Accessibility statement

Museum Collecting: Histories, Theories, Practice


Module leader: Jennie Morgan


This module looks at museum collecting as a distinct form of material accumulation: 

  • To examine key histories, theories, and practices of museum collecting
  • To understand developments in how museum collections have been assembled in the past and identify core issues facing collecting in the present
  • To critically explore the relationship between collections and museum curatorship
  • To develop analytical, discussion, and presentation skills 

The first three sessions address a set of interrelated questions through a mix of lectures, seminars structured around group discussion and activities, and a field trip to a local museum: ‘what is museum collecting?’ (session 1), ‘what does museum collecting do to things?’ (session 2), and ‘what are the challenges for contemporary museum collecting?’ (session 3). Through these questions, the sessions attend to topics such as the history of collecting; the recontexualisation of objects; and contemporary challenges including acquiring the ‘more-than-material’, sustainable collecting, and the ethics of disposal. The final session (session 4) culminates in a student-led seminar in which project teams (identified in session 1) will present the results of a group piece of work. Building on class-based learning and independent study, groups form their own ‘micro’ collection, and by presenting this to the class report on their practical and theoretical learning about how collections are made.

Learning outcomes

Subject content

On completion of the module, students should:

  • know about key developments in the history, theory, and practice of museum collecting
  • be able to consider how museum collecting is similar to and/or different from other accumulative activities like ‘hoarding’ or ‘private collecting’
  • understand the idea of ‘object recontexualisation’ and be able to interpret the assembly and organisation of museum collections through this approach
  • be aware of the kinds of policy and procedural frameworks that guide museum collecting in the present
  • understand the methodological, intellectual, and ethical challenges for contemporary museum collecting, and be able to discuss the implications of these challenges for collections-based curatorship

Academic and graduate skills

  • have enhanced their skills in discussion and presentation
  • have worked successfully in a team
  • have enhanced their skills in analysing academic, popular, and practitioner texts
  • have applied their theoretical and analytical learning to the practical task of assembling and presenting a ‘micro’ collection