Dr. Katy Bunning

Lecturer in Museum Studies at the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester

Katy Bunning 10-7-15

Lecturer in Museum Studies & Director of Learning and Teaching

klg22@le.ac.uk @katybunning +44 (0) 116 252 5723

I undertake research into community-focused museums and rights movements in the USA, and the rapidly evolving field of museums and race. I am currently writing a monograph on ‘culturally specific museum developments’ at the Smithsonian. My future work intends to critically explore structural bias, and inclusive and ‘decolonising’ movements in the context of the museum, gallery and heritage sectors, particularly through close partnership projects and collaborative research.

I have a long-held interest in the politics of representation and racial histories in both the UK and the USA. My museum-based experience includes voluntary work at the Wilberforce House Museum in Hull and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol.

At Leicester, I oversee quality of teaching and learning in the School, and work on numerous teaching-focused projects. I have a particular interest in accessible and inclusive curriculum design, equalities, and positive action initiatives. I also have significant experience in flexible, online and distance learning pedagogies.


I teach and lead three modules in the School: the campus-based, first semester module ‘Contemporary Museum Contexts’, the sister module ‘The Museum and Change’ in our flexible distance learning programme, and a ground-breaking ‘virtual placement’ module on Socially Engaged Practice in Museums and Galleries, which is run jointly with National Museums Liverpool.

In 2015, I played a significant role in developing the first Museum Studies MOOC, ‘Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum’ which developed collaboratively with National Museums Liverpool.

I have worked closely with colleagues on a number of new programme developments over some ten years. A highlight was working with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries to develop the new Masters programme in Socially Engaged Practice in Museums and Galleries, which launched in 2016. This programme innovated with digital, accessible and flexible pedagogies, and was nominated for a Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Leicester.

I co-led the set up of our positive action scholarships for Masters study in 2015-6, to encourage those from underrepresented groups to study with us. I continue to actively support opportunities and initiatives across the University that focus on flexible, inclusive and accessible programme developments.

Research Interests

My phd thesis ‘Reframing culturally specific museums: The emergence of rights-based museums in the United States’ (2018) was an historical and cultural study of the development of the National Museum of the American Indian and the National African American Museum Project at the Smithsonian Institution during the late 1980s-2000s. A chapter of this thesis formed the basis for a paper in a new Routledge Reader in heritage and museum studies (2018), which also I co-edited. My forthcoming monograph presents the findings of my doctoral research in a broader contemporary context.

Currently, I am working on a research and public engagement project Journey to Justice at Leicester with community-based partners and organisations across Leicester. This project focuses on local activism and struggles for justice in Leicestershire over time, and will culminate in an exhibition and a Festival of Social Justice in October-November 2019 at Attenborough Arts.

In 2014-2015, I worked with colleagues in the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries and the Science Museum London to explore the significance of the Information Age gallery development within the context of current shifts towards participatory and co-creative museum projects. The findings of this research were written up in the Science Museum Journal.

PhD Supervision

I supervise students doing cultural and historical studies of museums and heritage, and exploring structural questions around participation, collaboration and socially engaged practice. Topics of interest are community museums, heritage and identity, racial histories, contemporary ethnographic museums, diversity and decolonising discourses and practices, museum histories and community museums. PhD supervision is one of my favourite roles here in the School.

My current and forthcoming research students are working on:

  • Heritage, identity and oil sponsorship in Canadian museums
  • Heritage and museum development in the United Arab Emirates
  • Community museums in China
  • Evaluating the impact of socially engaged practice


Book chapters

Bunning, K. (2018) 'Ethnic heritage for the nation: Debating "identity museums" on the National Mall', in Watson, S., Barnes, A.J. and Bunning, K. (eds.) A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage. Leicester Readers in Museum Studies, Routledge.

Watson, S., Barnes, A. J. and Bunning, K. (2018) 'Introduction', in Watson, S., Barnes, A.J. and Bunning, K. (eds.) A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage. Leicester Readers in Museum Studies, Routledge.

Journal papers

Bunning, K., Kavanagh, J., McSweeney, K., and Sandell, R. 2015. 'Embedding Plurality: Exploring participatory practice in the development of a new permanent gallery'. Science Museum Journal, 3, Spring.

Edited volumes

Watson, S., Barnes, A.J. and Bunning, K. (eds.) (2018) A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage. Leicester Readers in Museum Studies, Routledge.

Conference papers and workshops

Bunning, K. (2017) ‘Debating "Culturally Specific Museums": Who owns the racial past?’, Migration, Home, and Belonging, ICOM - ICME 2017 Annual Conference, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 17-19th October, 2017.

Invited speaker at 'Crossing Borders, Building Trust: Negotiating Censorship and Self-Censorship in Curatorial Practice', Inaugural CRIA Symposium, supported by the British Academy, University of Leicester, 16th June, 2017.

Bunning, K., Sandell, R., Dodd, J., Phillips, E., Hughes, S., Bergevin, J. and Terry, N.  (2016) ‘Rethink One Object: Interpretation, Identity and Social Justice' presentation and workshop at Museums in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now, University of Leicester, 20-22nd April, 2016.

Invited speaker at ‘Remembering Rosa Parks: Understanding the U.S. Civil Rights Movement' schools outreach event, University of Leicester, 15th October 2015.

Bunning, K. (2011) ‘Flirting with the Fictional: Comedy and Romance in Popular Imaginings of Museums’, Curiouser and Curiouser: Challenging Conventions and Celebrating the Unusual in Museums and Heritage, PhD conference, University of Leicester, 18-30th March.

Book reviews

Bunning, K. 2012. Review of 'Sites Unseen: Architecture, Race, and American Literature'Journal of American Studies, 46, 3.

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