Research Impact


Improving the understanding of Sir Hans Sloane’s historic catalogues

Professor Nyhan’s research on the Enlightenment Architectures project, primarily with the British Museum, has shown the potential of digital humanities research and collaboration in heritage settings.

Historic portrait painting

28 April 2022

In 2010, the British Museum established the Reconstructing Sloane research consortium as an umbrella project for research into Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) and his collections, and thus, the history of the national collection. Sloane’s collection was acquired for the nation in 1753 as the foundation of the original British Museum, the world’s first public museum. The collection that Sloane gathered includes some 50,000 books, manuscripts, prints and drawings and over 70,000 objects and natural history specimens from across the globe.

Reconnecting the Sloane Catalogues

About 40 manuscript catalogues document the acquisition and development of his vast collection. Sloane’s Catalogues are among the oldest and most significant in the English-speaking world and represent an Enlightenment world-view and scholarly practice as it emerged from the Early Modern period. They have been actively used by generations of curators in the centuries since his death. Yet the collection has become disconnected from the original manuscript catalogues and is dispersed between the three national institutions that have since grown from the original British Museum: the present-day British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum.

Creating an open data set for future generations

To further the work of the Reconstructing Sloane research consortium, Professor Nyhan’s Enlightenment Architectures research uses digital humanities approaches and technologies to digitise, transcribe, computationally model, analyse and transform the rich and detailed information recorded in Sloane’s highly complex catalogues. Her research methods transformed Sloane’s Catalogues from manuscript-bound sources (c.2,000 highly intricate and heavily annotated handwritten pages) into a dynamic and scalable open data set.

Research synopsis

Improving cultural heritage institutions’ understanding of Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues and collections and facilitating better understanding of the potential of digital humanities research and collaboration in heritage settings

Professor Julianne Nyhan’s collaborative research on the Enlightenment Architectures project, undertaken primarily with the British Museum, resulted in better access to, and understandings of, the globally significant catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), which form the basis of the UK’s national cultural heritage collection.



  • Image credit: The Historical Collections Room containing the Sloane Herbarium, copyright The Natural History Museum, London