Research Interests

As an historian I am interested in narrative and affect in museums, particularly those which deal with archaeology and history. My first degree and my PhD were in history and  my research seeks to understand the role of history within the museum and other heritage sites and how history is understood as a form of historical consciousness. I understand history in the museum to be a form of historical 'writing' that differs from, but is influenced by, traditional academic history practice and I am keen to explore the similarities and differences between the two. This has led me to consider ways in which history in museums contribute to identity and how history museums are spaces in which identities are made, controlled, reinforced and manipulated by whom and with what intention.

I have recently been awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme  Research Grant for 2014 - 2015 to investigate the use of emotions in history museums and will be visiting the Netherlands, the USA and Australia to develop a network of researchers working on this topic. In March I gave a lecture in Malta on how emotions affect the way people learn in history museums, at the invitation of the Editorial Board of the Malta Review of Educational Research and The Valletta 2018 Foundation.  http://www.valletta2018.org/about/v18-news-overview/v18-news/Understanding-how-people-learn-about-the-past

I have undertaken research into the way in which national and local history is used to develop the sense of communities, national, local and regional and how senses of place are created within the museum arena and this research was based on my previous practice. I have also undertaken research into visitors' meaning makings in history museums. In one case study I examined how Admiral Lord Nelson was understood to have been a vain but heroic character, more important for his symbolism of English identity than for his defeat of the French at Trafalgar. In another project I investigated how curatorial staff attempted to create the complex and difficult circumstances in which Winston Churchill led the nation in 1940.

I am interested in the intangible and how the museum deals with concepts such as myth and memory, in particular how this can lead to contested national histories.I am also interested in military history and its role in museums in the twenty first century. I am currently working on a paper about the way bombing of civilians in wartime has been used in national museums to enhance or suppress certain national myths and popular memories. I recently (September 2013) co- organised  a conference at the National Army Museum, London, on Making Military Histories in Museums in which members of the museum staff, the interested general public and academics, met to discuss challenges facing military museums in the twenty first century. This conference was part of the preparations being made by the National Army Museum for a stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a total redisplay of all the collections.

Much of my research until recently  related to the EuNaMus programme, where colleagues and  I reviewed the history of national museums in the UK and throughout Europe. More information and publications relating to this project can be found here http://www.eunamus.eu/. One of my current major research projects is for a monograph investigating  the way in which different museums inside and outside Europe present national narratives of origin. This has, in turn, led to another stand of my current research which relates to emotions in the museum. My most recent publications are on this theme and I am exploring ways of taking this forward in an international collaborative project.

External funded projects

I have recently been awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme  Research Grant for 2014 - 2015 to investigate the use of emotions in history museums.

I was co-investigator on a Framework 7 EuNaMus European National Museums and the European Citizen project. This three year project investigated the ways in which histories are made and consumed in national museums across Europe.

I am on the editorial board of Museum and Society

PhD Supervision

I am particularly interested in supervising students in areas relating to notions of historical understanding and historical consciousness, emotions and history, learning history and the making of history in museums. My most recent interests include concepts of emotional engagement, particularly with national identities and the museum and I welcome enquiries from potential research students in these areas, and in history and heritage in museums and historic sites.

I currently supervise or have recently supervised PhD students in the following areas:

  • Vikings in museums in Iceland and England
  • Project management
  • The role of museums as places of lifelong learning for adults in the United Arab Emirates with a focus on the Emirate of Sharjah
  • Community engagement in museums
  • Understanding history museums in Mexico
  • Theatre and living history in heritage sites
  • Ways in which museums engage with hard to reach groups in the UK.

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