Research interests

Key themes and projects

Learning in museums, and learning impact, have been key and recurring research themes, with a number of studies of major national programmes like the DfES Museums and Galleries Education Programme Learning Through Culture (2002). However, the development of the Generic Learning Outcomes (led by Prof. Eilean Hooper Greenhill) as part of the MLA’s Inspiring Learning for All and the subsequent use of the Generic Learning Outcomes, established a new way to report on and categorise learning in museums. Four of our major studies (What did you learn at the museum today? 2003 & Second study. (2005); Inspiration, Identity Learning 2004 & Second study 2007) still provide a unique evidence base from which we begin to better understand the nature of learning in museums. More recent studies have built on this, for example Engage, Learn, Achieve: The impact of museum visits on the attainment of secondary pupils in the East of England (2007) explored the richness of the learning experiences gained outside the classroom along with the stimulus and motivation this gives young people to improve their attainment. The GLOs underpin many of these research projects and are used extensively to report on learning. The interest and use of the GLOs is integral to my practice but are also extensively used nationally and internationally as the report RCMG  commissioned by Jo Graham Evidencing the impact of the GLOs 2008-13 demonstrates In 2013 my work on learning impact in museums has been of interest to the AHRC Cultural Value project.  

Disability representation in museums is another key research theme, I am currently co directing with Professor Richard Sandell, Stories of a Different Kind 2012-14 a collaborative action research project funded by the Wellcome Trust which uses medical collections in museums to engage the public in challenging debates concerning how society thinks about, talks about and responds to difference. The project will create a new artistic work by well-known artist and performer, Mat Fraser consisting of a live performance featuring museum objects and object histories, with elements of drama, comedy, dance and cabaret. The performance will generate original, stimulating and ethically-informed ways of seeing disability to enrich, nuance and critique existing narratives in three museums. Stories of a Different Kind grows out of  Rethinking Disability Presentation 2006-08   a project  which examined the role that museums and galleries play in challenging prejudice on the basis of disability, by informing the ways in which people think about the nature of disability and understand disabled people’s lives. Funded through Heritage Lottery Fund and NESTA the project worked with 9 museums across the UK plus a think-tank of disabled activists, artists and cultural practitioners to develop new approaches to the interpretation and display of collections linked to disability. The project grew out of the findings of an earlier related project Buried in the Footnotes

Contemporary issues - resent research projects have focused in various different ways on key challenging contemporary issues which span both learning and the social role of museums, archives, libraries and botanic gardens.

How National Museums shape visitors identity in a European context was explored in Voices from the Museums: Qualitative Research Conducted in Europe’s National Museums (2012). It looks at the connections between national, European and minority identities and how these frame very different experiences of national museums. This research was part of  a three year research programme EuMaMus European National Museums: Identity Politics, the uses of the past and the European Citizen.

Mapping the Change (2012) the Evaluation of Hackney Museum's contribution to the Cultural Olympiad, focuses on the local and the global – and how local communities processed the impact of a global event in the midst of their community. Showing what a key role museum can play in empowering communities to co create collections for the future.

The impact of war and conflict is the key theme behind an evaluation commissioned by MLA of their BIG Lottery funded programme Their past your future (2008-2010) and the contemporary resonance of this is increasingly pertinent. The projects demonstrate new ways in which historical collections, memories, lived experiences and inter-generational interactions can impact on the way people - especially young people - consider the impact of war and conflict.

The Evaluation of shOUT an exhibition and programme promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) human rights part of the Social Justice Programme at Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow. The evaluation assess the impact, quality and significance of GoMA’s practice in the field of contemporary art and human rights, in relation to the central aims of promoting human rights and providing a forum for visitor and community engagement and debate.  

Research commissioned by Botanic Gardens Conservation International focused on another highly charged contemporary issue – climate change. Redefining the Social Role of Botanic Gardens (2008-2010) the research investigated how Botanic Gardens can play a proactive role in addressing issues of climate change, but with the challenge of becoming more inclusive and engaging those people who traditionally have not seen the significance and relevance of plants to their lives.

Mind Body Spirit: How museums impact health and wellbeing ( 2012-13) shows how museums are well placed to respond to changes in public health in the UK, using their collections to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, to tackle health inequalities in their communities, and contribute positively to the goals of public health bodies.

Working in collaboration with Janet Martine, Developing a Research Network to Advance 21st Century Museum Ethics in Theory and Practice, was a different approach to thinking of  Museums and contemporary issues, the need for museum ethics to be embedded in all our practice so museums are  responsiveness to economic, social, political and technological forces is critical.

 In very different ways these pieces of research illustrate how cultural organisations have a key role to play in contemporary issues, how they can engage audiences in new debates using historic and contemporary collections, inclusive, challenge prejudice, inspire learning and be relevant in contemporary society as well as reflect on the working practices of museums.

Conferences and seminars

I have spoken at many international and UK conferences and seminars. Recurring themes include learning impact in museums and specifically the Generic Learning Outcomes (GLOs). Selected presentations include American Association of Museums (AAM) New Orleans 2004, a keynote at the Annual Visitor Studies Conference, National Science and Technology Museum, Taiwan, 2007, the Heritage Learning Conference, The Nordic Centre for Cultural Heritage Learning, Ostersund, Sweden, 2007 & 2009, a keynote ‘Museums, Inspiration, Creativity, Learning’ at the ICOM/CECA conference, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2009. Learning in Museums at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany 2010, and the use of the GLOs at the Reinwardt Academy, Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2010. A key note at the International Symposium on the Museum Education "Learning Innovation" National Folk Museum of Korea, 2011 and at the Association of Swedish Museums Annual Conference, Stockholm, March 2011. I was invited to present the GLOs at the AHRC Seminar Methodologies for evidencing the value of culture: taking on the challenge Cultural Value, Birkbeck, University of London 2013.

The representation of disabled people in museums is another key theme. I presented Rethinking Disability Representation in Museums and Galleries at the Difficult Subjects in the Museum Conference, Kunstmuseum, Trondheim, Norway, 2010 and Representing disability: activist practice in the museum at the Professional Development Programme for Taiwanese Museums (funded through the Ministry of Culture) Human Rights and the Museum Conference, Museum of Labour, Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 2010. In 2009 at the Making Inclusion Possible Conference organised by the National Development team for inclusion - People, Lives and Communities- in Bristol, ‘Promoting community engagement in cultural settings’. I spoke at the 4th Biennial Disability Studies Conference, Lancaster University 2008 ‘Absence and Attitude’. I was keynote at the 13th Congress of the European Association of Museums of the History of Medicine, Riga, Latvia, 2006, giving a paper ‘Buried in the Footnotes: the representation of disabled people in museum and gallery collections.

Socially purposeful organisations is another recurring theme both within museums and beyond. I developed a professional development training workshop ‘The Socially Purposeful Museum’ for  Association of Danish Museums, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013. In 2012 I presented a key note and co- organised an international conference ‘The Socially Purposeful Museum’ at National Museum of History, Taipei, Taiwan a collaboration between National Taipei University of Education, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries, National Museums Liverpool and the National Museum of History, Taipei. In 2010 I presented ‘Redefining the Role of Botanic Gardens: towards a new social purpose’ at the 4th Botanic Gardens World Congress, BGCI & National Botanic Gardens of Ireland and in 2011 to the Gardens Education Network BGEN Conference, Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Harlow Carr Harrogate. Also part of the socially purposeful theme but looking at more specific areas are  ‘Mind, body, spirit: How museums impact health and wellbeing’ presented at the East Midlands Museums Service AGM in Leicester 2013  and ‘The impact of war and conflict; using museum collections, personal experiences and intergenerational practice to develop young peoples’ understanding’ at the Making Military History in Museums Conference at the National Army Museum, September 2013.

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