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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Working with museums to create new, engaging displays

Innovative application of material culture theory to museum displays creates new narratives for engaging with visitors.

Exterior shot of museum in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur heritage buildings.

Three new museums in UK and overseas have benefitted from researchers' work on critical approaches to material culture and object interpretation to develop innovative and engaging narrative-based displays.

Our researchers worked with three museums to develop new curatorial and display practices:

New House Museum in Perugia, Italy

  • Specification of a collections management system
  • Development of a display strategy and interpretation plan, and oversight of implementation
  • Publication of an Italian/English collection catalogue
  • Development of a job description and appointment of a curator
  • Organisation of 2012 conference, 'House Museums, The Owners and Their Art Collections', attended by 160 delegates from Europe and USA.

'The Gaskells' House' restoration in Manchester

  • Curatorial Plan for the restoration of the house as a public museum.
  • Endorsement by stakeholders including the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Successful negotiation of long-term loans from regional and national museums
  • Recruitment of volunteers to collaborate in research and interpretation
  • Digitization of Gaskell manuscripts to make them available globally

Asian Heritage Museum, Kuala Lumpur (opening 2015)

  • Design of display schema and preliminary gallery layouts
  • Principles of object selection
  • Successful fundraising
Picture of Elizabeth Gaskell
Elizabeth Gaskell © The John Rylands Library.

Our research

Our research based in the Centre for Museology, focused on five key themes:

  • History, theory and practice of curation
  • Praxis of museum visiting and approaches to embodiment
  • Narrative-based interpretation
  • Assemblage theory
  • The uses of object biography

Professor Helen Rees Leahy tested her ideas on techniques for museum displays and interpretation through three experimental exhibitions, and their evaluation, at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. The experimental work tested the potential and limitations of theoretically informed curatorial practice.

Dr Louise Tythacott specialises in the display of non-Western art. Her work has explored how ‘object biographies’ can enrich and extend public understanding of and engagement with museum objects.

Lead academics