Alexandra Woodall

Sensory engagements with objects in art galleries: material interpretation and theological metaphor

Alexandra Woodall.jpgResearch

My thesis (Sensory engagements with objects in art galleries: material interpretation and theological metaphor) explores the role material objects play within art galleries in enabling imaginative interpretations and in challenging institutional practices.  My research was supervised by Dr Sandra Dudley and funded by the AHRC. My interest in this topic has developed from professional experience working in gallery learning and interpretation, particularly having been inspired by rummaging through collections and using creative approaches to working with objects. My work is interdisciplinary, building on areas such as sensory anthropology, museology and interpretation theories, and uses various philosophical approaches including metaphors from medieval mystical theology. I am particularly interested in the material properties, or thingness of objects and their unknowable capacities to transport people elsewhere. Case study research includes projects with which I was involved for a number of years: the Mary Greg project, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, at Manchester Art Gallery; and investigations of the bizarre and deliberately made interpretive objects in Karl and Kimberley Foster's Object Dialogue Boxes.(Please could you change weblink to Through interview, observation, and devising object-based workshops, I explore sensory experiences with things and the role these can play in enabling creative use of imagination in art galleries.

Academic awards 

2016      PhD Museum Studies, University of Leicester (examined by Professor Helen Rees Leahy, University of Manchester and Dr Suzanne MacLeod, University of Leicester)

2005      MA Art Gallery Studies (Education), Distinction, University of Leicester

2002      PGCE Secondary Religious Education, University of Cambridge

2000      MPhil Medieval Theology, Newnham College, University of Cambridge

1999      BA Hons Theology, 1st Class, University of Birmingham

Professional experience

2016 -   Head of Learning, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich

2015-16      Special Projects ManagerRoyal Armouries, Leeds

2015-16    Researcher, Things Unbound: Exploring engagements with Objects in Museums in the UK and India (British Academy funded research and training partnership between School of Museum Studies, Leicester and National Museum Institute, Delhi)

2014- 16       Reviewer, Our Favourite Places, Sheffield Cultural Website

2014         Interpretation Mentor, Saving the 70s HLF Project (Suffolk and Hertfordshire)

2012-2013  PhD Conference Manager, Museum Metamorphosis (November 2013)

2012-2013  Researcher, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (ACE funded Museums, Health and Wellbeing in the East Midlands project including development of "Journey into the Museum" website)

2012          Curator"Mouseion: artists' reflections on museums", School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

2012          Peer ReviewerMuseum Worlds Journal

2011-         Teaching Assistant, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

2011- 15        Freelance Interpretation Consultant

2010-2011 Digital Projects Manager, Renaissance East Midlands

2007-2010 Interpretation Development OfficerManchester Art Gallery

2005-2007 Hub Learning Projects CoordinatorMuseums Sheffield

2002-2004 Teacher of Religious Studies & Philosophy, Queen's College, Taunton

2001          Education AssistantKettle's Yard, Cambridge

2001          English Language Teacher, Szeged, Hungary


Woodall, A. (forthcoming 2017) ‘Delightful Rummaging: artists’ responses to unloved collection’ in ed. Woodham, A. Who Cares? Interventions in ‘Unloved’ Museum Collections (Arc-Humanities Press).

Woodall, A. (forthcoming 2017) 'On the paradoxes of silence and empathy' (paper delivered at AHRC Silence, Memory and Empathy Conference, July 2013) in Intersections of Silence and Memory (Special Volume) International Journal of Heritage Studies.

Woodall, A. (2016) ''A storehouse of unimagined treasures': York Art Gallery and the Centre of Ceramic Art' in Museum Worlds, Bergahn Journals.

Woodall, A. (2015) 'Object Dialogue Boxes and Unknowing' in MuseumsEtc. Interpreting the Art Museum: A Collection of Essays.

Woodall, A. (2015) 'Rummaging as a strategy for creative thinking and imaginative engagement in Higher Education' in eds. Chatterjee, H. & Hannan, L. Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education (Ashgate, Surrey), pp.133-155.

Woodall, A. (2015) Body, Mind, Spirit: An Interpretive Strategy for Children in Hospital Schools in Museological Review 15, pp.33-44.

Woodall, A. (2013) 'Sensory access to museum objects' in Museums Association Museum Practice: Touch, 15 February 2013.

Woodall, A., Mitchell, L. & Blakey, S. (2011) 'Mary Mary Quite Contrary: The Mary Greg Collection at Manchester Art Gallery' in The Ruskin Review and Bulletin Vol. 7, Lancaster: Ruskin Research Centre, pp.36-46.

Woodall, A. (2010) 'Mary Greg's Bygones: A Misplaced Collection?' in Social History Curators' Group News Issue 66, pp.7-9.

Woodall, A. (2010) 'Mary Greg and the Guild of St George' in The Companion, Oxford: Guild of St. George, pp.16-18.

Woodall, A. (2010) 'Interpretation and interactivity for families in art galleries in the USA: GEM Research Bursary Report 2009' in Journal of Education in Museums 31, Kent: GEM, pp.14-23.

Woodall, A. (2010)  'Lost and Found: Mary Greg at Manchester Art Gallery'Case Study for Learning at the Interface: Museum and University CollaborationsV&A/CETLD Brighton Conference.

Woodall, A. (2010) 'Visual Dialogues: Disasters of War' in Olding S. (ed.) Working with Young People in Museums and Galleries Advocacy Document (London: MLA).

Woodall, A, (2009) 'Case Study: Creative Consultants at Manchester Art Gallery' in Adler, C. (ed.) How to Develop a Youth Board in Your Museum (MLA and Renaissance South East).

Woodall, A. (2008) 'Talking heads and selling chickweed: An interactive for KS2' in GEM Newsletter, Summer 2008, p.10-11.

Woodall, A. (2006) 'Bizarre Objects Inspire Creative Learning' in GEM Newsletter 101 Summer 2006, p.11-12.

Books Reviewed

Hill, Kate (ed.) (2012) Museums and Biographies: Stories, Objects, Identities (The Boydell Press, Woodbridge). (for H Net Material Culture)

Monti, Francesca & Keene, Suzanne (2013) Museums and Silent Objects: Designing Effective Exhibitions (Ashgate, Surrey). (for Museum & Society Nov 2014, Vol.12, No. 3)

Conference papers, posters and reports

Museums and Theological Metaphor

Art museums, objects and unknowing: towards a theological museology, Art and Articulation, St Hilda's College, Oxford (January 2016)

On the Paradox of Silence: Mystical Theology and the Object Dialogue Box, AHRC Challenging Memories: Silence and Empathy in Heritage Interpretation, Buckfast Abbey, Devon (July 2013)

Objects and Interpretation

Creative Interpretation: Developing the exhibition 'Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard', Anglo-Saxons 2016, University of Edinburgh (June 2016) 

Delightful rummaging: exploring the Mary Greg collection at Manchester Art Gallery, Who Cares? Unloved Collections in Store, Science Museum (November 2015)

Things Unbound Workshop, University of Leicester (November 2015)

Things Unbound: Engaging with Objects in an Indian Museum, Heritage Show & Tell, University of Leeds (July 2015)

Body, Mind Spirit, Museums Alive conference, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester (Nov 2014)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: rummaging through forgotten lives, The Lives of Objects, Oxford Centre for Life Writing, Wolfson College, University of Oxford (Sept 2013)

Interpretation Using Objects, ACE-funded Cumbria Museums Consortium, Dock Museum, Barrow-in-Furness (Feb 2013)

Creative Symposium led by artists involved in the Mouseion exhibition, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester (Dec 2012)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: encountering objects through sense experience (poster and paper)CIHA2012, Nuremberg (July 2012)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: exploring objects through sense experience (poster) Vitae Midlands Hub Postgraduate Research Exhibition and Poster Competition (July 2012)

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary: exploring objects through sense experience (poster) University of Leicester Festival of Postgraduate Research (May 2012)

Making the Most of your Collections through Digital and Social Media, Renaissance East Midlands Collections Management Group, Spalding (Jan 2012)

Opening Up and Letting Go, engage Conference 2011 Soapbox Presentation, Turner Contemporary, Margate (Nov 2011)

Participatory Interpretations, AAH2011 Conference, University of Warwick (Apr 2011)

Social Media and Interpretation, Nottingham Trent University (Feb 2011)

Mary Mary Quite Contrary, Co-Curation and the Public History of Science and Technology Symposium, Science Museum (Oct 2010)

Mary Greg and the Blog as Research Medium Department of Museology, University of Manchester (Mar 2010)

Lost and Found: Mary Greg and the Bygones Materiality and Intangibility PhD Symposium, University of Leicester (Dec 2009)

Working with Young People as Creative Consultants

Young People and Digital Media: The Mighty Creatives, British Library (Feb 2011)

Talking about their Generation: The Creative Consultants and Visual Dialogues

Midlands Federation of Museums, Nottingham Contemporary (May 2010)

Working in the Arts, Manchester University Careers Service (Mar 2010)

Working with Young People, Manchester Museum Conference (Jan 2010)

Working with Youth Boards MLA North West and Manchester Museum (Mar 2009)

Using the Object Dialogue Box

Extraordinary objects and imaginative unknowing (with Graham Moore, Museums Sheffield), Objectively Speaking, British Museum (April 2016)

Rummaging and the Creative Potential of Not Knowing, Social History Curators' Group Conference (June 2015) 

Object Dialogue Box as Research Method, University of Sheffield (Dec 2013, Nov 2014)

Using Objects to Interpret Collections GEM Yorkshire, Museums Sheffield (June 2012)

Object Dialogues Symposium, Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich (Nov 2010)

What's the Buzz? CPD for Museum Educators, Manchester Art Gallery (Jan 2010)

MA Museum Studies, University of Leicester (Nov 2011, Nov/Jan 2009, Oct/March 2008)

CRESC Conference: Objects - What Matters?, University of Manchester (Sept 2009)

Creative Evaluation Seminar, MLA North West, Manchester (July 2007)

Department of Design Education, Sheffield Hallam University (Jan 2007)

GEM Conference, Durham (Sept 2006)

MLA Yorkshire, Harewood House, Leeds (June 2006)


2014   Emotions, Transformations, Restorations Participant, Institute of Making, UCL

2013   University of Leicester Teaching Partnership Award (for contribution to teaching, particularly based on Mouseion exhibition)

2013   Newnham College Alumna Travelling Scholarship

2012  AHRC Collaborative Skills Award for Partnership Working project (Student-Led Strand)

2012   Postgraduate Programme Bursary, (funded by Getty Foundation) CIHA2012, Nuremberg

2011   AHRC Research Scholarship for PhD Research, University of Leicester

2010   AMA Associate Membership, Museums Association

2009   GEM Research and Travel Bursary - ‘Family Interpretation and Interactivity in Art Galleries in the USA’ (incorporating visits to Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix)

2008   BAFTA shortlist and nomination, Children’s Primary Learning category for Ford Madox Brown Work interactive

2004   AHRB Postgraduate Funding (Full Award) for Leicester MA

2000   Clothworkers’ Research Studentship, Newnham College Cambridge

1999 J.G. Davies Memorial Prize, University of Birmingham

Networks and Responsibilities

2015   Judge, East Midlands Heritage Awards

2014- Trustee and Board of Directors, UK Group for Education in Museums (GEM)

2014   Book ReviewerMuseum & Society and H Net Material Culture

2014   Moving On Up Conference Committee, Museums Association

2013    Judge, Derbyshire Heritage Awards

2012/13 PhD Student Representative, The Museum Studio Postgraduate Reading Group Organiser, Creative Symposium Organiser & Research Week Visit Coordinator, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

2012-   GEM Website Steering Group

2011-   AMA Mentor and member of Yorkshire CPD+ Action Learning Set

2011-2014   GEM Yorkshire and Humberside Area Co-Convenor

2010    Judge, Koestler Trust Arts by Offenders NW Exhibition and Competition

2008-2010  Yorkshire AMA Support Group Coordinator

2004-2005  Chairperson, Student and Staff Teaching and Learning Committee, Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Get connected 



Share this page: