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I joined the University of York 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.
Director of the European Centre for Cultural Exploration (ECCE)
Leader of the Culture research cluster
Chair of Board of Studies (until October 2014)
Member of Departmental Senior Management Team (until October 2014)
Member of Research Committee (including REF 2014 sub-Committee)
Designer of new MA Culture, Society and Globalization (beginning 2014)
Steering Committee of the Centre for Digital Heritage (CDH)
Steering Committee of the Centre for Pilgrimage Studies
Steering Committee of the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP)
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. And 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:
Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage
I am part of an AHRC funded research programme 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. I will lead the strand of the research concerned with cultures of profusion or excess. How, in the face of an enormous quantity of 'stuff' and informations, do individuals, households and museums encourage some things to persist into the future and allow others to be discarded? A beacon research programme of the AHRC's 'Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past', my colleagues and I are concerned with the fundamental question of how future pasts are assembled. Our investigators are based at University College London, Exeter University and Linnaeus University. We will also work with colleagues elsewhere, including at the University of Gothenburg, the Minzu University, Beijing, and China's National Academy of Arts; as well as with many international and national partners, including UNESCO, the Arts Council, the National Trust and the Association of Independent Museums; and local organisations, including York Museums Trust and the New School House Gallery.
My most recent book, Memorylands. Heritage and Identity in Europe Today, brings together many of my earlier interests by looking widely at what I call the 'memory phenomenon' – the growth of museums and heritage across Europe. It does so by drawing on various of my own fieldworks – including some on which I have not published previously – as well as lots of research by others. This work is primarily by ethnographers working in Europe, as part of the book's aim is to make this work more widely known, and more central to memory debates. It is also the best work for helping me to examine both the extent of variety in ways of doing 'past presencing' as well as the commonalities of 'the European memory complex', to use terms that I develop in the book.
Over the years I have carried out various projects concerned with the changing nature of collective identities - especially national and European; and history, tradition and heritage - how these are variously imagined and put to cultural work, especially but not only in relation to the making and remaking of identities. Museums have proved an especially exciting place to investigate these themes, and I have done in the following major as well as more short-term research projects in the Hebrides, elsewhere in the UK and in Germany.
In a major project beginning in 2000, I took the city of Nuremberg, and especially the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds, as a detailed focus for exploration of how the Nazi past – and especially Nazi architecture – had been variously addressed, ignored and struggled over since 1945. As in my previous work, I sought to look both at 'cultural workers' – those variously involved in public policy and culture – and at those using the site, especially as visitors and tourists. A key question for me in this project was what was involved in the turn to actively 'museumizing' Nazi past – and what I call 'difficult heritage' more widely. This is the subject of Difficult Heritage. Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond. In 2013 I carried out updating work in Nuremberg, extending my focus to other locations in the city.
A very different project at the cusp of the 1980s and 1990s in the Science Museum, London, took me into the world of museums, and more specifically into highly politicised cultural changes in public institutions. Ethnographically following museum staff as they wwent about their work of creating science for the public made clear to me just how much the resulting science was shaped by the wider cultural and political changes in which visitors were increasingly understood as consumers. This research led not only to my ethnography, Behind the Scenes at the Science Museum, but also to Theorizing Museums – a co-edited volume (with Gordon Fyfe) that sought to both bring social and cultural theory to the museum and to recognise museums as themselves engaged in 'theorizing'; and The Politics of Display.
In my doctoral fieldwork in the Scottish Hebrides in the mid-1980s I was interested in the revitalization of Gaelic culture, which was, in turn, part of wider developments that were usually referred to as ethnonationalism and the invention of tradition. Yet, it was not only those and my analysis led me to question not only what was actually going on in the revivial in local communities but also how 'culture' was being variously constituted in revivial policies, nationalist movements and local lives. I later drew on this in my book Reimagining Culture as well as exploring related wider developments – and the place of disciplines such as anthropology within them – in an edited volume, Inside European Identities.
PhD supervision areas:
I welcome suggestions for projects in these areas.
I have supervised students - as full-time, part-time and visiting students - from Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Thailand, Turkey and the UK. They have worked on topics related to all of the above. Many of my former students now hold academic posts (including a couple of professors), work in research organisations and in museums.
IN PRESS: With Helen Rees Leahy I am general editor of the International Handbooks of Museum Studies. The following four substantial state-of-the-art volumes will be 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)
Papers published in conference and other proceedings
‘Anthropological perspectives on museums and heritage’, 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.
'On Heritage, nostalgia and authenticity: commonalities and diversities in past-presencing in Europe', keynote lecture to Historical Sociolinguistics Network conference, Shefield, February 2014
'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’, The Future of the Ethnographic Museum, Oxford, July 2013
Commentator at Political Apologies workshop, Department of Politics, University of York, June 2013
‘Exit through the gift shop. Social and cultural perspectives on museum shopping’. Whose business is heritage? Workshop, jointly organised by Department of Archaeology and Department of Management, University of York, April 2013
Opening address to The Contemporary Other, postgraduate conference, Department of Sociology, University of York, April 2013
Invited commentary at Generic Ethics Principles in Social Science Research, Association of Social Sciences, London, April 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, MeLa 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
‘Making and re-making Nazi heritage’, Cultural Heritage: New Insights, York European Centre for Cultural Exploration, 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’, 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
‘Cultural diversity and museums: debates and approaches in Europe’, Peking University public lecture, December 2011.
‘Difficult heritage: developments and debates in Europe’, Central University of Nationalities, Beijing, December 2011.
‘Developments in UK anthropology: from functionalism to cultural critique’, ‘Themes in recent UK anthropology: museums, heritage and material culture’, ‘Cultural diversity and museums: developments and approaches in Europe’, Nationalities Research Institute, Yunnan University, Kunming, December 2011.
‘Cultural diversity and museums: debates and approaches in Europe’, Chinese Academy of Arts, Beijing, November 2011.
‘Cultural diversity and museums: debates and approaches in Europe’, Central University of Nationalities, Beijing, November 2011.
‘Anthropology and museums: theory and practice’, ‘Collecting, classifying and exhibiting cultures’, ‘Anthropology, museums and identity’, ‘Forms of display and controversies’, ‘Challenges, experiments, possibilities?’, Faculty of Humanities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, November 2011.
‘Difficult heritage: addressing the past in European identity today’, China University of Political Science and Law, Changping, Beijing, November 2011
‘Difficult heritage’, Institute of Sociology and Social Anthropology, public lecture, Peking University, October 2011.
‘Language, cultural diversity and identity’, Faculty of Letters and Ainu Research Institute, University of Hokkaido, October 2011.
‘Museums and the contact zone’, opening address, Revisiting the Contact Zone: Museums, Theory, Practice, European Science Foundation, Linköping, Sweden, July 2011.
‘Theorizing Musealization’, keynote lecture at The Past on Display: Museums, Musealization, Film, York University, Toronto, April 2011.
‘Authentizität’, Grundbegriffe des Museums, Tübingen University, April 2011.
‘Carrried away or not? Towards an anthropology of museum shopping’, Art Gallery and Museum Studies seminar, Manchester University, November 2010.
‘Past presencing: true stories and partial facts’, Storytelling: Imagination and the Past, Humanities Research Centre, University of York, November 2010.
‘Negotiating tainted space: Nuremberg’s Nazi party rally grounds’, School of Advanced research senior seminar, Lisbon, November 2010.
‘Museums and transnationality’, keynote lecture to University of Applied Arts, Vienna, visit to London, June 2010.
‘Museums and the globalization of culture’, keynote opening lecture to the Deutscher Museumsbund (German Museums Association) Kulturelles Erbe und Transformation – Museen im Zeichen gesellschaftlichen Wandels, European Capital of Culture conference, Dortmund, May 2010.
‘What is the more effective way to study the individual’s emotion and their society: anthropology or psychology?’, anthropology speaker in debate with psychologist; event organised by student Anthropology Society and Psychology Society, University of Manchester, April 2010.
‘Directions in an Anthropology of/in Europe’, keynote opening lecture of Re-Vision – die Kultur(en) der Gesellschaft. Horizonte und Perspektiven der Europäischen Ethnologie, Humboldt University, Berlin, January 2010.
‘Post-national museums?’, keynote lecture, National Museums in a Transnational Age, Monash University Centre, Prato, Italy, November 2009.
‘Crossing borders and disciplines: the resurgence of “community”?’, keynote opening lecture, Raumbezüge der Forschung – Plausibilisierung von Wissen:Gemeinde und Region als epistemische Orte, Frankfurt University, Germany, October 2009.
‘World museums’, Inaugural London Debate, London School of Advanced Study, May 2009.
‘Difficult heritage: negotiating the Nazi past in Nuremberg and beyond’ (The Whitesell Lecture: university public lecture), Museum Studies, University of Michigan, March 2009.
‘Exhibition Experiments: publics, politics and scientific controversy’, Assises du Reseau Romand Science et Cité, Exposer des Idées, questioner des Savoirs, Neuchatel, January 2009.
Participation in panel Show Business: The Role of Exhibitions and Events in Museums and Galleries, at Material Worlds conference, University of Leicester, December 2008.
‘Cosmopolitan Heritage’, keynote lecture, Globalized Heritage conference,Department of Anthropology and Ethnography,University of Aarhus, December 2008.
Discussant at On a Knife’s Edge: the Ethics of Weapons Display in Museums, Royal Armouries, Leeds, October 2008.
‘Social space, performed experience and exhibition design’, Space and Truth symposium, Zurich, October 2008.
‘Who is responsible for advocacy and how can it be done effectively?’, panel member, Curating the Future, Renaissance North-West, Manchester, September 2008.
‘Reassembling Nuremberg’s Heritage’, Culture and Citizenship, CRESC conference, Oxford, September 2008 (expenses not covered).
‘Doing difference differently? Museums and cultural diversity’, public lecture organised by University of the Arts, Vienna, June 2008.
‘Museum Europe: negotiating heritage’, keynote address SIEF (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) annual conference ‘Transcending “European heritages”: liberating the ethnological imagination’, University of Ulster, June, 2008.
‘Anthropological approaches to museum objects’, Objects-Bodies-Ritual, Artakt, V&A, May 2008.
‘Users of morally charged spaces: Nuremberg Rally Grounds’, Whose Culture? Exploring the Active Audience, Central and East European Language-based Area Studies, HRI, Sheffield, May 2008.
‘Memory, Materiality and Tourism’, Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change, Leeds Metropolitan University, April 2008.
‘Exhibition experiments: what can science-art do?’, SATSU, University of York, March 2008.
‘Assembling Nuremberg’s Nazi Heritage’, Assembling Culture, CRESC and University of Melbourne, Melbourne, December 2007.
‘Can we escape the museum?’, inaugural lecture, University of Manchester, October 2007.
Invited participant at ‘Biomedicine and aesthetics in a museum context’, Museion, Copenhagen, Denmark, August 2007.
‘Difficult Heritage; Unsettling History’, keynote address to ICMAH (International Committee for Museums of Archaeology and History) annual conference, Vienna, August 2007.
‘Towards an affective syntax of exhibition design: social and cultural perspectives’, Affective Communication in Design, White Rose network conference, Leeds, June 2007.
‘What moves? Museums and transculturalism’, keynote lecture, University of Basel and Basel Ethnographic Museum, June 2007.
Invited participant at ‘Articulating theory and ethnography in urban studies’, Center for Metropolitan Studies of the Technical University of Berlin, May 2007.