Jenny Durrant

Developing transparency within collections disposal

Contact me

Email: jmd53@le.ac.uk

Join the conversation: @Durrant_Jenny

Website: jennydurrant.co.uk

 

Supervisory team

Prof Suzanne MacLeod, Museum Studies

Prof Janet Ulph, School of Law

Lead supervisor 2015-19: Dr Janet Marstine

My Research

My research stems from my deep fascination in material culture and the multitude values placed on museum objects by individual people. As a museum curator and archaeologist I made decisions for retention or disposal on a daily basis, consciously trying to balance the responsibility of professional judgement with the unknown desires of our publics. Over the course of many years my thinking has changed from a mindset of ‘keep everything for it might be of future interest’ to a pragmatic but nuanced realisation that public benefit is sometimes best achieved through a process of ‘letting go’.

Talking with other museum practitioners I observed the process of disposal was fraught with emotive difficulties which were expressed as legal or ethical doubts, but which were firmly rooted in a tension between professional and public expertise. Disposal practices have therefore often lacked public engagement or visibility.

My main research question asks:

  • How can UK museums develop transparent disposal practices, and why is this a necessary development?

My research asserts that communication is the tool by which transparency is created. The choice of communication recipients and mode affects opacity. Many other factors affect the progress and outcomes of the disposal process, which in turn can affect the nature and quality of communication. For communication to be successful requires the communicator to have confidence: in themselves, in the topic and mode, and in the recipient. I want to help museum staff take ownership of disposal as a core collections management practice, develop confidence in themselves and their institutional necessity to practice it, and choose appropriate methods to engage with relevant ‘outsiders’.

To do this I ask:

  • In what ways are institutions and practitioners working towards transparency of practice?
  • How might a consideration of communication processes enable practitioners to become more confident in enabling transparency?
  • What other factors affect the transparency of disposal practice?

Methodology

I have conducted a survey of professional attitudes to understand the context for disposal decisions in museum practice. The issues will be explored fully through two case study museums who both demonstrated transparency of practice - one through an exhibition, and one through sharing professional knowledge. I expect to submit my thesis in 2022.

 

About

I am grateful to the AHRC Midlands3Cities programme for funding my research as a part time student.

I am a mid-career museum professional with over 15 years experience as a curator and collections management specialist at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter. My museum passions include object interpretation and display, provenance research and archaeological archives. I'm also an archaeological finds specialist in Roman tile and Devon's archaeology. All these areas explore my fascination with the ways people categorise objects as 'special' or 'everyday', and the hesitancy which hides many of these professional decisions from the public.

 

Academic History

2016: Associateship of the Museums Assocation

2007: MA Museum Studies (Distinction), University of Leicester

2003: BA (Hons) Archaeology (First Class), University of Exeter

 

Select publications and academic exhibitions

  • Expert peer reviewer for Bloomsbury New York, the International Journal of Heritage Studies, and the Social History Curators Group Journal
  • Editor of Museological Review 2016-17 (Issue 21)

2017:

'Museum Disposals and the Power of Communication’ (Conference paper, Association of Critical Heritage Studies, British Academy)

‘The Conversation’ (Museums Journal, October 2017)

'Discussing Disposal' (Collections Trust blog)

2016:

'Closing and Disposing: Museum ethics in a time of crisis' (Panel member, Museums Association conference, Glasgow)

Museum Skip: Object Stories, Museological Review, Vol. 20 (Leicester)

2015:

'Roman Tile', in Glastonbury Abbey: Archaeological investigations 1904-79, (Society of Antiquaries)

2013:

A Case Study Analysis of the Values Based Approach and the Leventis Project, E Conservation Journal. (Co-authored with Megan O'Connor and Kirstie Williams)


Training provider and ethics advisor:

Devon Museums Group

South West AMA group

‘A Guide to Collections Review and Rationalisation’, South East Museum Development Programme (RAMM case study lead, 2016)


Guest lecturer (museum ethics):

University of Leicester (2015, 2016)

University College London (2017)

University of Exeter (2011-8)

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