Susana Sanchez-Gonzalez

Opening the “numinous” book: Exploring the “reading experience” and “bookish emotions” as curatorial and engagement tools in book exhibitions.


  • Dr Kostas Arvanitis, Institute for Cultural Practices
  • Dr Fred Schurink, English and American Studies

Overview of PhD

My thesis aims to build a new framework for the study of book exhibitions grounded in a close examination of the affective capabilities of books, and in a better understanding of the visitor’s exhibition experience. Distinctively, my research draws on ontological principles from neo-materialist thought to offer a post-humanist view of exhibitions where both books and people as well as their interactions share the centre of analysis. In addition to visitor studies and museum-based research on object interpretation, emotions, and experience, I bring to the discussion a distinct conception of the book as an assemblage of material, symbolic, and social dimensions with enough power to shape and influence exhibition experiences. This idea is developed through the concepts of “numen” “bookishness” and “book-love” as well as an extended definition of the “reading experience” that goes beyond the act of decoding the text on the page. In this sense, my research pays particular attention to the emotional bonds that may emerge from engagement with the book both through its format and its content, questioning whether these bonds may have a stronger role in exhibitions than hitherto considered.

Accordingly, my thesis aims to answer the following question:

How does an emotional bond created through the reading experience and the materiality of the book shape curatorial interpretation and visiting experiences in book exhibitions?


I am an Art Historian by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a graduate of the University of Manchester’s MA in Art Gallery and Museum studies. My master’s dissertation explored the role that art galleries can play in the development of a young person’s personality, and throughout my career, I have always been drawn to issues of interpretation, education, and audience development in cultural institutions. I have been an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and worked at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid, Spain) and the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo de Malaga (CAC Malaga, Spain).

I am also passionate about books and literature, and have extensive experience managing and implementing a wide range of literary events in public and school libraries. I am also a published children’s book author, both in the UK and Spain.

In 2016, I undertook an introductory course on Rare Book Librarianship by Aberystwyth University and in 2017 I was successfully appointed as project manager at Chetham’s library in Manchester. In addition to creating digital surrogates and providing cataloguing data for their extensive collection of early modern ballads, I organised a one-day conference on collecting political ephemera as well as a series of lectures, workshops, exhibitions, performances, and presentations. The project was praised by the Arts Council as a model of public engagement with special collections. (You can read a detailed description here). It was during my time at Chetham’s that I developed my interest in books and exhibitions and decided to embark on this PhD.

Presently, I work as a Special Collections Reading Room Coordinator at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library (p/t). I see this PhD as a fitting combination of the two strands of my career so far, and I am grateful to the ICP for awarding me a scholarship to carry out this research.

Professional Groups

Conferences and presentations

  • Digitising and promoting the Halliwell-Phillips collection of broadside ballads, 10 November 2017, Chetham’s Library, Manchester, UK
  • The Ballad of Chetham's Library: A one-day workshop on Collecting Political Ephemera. 22 February 2018, Chetham's Library, Manchester, UK (Organiser)
  • Developing a new theoretical framework for the study of book exhibitions, CILIP LIH Conference: “Work in Progress”, 21stMay 2020 (online)
  • Unyielding books: the poetics of displaying books in subversive ways. University of Toronto’s Book History and Print Culture Graduate Student Colloquium, 5-6th March 2021 (online)
  • Exploring emotions in textual heritage exhibitions: A look at the book in the eye of the beholder. Digitally Exhibiting Textual Heritage Conference (Workshop 3), University of Glasgow, 29 April 2022
  • PhD Research presentation and object handling workshop at the John Rylands Institute and Library, held in conjunction with the conference Integrated Objects: Critical Thinking with Things, organised by postgraduate researchers in the Art History and Cultural Practices department at the University of Manchester, 24 June 2022




Twitter: @theTLtweets

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