Stephanie Bowry

Re-thinking the Curiosity Cabinet: A Study of Visual Representation in Early and Post Modernity




Prof. Simon Knell and Dr. Suzanne MacLeod

Research Area


My PhD research explored how the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century 'curiosity cabinet' visually represented the world, and how and to what extent these strategies are reflected in contemporary art practice from the 1990s to the present day.

As privately-owned collections of extraordinary objects, cabinets often contained works of art, and frequently drew upon artistic practices in order to frame collecting activity. The thesis therefore examines works of art which were produced at the same time as the cabinet, and maintains that just as the cabinet drew upon artistic methods, so do contemporary artists now draw upon the concepts and practices of the cabinet.

The scope of  the research is interdisciplinary, spanning history and historiography, museum studies, art history, theory and criticism and material cultural studies. It presents a revised interpretation of the curiosity cabinet in some of its historical and cultural contexts while exploring the multiplicity and complexity of the ways in which we understand the past and create meaning through the arrangement of objects in space.

This research was funded by a scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The completed thesis may be accessed via the Leicester Research Archive here:


2010-2015: PhD Museum Studies (no corrections), University of Leicester

2008-2009: MA Museum Studies, (Distinction), University of Leicester

2001-2004: BA (Hons.) History, (First Class), University of Kent

Achievements and Funding

2013 Teaching Partnership Award

2012 First Prize, Hanwell Instruments Ltd Conference Competition, Museum Utopias (for identifying a potential future conservation issue, with solution)

2012 AHRC Collaborative Skills Development Funding (co-written bid, for Museum Metamorphosis)

2012 College of Arts, Humanities and Law Postgraduate Fund (for translating a 16th-century Latin text)

2012 Research Training Support Grant for AHRC-supported researchers (for presenting at an overseas conference)

2012 Graduate School Researcher Development Fund (for Museum Utopias)

2010-13 AHRC Block Grant Partnership Studentship (PhD Scholarship)

Professional Experience

I have worked and volunteered in various roles in a number of UK museums and heritage institutions, as well as within administrative positions within the NHS.

From 2006 to 2008 I worked for The Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace, in the Ticket Sales and Information Department. This varied and public-facing role entailed dealing with both general and specialist enquiries as well as booking visits to all official residences of The Queen. I also helped arrange private tours, access for visitors with mobility impairments, visits for school parties and adult education events. Venues worked at included The Queen's Gallery, The Royal Mews, Clarence House, Windsor Castle, The Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Household Cavalry Museum.

Subsequently, I have completed internships at the Museum of London and the Ashmolean Museum, as well as voluntary work at Kensington Palace and Southend Central Museum. Projects I've worked on have included exhibitions research and audience evaluation, documentation and object installation.

In 2014, I worked with the Museums and Galleries History Group to organise a conference on the subject of Houses as Museums/ Museums as Houses, hosted by The Wallace Collection, London, on 12-13 September 2014. I also served as the Chair of the first session and panel discussion on Day 1, entitled 'The Early Modern Legacy'.

I am currently working with the Garden Museum, Lambeth, as a consultant on their forthcoming permanent exhibition on the seventeenth-century Tradescant ark.

Academic Roles

I am currently working as a Research Associate at the School of Museum Studies, researching funding opportunities and preparing an outline proposal for a collaborative research project.

During the summer of 2013, I conducted research for a new Exhibitions reader with Dr. Suzanne MacLeod, in collaboration with Lee Skolnick, of Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, New York, and Dr. Christopher Marshall, of the School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne, Australia.

I served as a Student Representative for the academic year 2011-2012, and as chair of the Student-Staff Consultative Committee.

I was the principal organiser of the highly successful 2012 postgraduate Symposium Museum Utopias: Navigating the Imaginary, Ideal and possible Museum, hosted by the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, on 27-28 March 2012.

I have also assisted in the smooth running of the 2011 postgraduate Symposium, Curiouser and Curiouser: Challenging Conventions and Celebrating the Unusual, and as a project advisor for our most recent conference, Museum Metamorphosis: The Adaptable and Changing Museum, held at the School on 5-6 November 2013.

Teaching and Mentoring

Since 2011, I have been an active participant in informal PhD-led seminars for Masters students in the School, known as 'Think Tanks'. In 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 I designed and led interactive, object-focussed seminars on the theme of seventeenth-century collecting, which were praised for their innovative approach by both students and peer reviewers. In 2013, I led another interactive seminar on the display of contemporary art in science museums. I have also had the pleasure of co-leading and peer-reviewing a number of Think Tank sessions with colleagues.

From 2011-2012, I supported a Masters student with Asperger’s Syndrome. As academic mentor, I assisted the student with interpreting, planning, structuring and writing essays, presentations and reports. Through my support, and their own hard work, the student achieved a Distinction.

I have worked closely with blind and visually-impaired undergraduate, Masters and PhD students on a number of occasions, as a sighted guide, note-taker, proof-reader and researcher.

I served as an Associate Tutor for the Leicester Award for Employability, a University-led programme for students which enables them to develop key skills in the workplace through participation in extra-curricular activities which will enhance their employability on graduation.

I also served as an Academic Tutor on the Realising Opportunities programme, supervising two AS Level students writing their first academic essay. This programme provides students with a valuable opportunity to develop key study skills prior to applying to a research-intensive University.

Conference Papers

5 June 2015, '"You join together materials almost with no end": Samuel Quiccheberg's Theatre of the World as a Model of Sixteenth-Century Collecting Acitivity', at Collectors and Collecting from the Early Modern Period to the Present, Centre for Studies in Literature, University of Portsmouth

7 May 2015, public lecture at PubhD event, Duffy's Bar, Leicester

11 December 2014, 'A World of Worlds: Exploring the Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Curiosity Cabinet', Cafe Research Presentation, University of Leicester

6 December 2013, 'Before Museums: Exploring the Seventeenth-Century 'Cabinet of Curiosities', public lunchtime lecture, Leicester Adult Education College

5 November 2013, 'Before the Museum: The Curiosity Cabinet as Cultural Object and Metamorphe', at Museum Metamorphosis: The Adaptable and Changing Museum, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

27 June 2013, 'Crocodiles on the Ceiling: How Contemporary Artists Stole the Curiosity Cabinet' (poster presentation), Festival of Postgraduate Research, University of Leicester

26 July 2012, 'A World of Wonders in One Closet Shut: The Construction and Compression of Knowledge in the Miniature Curiosity Cabinet of the Seventeenth Century', at Knowledge in a Box: How Mundane Things Shape Knowledge production, Municipal Tobacco Warehouse, Kavala, Greece

8 June 2011, ‘From Faustian Lair to Theatre of Knowledge: Towards a New Interpretation of the Curiosity Cabinet’, Research Week paper presented at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

28 March 2011, ‘Bodies of Memory: The Use of Architectural Space in Understanding Medical History at The Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret, London’, at Curiouser and Curiouser: Challenging Conventions and Celebrating the Unusual in Museums and Heritage, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester


(In press) Bowry, Stephanie, ‘Thinking Inside the Box: The Construction of Knowledge in a Miniature Seventeenth-Century Cabinet’, in Boxes in Action (Mattering Press, 2015)

Bowry, Stephanie, 'Before Museums: The Curiosity Cabinet as Metamorphe', in Museological Review, 18, 'Change in Museums' (June 2014)

Book Reviews

Bowry, Stephanie, 'Art, Museums and Touch, Fiona Candlin, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2010', in Museum & Society, 11.2 (October 2013)

Bowry, Stephanie, 'The Greville Estate: The History of a Kilburn Neighbourhood', in London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Newsletter (May 2008)

Miscellaneous Papers and Reports

Bowry, Stephanie, Μουσείον: Artists’ Reflections on Museums. Highlights from the Creative Symposium held at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, on 5 December 2012 (March 2013)

Professional Memberships

2013 - present: Board Member Without Portfolio, Museums and Galleries History Group

2012 - present: Museums and Galleries History Group

2007 - present: Museums Association

Share this page: