Dr Sheila Watson

Associate Professor  Dr Shelia Watson

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 3967

Email: serw1@le.ac.uk


Personal details

Trustee of Museums Sheffield 2010 - 2018

I  had various careers before taking up my first academic post in the School of Museum Studies in 2003. As a Historian, I completed a PhD in Propaganda and Morale in Britain in the Second World War before training as a teacher. I taught in various secondary schools, the last five years as a head of department in a large comprehensive school in Hertfordshire before moving into museum education.

After working as an education officer for six years in Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, I became a Community Museums Officer and then Area Museums Officer in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. I managed three museums and an art gallery, established a heritage partnership and led the redisplay of all three museums.

The area in which I was located was one of severe economic and social deprivation and I worked with the community on a wide range of projects to foster self esteem and support community identity. My final project was to lead a Heritage Lottery Funded project to create a new £4.7 million new museum Time and Tide: Museum of Great Yarmouth Life.

As project champion, I also led the team who managed the refit of the old curing works and the display of the museum. I maintain my interest in current museum contexts and combine a practical interest in museum and gallery development with a theoretical interest in the ways in which history, heritage and museums intersect in the creation and maintenance of certain types of identities.

My research is informed by my practice and I maintain strong links with former colleagues with whom I continue to undertake research. One of my current research projects includes the Norwich Castle redevelopment project.


I am currently responsible for teaching sessions on the campus based MA in Museum Studies

My lectures and workshops include:

  • difficult histories in heritage and the museum
  • museums and communities
  • the emotional museum

I also teach the heritage specialism. I contribute materials to the following distance learning MA programmes: Museum Studies and Heritage and Interpretation.



Watson, S (2020) Museums and the Origins of Nations: Emotional myths and narratives. A monograph on the ways in which national museums across the world present the origin of their particular nation and what this tells us about politics and national prestige today.

Watson, S, Barnes, A and Bunning, K (2018) (eds) A Museums Studies Approach to Heritage.London: Routledge.

Watson, S. (2007) (ed.) Museums and their Communities, London, Routledge.

Knell, S., MacLeod, S. and Watson, S. (2007) (eds) Museum Revolutions, London, Routledge.

Watson, S. and Hunt, J. (1990) Britain and the Two World Wars, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press


Watson, S. (2021) ‘Emotions in the history museum’ in Mazzanti, Paolo (ed)   in collaboration with Margherita Sani, Emotions and Learning in Museums,  72 – 80 . NEMO – The Network of European Museum Organisations Deutscher Museumsbund e.V. Taubenstraße 1, 10117 Berlin Germany www.ne-mo.org https://www.ne-mo.org/news/article/nemo/nemo-report-on-emotions-and-learning-in-museums.htm

Watson, S (2020 )  'Emotions and lost objects' in Exploring Emotion, Care and Enthusiasm in "Unloved" Museum Collections,  edited by Anna Woodham et al. Arc Humanities Press.

Watson, S (2019) 'The mediated museum' Critical Museology: Selected Themes Reflections from the William Bullock Lecture Series. Mexico City:MuAC.

Watson, S. (2019 ) 'The British Museum and the Royal Academy: the nation state: English and British identities and the constitution in the eighteenth century' Museum and Society, 17(1) 66- 82.

Watson. S. (2018) 'Emotional engagement in heritage sites and museums: Ghosts of the past and imagination in the present' in Watson, S, Barnes, A and Bunning, K (2018) (eds) A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage London: Routledge.

Watson, S (2017) 'The legacy of communism: difficult histories, emotions and contested narratives' International Journal of Heritage Studies

Watson, S. (2017) 'Emotional communities and Museums' in T. Saar (ed) Community Involvement in Theme Museums, Proceedings of the Estonian Maritime Museum, 8,  12 - 21.

Watson, S. (2016) ‘Why do Emotions Matter in Museums and heritage sites?’ In Carla van Boxtel (ed)  Sensitive Pasts: Questioning Heritage in Education, Oxford, New York:  Berghahn Publishers

Watson, S (2016) Death from the skies.’ Photographs in museums of the aerial bombing of civilians during World War Two' in  E. and T. Stylianou (eds) Museums and Photography: Displaying Death: London and New York : Routledge.

Watson, S. (2015) 'Emotions in the history museum' in Kylie Message and Andrea Witcomb (eds) The International Handbooks of Museums Studies, Volume 1: Museum Theory 283- 301. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

Watson S. (2014) 'Communities and museums - equal partners?' in R. Silverman (ed) Museum as Process, London: Routledge.

Knell, S.J. , 2012., Axelsson, B Eilertsen, L. Myrivili, E.  Porciani, I. Sawyer, A. and Watson, S. Crossing Borders: Connecting European Identities in Museums and Online, Linkoping University Press, Linkoping. [Results of Eunamus investigations looking at the language of art, regionalism and online museum-like spaces - available free online]

Watson, S. (2012) 'Museums and the origins of nations in Poulot, D and Bodenstein, F (eds) Grand Narratives of the Past: Traditions and Revisions in National Museums: 545-565 University of Linköping- available free online

Watson, S.. Kirk, R., and Steward, J. (2012) ‘Arsenic, wells and herring curing:  Making new meanings in an old fish factory’  in MacLeod, S  et al. (ed) Museum Making, London, Routledge

Watson, S. and Sawyer, A. ( 2011) National Museums in Britain, in Aronsson, Peter ; Elgenius, Gabriella (eds) Building National Museums in Europe 1750 - 2010, Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity, Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28 - 30 April 2011, EuNaMus report no. 1, University of Linköping.

Watson, S. and Sawyer, A. (2011)  National Museums in Wales, in Aronsson, Peter ; Elgenius, Gabriella (eds) Building National Museums in Europe 1750 - 2010, Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity, Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28 - 30 April 2011, EuNaMus report no. 1, University of Linköping.

Watson S. (2011) National Museums in Scotland, in Aronsson, Peter ; Elgenius, Gabriella (eds) Building National Museums in Europe 1750 - 2010, Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity, Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28 - 30 April 2011, EuNaMus report no. 1, University of Linköping.

Watson, S. (2011) ‘Why can’t we dig like they do on Time Team?’ The meaning of the past within working class communities’ International Journal of Heritage Studies 17 (4) 364 -379

Watson, S (2010) 'Myth Memory and the senses in the Churchill Museum,' in S Dudley (ed) Museum Materialities: objects, engagements, interpretations, Routledge, London and New York, 204 - 223,

Dodd, J., Jones, C and Watson, S. (2007) Engage, Learn, Achieve: The Impact of Museum Visits on the Attainment of Secondary School Pupils in the East of England 2006 - 2007. RCMG, University of Leicester.

Watson, S. (2007) ‘History museums, community identities and a sense of place: rewriting histories’ in Simon Knell, Susanne MacLeod, Sheila Watson (eds) Museum Revolutions, Routledge, 160 - 172.

Watson, S. (2007) 'Museums and their communities' in Watson, S. 2007 (ed) Museums and their Communities, London, Routledge, 1 - 23.

Watson, S. (2006) ‘ England expects:’ Nelson as a symbol of local and national identity within the Museum,’ Museum and Society, November 2006. 4 (3) 129 – 151.


Watson, S. (2015) Exhibiting Europe in Museums: Transnational Networks, Collections, Narratives and Representations (pages 61–62); Museum Anthropology: Vol 38:  Issue 1.

Other publications (selected)

Watson, S. (1999.) ‘Using Focus Group Work’, Social History Curators’ Group Newsletter, issue 44, Spring 1999, pp 6- 9

Watson, S. (2000) ‘The Great Yarmouth Experience’, Society of Museum Archaeologists Conference Proceedings – Southampton, 1998.

Selected conference papers: invited speaker

Selected conferences at which I presented papers include:

December 2014 - Lecture Emotional engagement in heritage sites: We think therefore we feel Association of Critical Heritage Conference, National University of Australia, Canberra.

November 2014 - Lecture 'Migration in European Museums' and roundtable conference participant at Alfred Deakin Research Institute, Faculty of Arts & Education, Melbourne Australia.

June 2013 - 'Feeling the past: emotions, learning and history in the museum' Tangible Pasts? Questioning Heritage Education, Erasmus University, Rotterdam (The Netherlands)

December 2012 - ''The National Museum of Scotland and the rise of nationalism'   The Cultural Force of National Museums, Central European University Budapest

Selected other conferences

April 2019. Connected Audience 2019 Berlin. 3rd International Conference on Audience Research and Development. Keynote 'Museums as emotional places.'

October 2018 Contemporary Europe and Museums : the Quest for Relevance, Institute of European Studies Jagiellonian University Krakow. Debate organised on the occasion of the Institute's 25th anniversary. Paper presented and participant in public debate.

September 2004 - 'Curating Imprisonment' delivered to the Renaissance Imprisonment

Conference at the Tower of London sponsored by the Society for Renaissance Studies

November 2004 - ‘Museums and Social Inclusion: managing consultation with specific target groups: a British Case study’ for German Museums Management Group Annual Conference in Hamburg.  Paper published Watson, S ‘Museums and social inclusion: Managing consultation with specific target groups: A British case study in ed. Dryer M and Wiese R.   Zielgruppen von Museen: Mit Erfolg erkennen, ansprechen und binden, Hamburg, 2004, 85 – 97   in conference proceedings for German Museums Management Group

December 2005 - Lithouses Conference Newstead Abbey, ‘Understanding Nelson’,

April December 2005 - Lithouses Conference Newstead Abbey, ‘Understanding Nelson’, 2006 ‘History Museums, Community Identities and a Sense of Place’ in The Museum : A World Forum, University of Leicester

2006 - ‘Consulting with the community, making museums inclusive, presented to Museums and Galleries in the 21sr Century lecture series, Fitzwilliam Museum and McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge

15 November 2006 - Lent Lectures for the History of Art, University of Cambridge, 'Intrinsic worth v/s instrumentalism' Community work, museums and galleries.’ 20 February 2007

October 2008 - I was an ‘invited speaker’ at the Second International Conference Museums of Mexico and the World, Bogota, Colombia. This is the premier conference on museums in South America. My visit was sponsored by the British Council. My paper is being published in the conference proceedings.

August 2009 I was an invited participant in the colloquium at Brown University, Rhode Island, USA, on the future of the history museum funded by the 1772 Foundation. I presented a paper there on’ Instrumentalism in history museums – can it be justified and does it work?’

November 2009 - Invited participant in the joint School of Museum Studies and the Horniman Museum conference: Museum Curators and Communities:  Embedded Approaches to Participation, Collaboration, Inclusion. I presented paper on ‘Community archaeology.’

In February 2010 I was invited to present a paper to the ‘History of national museums’ conference at the National Museum of Sweden in Stockholm. In a two day conference I was asked to present the opening paper on the relationship between British identity and the National Museums in the UK. In February 2010 at the University of Michigan I presented a paper and led a seminar for postgraduate students.

In April 2010 the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) invited me to participate in the Fourth Heritage Symposium, scheduled from March 29 to April 1, 2010 in Abu Dhabi, under the title of “Heritage & Education: Future Vision”. There I presented a paper and also participated in various colloquia.

In June/July 2011 I presented a paper on historical narratives in national museums in Europe, focussing on the theme of origins for the workshop 'Great Historical Narratives in European Museums (1750 - 2010): Building Nations, Looking across Borders and Remembering the Past' at the Universite Paris 1.

December 2012 - I was invited to give a paper on Scottish national museums in the conference National Museums in a Changing Europe,, Budapest.

June 2013 - I was invited to give a paper on emotions and histories for a conference Tangible Pasts in the Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

Other events

Invited participant in Valuing the Historic Environment colloquium, University of Leicester, and University of Newcastle upon Tyne 2007

Invited participant in Identity, Britishness, Collections, and Museums Seminar, London, June 2008., convened by MLA.

Invited participant in the 1807 Commemorated Conference surrounding the marking of bicentenary of the abolition of the British Atlantic slave trade, University of York, September 2008


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 was 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. 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.

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. In September 2013, I 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 . 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 was 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
  • 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

MA supervision

I supervise a wide range of topics, including:

  • poetics
  • ecomuseums
  • British identity in exhibitions
  • the interpretation of heritage sites
  • memorial museums
  • museums' relationships with ethnic communities
  • contested subjects in museums
  • performance in museums
  • learning about history in museums

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