Leeds Museums & Galleries / Cultural Institute Cross-Disciplinary Innovation Fund (CDIF)

An opportunity for University of Leeds academics to access world-class museum collections and their curators, to benefit research and wider museum programming.  

Closing date: 17 April 2023, 11.58 pm

Who can apply: University of Leeds academics


Application form for University of Leeds academics.


  1. About the fund
  2. What is available?
  3. Benefits of taking part
  4. Why are we doing it?
  5. What are we looking for?
  6. How it works
  7. Eligibility
  8. How to apply
  9. The curators and their collections
  10. Past projects, outcomes and impact

1. About the fund 

The Cultural Institute has partnered with Leeds Museums & Galleries to launch a co-funded research grant scheme, which will support academics and curators to work together and explore Leeds Museums & Galleries' nationally-recognised collections.

2. What is available?

Between four and six awards of £1000 – £1500 each.

The funding can cover the full costs of the activity including, but not limited to internships, materials, specialist skills, venue and equipment hire, travel and subsistence.

Funding must be spent by 30 September 2024.

3. Benefits of taking part 

Accessing museum collections can be hugely beneficial to research and to museum practice. Over the last 4 years, we've teamed up with Leeds Museums & Galleries to give academics the opportunity to work closely with curators and their collections.  

Academics from a variety of disciplines – including Mechanical Engineering, Music, Civil Engineering and Philosophy – have previously been awarded the fund and have benefited immensely.

Benefits to academics include: 

  • opportunity to access objects from the city’s collections of over 1.3 million items
  • opportunity to make connections between objects in the collections and your research 
  • collaborating with specialist curators
  • opportunity to engage wider public with research
  • generate broader impact
  • opportunity to engage in an interdisciplinary way.

4. Why are we doing it? 

The Cultural Institute recognises the importance of collaboration between the University and the wider cultural community of Leeds, and the role the University can play in this cultural landscape.

Through this fund, we provide academics and curators with a distinctive opportunity to work together for mutual benefit.

5. What are we looking for? 

Proposals that are innovative and help develop a fresh understanding of Leeds Museums & Galleries collections from non-traditional perspectives. This might include proposals for new interpretations, research projects, talks, events or making new research connections between different subject areas.

The fund can be used for both public-facing and non-public-facing work. We are happy to consider compelling ideas that fall outside these categories. For examples of previously funded projects, please read section 10

Academic applicants from STEM backgrounds are particularly encouraged to apply.  

6. How it works 

Watch our ‘Meet the Curator’ online session on YouTube (recorded on 26 January 2023) to learn more about the curators and their collections.

Academics will need to make arrangements to discuss ideas with the curator you’re interested in working with. Contact details are available in section 9.

7. Eligibility 

University of Leeds partners must seek the support of their Head of School. Academics must be on a contract that extends beyond the end date of their project to lead an application. PhD candidates can be part of a project team but cannot lead a project.

8. How to apply 

Proposals should be jointly prepared by a University of Leeds academic, and a Leeds Museums & Galleries curator. The deadline to submit is 17 April 2023, 11.58 pm.

Applicants will be informed of the outcome of their application within two weeks of the deadline.

9. The curators and their collections

Natural Science – Clare Brown

Current and upcoming projects: 

  • International collection of petrology, mineralogy, palaeontology, botany, zoology spanning two centuries of collecting.
  • Dead Inspiring – empowering young women in science (Esmeé Fairburn Fund) 
  • Nature:Bots – Engineering robots inspired by the natural world (Royal Academy of Engineers Ingenious Fund)
  • Immense Insects – Macrophotography and imaging techniques for entomological specimens (Royal Entomological Society)
  • Urban Nature Project – Nationwide program focusing on engaging with urban nature environments (National Lottery with NHM)  

Strengths of the collection:

  • Record of Leeds’s plant-life over two centuries with the possibility of analysing samples for pollutants/isotopes/DNA  
  • Rare and extinct animal specimens from around the world e.g. what’s in the teeth of our Javan Rhino skull?  
  • Identifying specimens using their DNA – is that skeleton a zebra or a quagga?  
  • Huge botany and entomology collections with data – map changes in distributions using historic collections?  
  • Work on expanding the field of dendrochronology in shells – massive collection of mollusc shells with growth “rings” from across the globe and across the decades.  
  • Large lichen collection. These are great bioindicators of pollution so they could be used to track historic changes in air pollution in Leeds/Yorkshire.

Email Clare Brown at clare.brown@leeds.gov.uk

Industrial History – John McGoldrick

Collection: Designated textile, engineering and railway collections, also encompassing tanning, printing, optics collections and instruments and tools collections.

The archive collection is a rich source of reference for the development of Leeds industrial firms’ branding from c1850-1980.  

Areas of particular interest: 

  • The marketing and export of Leeds railway & engineering products to Colonial territories.
  • The role of industrial heritage in addressing the social dislocation caused by de-industrialisation.  

Current projects: 

  • Civil engineering and the ‘public good’. Currently developing a related exhibition with partners at Smeaton 300.
  • We are a partner organisation in the Slavery and Steam: Steam Power, Railways & Colonialism Project.
  • Co-curated the ‘Living with Machines’ exhibition, a collaboration between the British Library and Leeds Museums & Galleries, held at Leeds City Museum between July 2022 and January 2023. 

Email John McGoldrick at john.mcgoldrick@leeds.gov.uk

Costume and Textiles – Natalie Raw

The dress collection is predominantly British and dating from 1700 to present day containing garments from all levels of fashion from high end couture designs to everyday clothing, which has its own unique local Leeds or Yorkshire significance. 

The textile collection is mainly made up of two significant collections which came to us from two collectors Henry Ginsburg and Roger Warner. In these collections are examples of all sorts of textiles and textile techniques used for dress, furnishings and interiors which date from about 1450 to 1920. 

Current and future projects may include: 

  • Children’s clothing
  • Sportswear and leisurewear  
  • Developments in sustainable textiles 
  • Textile analysis 

Email Natalie Raw at natalie.raw@leeds.gov.uk

Leeds Social History – Kitty Ross

  • All areas of the city’s social history. 
  • Local photographic collections where LMG is improving access through digitisation and linking across to Leodis, the Library Service’s online photographic archive. 
  • The 2023 exhibition at Abbey House Museum is ‘All to Play For’ focused on sport and play. There is a crossover here with the Leeds’ sporting heritage focus of Catherine Robins. 

Email Kitty Ross at kitty.ross@leeds.gov.uk

World Cultures – Adam Jaffer

World Cultures encompasses collections from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. 

Current and upcoming projects: 

  • Focus areas for 2023 include deepening our understanding of Leeds’s African collections and the donors who acquired them, with a view to decolonising our approach to collections interpretation. This also involves work with Leeds’ African communities and potentially contacts overseas. 
  • A further area for 2023/2024 is looking at cross-cultural approaches to Death, Dying and Bereavement with the view to staging an exhibition at Leeds City Museum mid-2024.

Email Adam Jaffer at adam.jaffer@leeds.gov.uk

Leeds Sporting Heritage – Catherine Robins

Areas of interest include:  

  • History of sport/s in Leeds (any and everything, eg what sports were popular when, social and economic impacts of sport on the city, how immigration has influenced sport in the city).  
  • Technology linked to sporting activities (eg items used for training or adapted technologies for people with disabilities) 
  • Materials/clothing design and manufacture (ie anything around the development in sportswear, maybe for social reasons or as a way to enhance performance)  
  • Contemporary sports activities in the city/at the University  
  • Gender identity and sport  
  • Anything else which may link to this project, directly or tangentially.

Email Catherine Robins at catherine.robins@leeds.gov.uk

Archaeology – Kat Baxter

Ongoing projects:  

  • Working on an exhibition to open in Leeds City Museum in Feb 2022 called ‘Money Talks’ exploring money and our relationships with it. I’m part of the Leeds University ‘Cultural Life of Money’ group.  
  • Working on an exhibition to open in Leeds City Museum in 2024 about death, dying and bereavement, in partnership with the Dying Matters Leeds organisation.  
  • Consulting with a steering group around new ways to display the overseas archaeology collection, particularly from Egypt.  

Areas of interest:  

  • Treatment of the dead in museums. 
  • Representing enslaved people in the UK from the Roman period and earlier.  
  • Archaeological archives generated from excavations in Leeds.  
  • How overseas archaeology has been collected, particularly in a colonial context.  
  • Anything related to Kirkstall Abbey.

Email Kat Baxter at katherine.baxter@leeds.gov.uk

10. Past projects, outcomes and impact

The Reservoir That Wasn't: Decision making and infrastructure development

Alice Owen (School of Environment), Katy Roelich, (Earth and Environment/Civil Engineering) and John McGoldrick (Curator of Industrial History) 

The purpose of this project was to investigate the 19th Century development of reservoirs in the upper catchments of the Nidd and Derwent to provide water for the rapidly industrialising and growing city of Leeds, and to understand how decision making for infrastructure is constructed. 

The project team carried out new work on the archive, adding to LMG’s knowledge base, and developing skills and understanding in the use of archives for scientists. Learning has already been incorporated into research (partly through an existing EPSRC Fellowship), and teaching. The academics have become really interested in the mechanics and potential of interdisciplinary working. 

As a result of this project, an article was published in History and Policy (Owen/Roelich/ Stark), in January 2020.

Investigating alkaloid preservation in herbarium specimens and potential social implications of storing plants with alkaloids 

Karen Bacon (School of Geography) and Clare Brown (Curator of Natural Science).

Museums can no longer legally hold herbarium sheets of cannabis without an expensive licence. However, it is unknown how alkaloid and lipid concentration changes over time in dried and stored leaves held by herbaria. The purpose of this project was to to investigate the preservation potential of alkaloids and lipids in Hop (Humulus lupulus). This species has many of the same or similar compounds as the now restricted Cannabis sativa but is legal to work on without licencing and also has a significant cultural role.  

This proof of concept project has influenced the team’s research agenda, specifically a grant application and larger project on plant chemistry. The herbarium collection has never been used in this way before.  

The Temple Newsam Picture Gallery Suite: Under the microscope 

Dr Ruth Hughes (School of Molecular and Cellular Biology) and Adam Toole (Curator of Decorative Art) 

In 2021, this pairing worked together to examine the needlework upholstery of the Picture Gallery suite at Temple Newsam using microscopic technology. A blog by Adam Toole gives background information on the Picture Gallery and the furniture in it. 

The upholstery for the seating furniture was made using a technique called petit point needlework, consisting of countless thousands of small woollen stitches in a variety of colours in a canvas ground.

This project has used a portable Jiusion Digital Microscope – commonly used to aid soldering in electronics factories – to magnify the needlework up to 1000 times, revealing the detail of this incredible work down to thread level. 

Find out more at The Leeds Museums & Galleries website.


For more information or questions email the Cultural Institute at culturalinstitute@leeds.ac.uk