the heritage field or with private collections.  

  • Degrees

  • BA Hons French with Spanish, University of Durham