Susan Newell

Research summary

In collaboration with the University of Leeds, Susan’s AHRC-funded doctoral project focuses on the resources used in the teaching of geology in the early nineteenth century.  Her main reference will be the archive relating to charismatic and eccentric figure of the first Reader of Geology at Oxford University, William Buckland (1784-1856), but she will also examine material relating to the first Director of the Museum, John Phillips, and to teaching at important centres further afield such as Edinburgh University and the Geological Survey. 

A cross-disciplinary approach will characterise Susan’s project which straddles the history of science, collections, as well as the history of teaching, art and social history. The geological diagrams, topographical watercolours, prints, models and specimens held by the Museum will be her starting point for examining how university teachers in the exciting new field of geology created and deployed different materials in their work. 


Susan worked as a decorative arts specialist in museums and auction houses before studying for an MA (History of Design) at the Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum.  

Her interest in the history of geology developed after working as a curator in the Ceramics and Glass Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she became aware of a large and varied group of ceramics simply catalogued with the provenance ‘Jermyn Street Museum’.  This was the common name for the Museum of Practical Geology, the London home of the new Geological Survey, and Susan went on to research its ceramics collection (viewed as ‘applied geology’), for her MA dissertation.  During her studies Susan maintains broad interests in the arts and science history.  She is Chairman of The Glass Society, an organisation dedicated to the research, collecting and enjoyment of glass from all periods.