PhD in Museum, Gallery and Heritage Practice

The PhD in Museum, Gallery and Heritage Practice addresses a desire for a professional doctorate in museum studies that achieves a synergy between research and practice. It has been designed to aid those who wish to develop a research project that is of direct relevance to their professional work and which can be undertaken incrementally while working. It meets the needs of professionals studying at a distance but can also  be undertaken by students studying full time. The degree awarded is the Doctor of Philosophy.

Key features

  • A structured research journey which builds incrementally towards completion that better meets the needs of the working professional operating at a distance from the School.
  • A strong relationship between research and practice: research that deepens practice; practice that makes research impactful.
  • An attachment to the values of the the PhD, by maintaining an emphasis on research quality and individual creativity as assessed by the thesis and viva voce examination.
  • The development of advanced research and practice-based skills directly relevant to the student’s professional context and which build upon professionally-recognised skillsets developed at Masters level.
  • A PhD centred on individual research and practice rather than on taught components.
  • The flexibility to weight and position the practice and research elements according to the needs and ambitions of the project. 

A structured journey

The new degree is best understood through the structures which shape its delivery. These structures – most of which reflect familiar components in PhD study – are there to counter or accommodate the work pressures that will inevitably affect a museum or heritage professional. The PhD is based around clear targets, milestones and incremental achievement. Reviews are embedded in the programme to ensure continuing progress.  It is divided into stages, many of which may be undertaken in concurrently:

Stage 1: Project Design. Students develop an understanding of their international peer group of researchers and the state-of-the-art in their particular area of interest. The aim of the research together with research objectives and practice objectives are then established. The student also prepares a methodological review and statement, and a project management plan. These elements are each completed sequentially. Successful completion of this component permits the student to transfer from Advanced Postgraduate to PhD registration. It provides a firm plan for the remainder of the study.

Stage 2: Original Investigation. Using the project design, the student undertakes ‘fieldwork’ in their chosen area. Again this is broken down into components and milestones, and subject to panel assessment.

Stage 3: Research papers. Here the student produces four sole authored papers for publication. One of these is a professional paper perhaps aimed at a profession or an amateur group or a wider public. Three are research papers which must meet the requirements of peer-reviewed publication. Students are given extensive guidance on how this stage is to be completed. One of the objectives of this stage in the PhD is to ensure a close association between PhD study and life beyond the PhD.  

Stage 4: Practice Report. The components and form of this stage will have been determined during Project Design. It will document the practice-based element, using appropriate media and may include extensive appendices. It will analyse and evaluate the relationships between research and practice. The practice element in the degree may be represented as an outcome of the research, or may be integral to the research process (an exhibition as a research tool for example). The practice itself may occur at any time during registration.

Stage 5: Thesis Compilation. Using the materials already assembled, the student undergoes a final stage of thesis compilation prior to examination. The thesis itself will, in most cases, follow a standard format:

  1. Introduction (aim, research questions, practice objectives, intellectual context, methodological statement, ethical considerations, structure)
  2. Literature review (state of the art, situating the present contribution)
  3. Project description (a report on the research and practice-based activity that has produced the work in this thesis)
  4. A series of chapters composed of the individual research papers and the professional paper.
  5. Practice report, including reflective element.
  6. Discussion and conclusion


What might you investigate?

The following are examples to help you imagine the kind of project you might undertake following this new degree structure.

  • A museum natural scientist wishes to deepen his knowledge of the taxonomy of a group of insects but does not want to lose sight of wider museum aspects of his work in public engagement and environmental monitoring. Part of his thesis is devoted to zoological systematics but it also contains elements concerned with the museum’s role in species identification, mapping and environmental monitoring.
  • A site-specific heritage manager believes efficiencies are to be gained by better understanding the relationships between governmental, non-governmental and community stakeholders, their objectives and contributions. Her thesis incorporates a study of organisational theory and draws upon interviews with a range of actors. It proposes new relationships, responsibilities and obligations.
  • The owner of a commercial gallery wants to better understand how the personal qualities of gallery owners and artists affect gallery-artist relationships and commercial success. Her position as a gallery insider permits the conduct of an ethnographic study of gallerist-artist dialogues in a number of different commercial gallery settings.
  • A Belgian military historian wants to extend his knowledge into heritage practice by investigating the selection and survival of military hardware used in that country during WWI. His study considers the role amateur groups in the development of knowledge about the conflict. Drawing on models of amateur networking and research groups in the natural sciences, he proposes approaches which see the amateur successfully moving beyond casual recording and collecting to contributing to knowledge production using rigorous research methodologies.  
  • A student with an art history background wishes to survey the frescos and other art treasures of the smaller churches of Tuscany with a view to evaluating the environmental risks to their survival. Her research involves scientific investigation but also considers the risks associated with use and access. Her thesis considers the role of the Church and community in the preservation of this heritage.
  • A US public historian is concerned by the ethnic and cultural assumptions apparent in the interpretation at American heritage sites. His research investigates the practices of these interpreters paying particular attention to their training and work environments. He compares their assumptions with those of individuals from other communities and as part of his practice-as-method approach introduces these communities to each other and records their interactions. He proposes new working methods so as to produce more culturally-aware interpretation of sites.
  • A museum archaeologist aware of declining staffing levels affecting collection maintenance seeks to develop a rational and low-cost approach to the preservation of archaeological archives in museums. Her research involves a comparison of different stakeholder beliefs and assumptions.
  • An Australian curator seeks to understand whether the contributions of Aboriginal contemporary artists to local history exhibitions in Australia encourages non-Aboriginal audiences to develop greater empathy and understanding of Aboriginal issues. Exhibition practice is used as an experimental methodology.
  • A museum professional, concerned by recent assaults, wishes to develop practices that explore issues relating sexuality and equality. He uses focus group study in various communities to develop new practices.
  • A trustee of a Jewish museum in Poland decides to use Irish reconciliatory exhibition practices as a model for developing new approaches to the interpretation of Jewish culture and history.
  • A Swedish ethnologist, who has experienced changing approaches to social documentation and representation, decides to return to first principles and consider whether and how SAMDOK might recover its original objectives in an era of new media. She adopts a systematic approach to data collection in which users construct their own records of their working lives.
  • A museum documentation specialist decides to use the PhD as a means to develop and evaluate a Near Field Communication app for smartphones that produces incidental heritage experiences in the city. Practice is at the heart of the project, simultaneously producing social impact and research data.

See also PhD in Museum Studies

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