Models in Motion: Engineering Models as Objects of Communication in the Industrial City, from the Workshop to the Museum

  • Francesca Elliott

Student thesis: Phd


Engineering models feature in most science and technology museums, often in prominent positions, yet there has been little academic study of their role in these collections. This thesis takes a step in correcting this lack of attention, through model- centred research based at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, part of the Science Museum Group, along with a comparative chapter on models at the National Museum of American History. The models discussed range in date of creation from 1825 to 1981, and were made and adapted for a wide variety of educational and communication purposes. In each case, this thesis will draw on the concepts of object biography and object itinerary to trace the lives of the models from creation to their current place in the museum. Interactions between models and their custodians are shaped by the backgrounds and ideals of those custodians, and by the materiality of the models. In turn, custodians can shape the potential future interactions of a model through their physical and conceptual interventions. In two case studies, reconstruction or renovation by custodians has turned what were non-model objects into models. This thesis will argue that models are uniquely placed to be used by museums in performances of institutional identity, having been made to be manipulated into particular narratives. Working models are often run by museums, and motion can be a key part of a model’s original purpose; with this in mind, this thesis will explore the tension between fidelity to a model’s form and fidelity to its purpose. It will conclude that while the running of working models by museums threatens physical evidence of their history, it also, crucially, allows them to remain faithful to their original purposes as objects of communication. This project was designed to run in tandem with the redevelopment of the Power Hall at the Science and Industry Museum, where this research will be used to interpret models as unique objects with strong human connections, in contrast to their previous use as illustrations of particular concepts.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJames Sumner (Supervisor)


  • Thomas Jones model
  • Richard Hills
  • Watkins and Hill
  • Metropolitan-Vickers
  • Metrovicks
  • Imperial Chemical Industries
  • Engineering model
  • William Tongue
  • Donald Berkebile
  • Replica
  • Robert Vogel
  • Model engine
  • Power Hall
  • Patent Museum
  • Frank Wightman
  • ZETA
  • John Dalton
  • Model
  • Museum
  • Apprenticeship
  • Object biography
  • Samuel Clegg
  • Manchester
  • Object itinerary
  • Science Museum
  • National Museum of American History
  • Newcomen
  • Stephenson's Rocket
  • Science and Industry Museum

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