Sharon Macdonald
Anniversary Professor of Cultural Anthropology



I joined the University of York as Anniversary Professor in September 2012, having previously held Professorships at the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield. As well as Anthropology, my interests include Museology, Cultural Heritage and Memory Studies, and Cultural Sociology. My enjoyment of working across disciplines was fostered by my undergraduate degree in Human Sciences – a mix of Social and Natural Sciences – at Oxford; and this is also the basis of my longstanding interest in cultural dimensions of science. I have carried out anthropological fieldwork in Scotland, England and Germany, and exploratory comparative research in China. My work has been translated into Bulgarian, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.

My post at York is part-time, primarily to work on the research project Curating Profusion. My main employment is in the the Institute of European Ethnology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. There I hold an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship as Professor of Social Anthropology (with special emphasis on cultural heritage and museum studies). 



My research examines ongoing social and cultural changes. Mostly, I do this by coupling a specific focus - based on ethnographic fieldwork - with analysis of more widespread developments. By doing so, I seek to find out what is going on in the detail of practice, including the reflections of those I am researching. I draw on this to challenge or refine the assumptions of existing theorising.

These concerns and approaches have been reflected in a range of different research projects over the years. Though as an anthropologist, I often return to earlier themes and research areas.

Summary of research areas:

  • Cultural heritage, memory, identity, difficult history
  • Museums, museology, material culture, design
  • Identities - especially European
  • Tourism, cities, architecture
  • Science as culture
  • Anthropological and cultural theory

Current projects

Curating Profusion

This examines how, in the face of an enormous quantity of 'stuff' and information, individuals, households and museums encourage some things to persist into the future and allow others to be discarded? The research is part of an AHRC funded research programme called Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage that is concerned with looking at 'heritage' beyond its usual confines to consider how the archive for what will in future be available to be heritage is shaped. It focuses upon the making of heritage in the face of key social and environmental challenges and is a beacon programme of the AHRC's Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past.


I am no longer taking on any new PhD supervision.


Selected publications

NEW: With Helen Rees Leahy I am general editor of the International Handbooks of Museum StudiesThe following four substantial state-of-the-art volumes were published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2015.

  • Museum Theory, eds Andrea Witcomb and Kylie Message
  • Museum Practice, ed. Conal McCarthy
  • Museum Media, ed. Michelle Henning
  • Museum Transformations, eds Annie Coombes and Ruth Phillips

Selected publications

Please note: links to articles and chapters are provided under terms of fair academic use and not for redistribtion.

Selected books and journal special issues

Selected articles


Contact details

Prof. Sharon Macdonald
Department of Sociology
University of York
North Yorkshire
YO10 5DD

External activities


Professional Associations

  • Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI)
  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHS)
  • Member of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA)
  • Member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
  • Member of the Museums Association (MA)
  • Member of SIEF – International Society for Ethnology and Folklore
  • Member of the Association for Critical Heritage Studies
  • Member of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES)

Advisory panels for research projects (selected)

  • Museological Framings of Islam in Europe, Swedish Research Council, PI at University of Gothenburg, 2015-17
  • Understanding Everyday Participation: Articulating Cultural Values, AHRC, PI at University of Manchester, 2012-17
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Non-European Collections in Military Culture, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Co-I (PI- National Museum of Scotland, Co-Is include National Army Museum), 2012-13
  • Waste of the World, ESRC research project, PI University of Sheffield, 2006-11
  • Exhibiting Europe, Norwegian Research Council, PI at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, 2007-11
  • Environments of Memory, ESRC, PI at University of Sheffield, 2004-6

Museum and heritage advisory and steering committees (selected)

  • Critical Heritage Studies, Gothenburg University, 2013-15
  • Medical Museion, Copenhagen, steering committee member, 2007-2012
  • Natural History Museum, Berlin, Leibniz Foundation international evaluation committee, 2012
  • Living Planet, Manchester Museum, advisor and contributor, 2011


Editorial duties


  • Science Museum Journal (since 2013), editorial board member
  • THEMA: La Revue de la Musee de la Civilisation (since 2013), editorial board member
  • Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, editorial committee member (since 2006; joint editor 2001-6)
  • Anthropology in Action, consulting editor (since 2005)
  • International Journal of Heritage Studies, editorial board member (since 2009)
  • Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, editorial board member (since 2002)
  • Memory Studies, editorial board member (since 2008)
  • Museum and Society, editorial board member (since 2003)
  • The Sociological Review, editorial board member (since 1992; joint managing editor 1996-2002)

Invited talks and conferences


  • 'Art as/is transcultural?', Transkulturelle Kunstgeschichten im Museum, Berlin, September 2015
  •  'Always in crisis? Transforming the ethnographic', opening lecture, Für immer Krise? Fragen der Repräsentation in Museen für nicht-europäische Künste und Kulturen, Humboldt Lab Dahlem, Berlin, September 2015
  • 'Islam as European Heritage', Islam as European Heritage, University of Gothenburg, September 2015
  • ‘Endorsement effects and warning potentials: architecture from Totalitarian eras as heritage’, Architecture as Propaganda in Twentieth-Century Totalitarian Regimes, Swedish Institute in Rome, April 2015
  • Participant in Die Bürde des Objekts debate, Humboldt University, Berlin, January 2015
  • Participant in The Great Heritage Debate, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden, October 2014
  • ‘Anthropological perspectives on museums and heritage’, keynote, Bridging the Gap between Museums and Archaeological Sites: Insights for Turkey, Ertegün Scholarship Programme in the Humanities, University of Oxford, May 2014
  • ‘”Nothing real”: aura, affect and the dilemmas of displaying Nazi objects’, Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, May 2014
  • ‘Past-presencing and the heritage-identity complex’, Doctoral programme in Anthropology, University of Lisbon, March 2013
  • 'There are always alternatives', Yorktalks Shining a Light on Research, University of York, January 2014
  • 'Culture, Society and Globalization' Southwestern University of Nationalities, Chengdu, December 2013
  • 'How to do things with J.L.Austin: performatives in philosophy and anthropology', with Michael Beaney, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Beijing University, December 2013
  • 'Anthropological approaches to cultural heritage', Chinese National Academy of Arts, Beijing, December 2013
  • Memorylands: Heritage and Identity in Europe Today', School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, October 2013
  • ‘How things matter: stories from Nuremberg’, opening conference lecture at Materialisierung von Kultur: Diskurse, Dinge, Praktiken’, conference of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkskunde, Nuremberg, September 2013
  • ‘Cultural difference: nationhood and the making of citizens in Europe’s ethnographic museums’, invited plenary, The Future of the Ethnographic Museum, Oxford, July 2013
  • ‘Cultural heritage and tourism of painful pasts’, Department of Tourism, South-Eastern University, Nanjing, March 2013
  • ‘Memorializing trauma’, Department of Art History, Peking University, Beijing, March 2013
  • ‘Post-socialist nostalgia in Europe’, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Peking University, Beijing, March 2013
  • ‘The tourist gaze, body and affect at sites of difficult heritage’, opening keynote lecture, Performance – Memory – Museum, German-Israel Foundation, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, January 2013
  • ‘Transnational heritage and Europe’, Migrating Heritage, Keynote, MeLa European Museums in an Age of Migrations international conference, Glasgow, December 2012
  • ‘Transnational heritage and aesthetics’, World Art Research Seminar, University of East Anglia, November 2012
  • Carried away or not? Towards an anthropology of museum shopping’, York Heritage Research Seminars, University of York, October 2012
  • ‘Cosmopolitan memory’, keynote lecture Ethics and Aesthetics of Memory, Mnemonics: network for memory studies (collaboration of universities of Aarhus, Linköping, Ghent, Stockholm, Goldsmiths, Columbia and Illinois), Aarhus, Denmark, September 2012
  • ‘Cosmopolitan heritage’, keynote lecture, Globalizing Culture and Identities, Global Studies Association annual conference, Manchester Metropolitan University, July 2012
  • ‘Anthropology in museums/anthropology of museums’, invited Museum Ethnographers Group panel, Anthropology in the World, London, June 2012
  • ‘Will it soon be over?’, keynote lecture, Re-theorizing Heritage, Inaugural Association of Critical Heritage Studies conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, June 2012

Media coverage