Walls of resonance: Institutional history and the buildings of the University of Manchester

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The built environments of universities are useful for telling stories about their development. Exteriors - walls, windows, doorways, the relative positioning of different facilities - are particularly suited to broad institutional narratives: the rise and decline of scientific disciplines, for instance, or the institution's changing relationship with benefactors and the wider public. Exteriors are also conveniently accessible to public audiences.This paper explores the possibilities through the case of the University of Manchester. The approach is in a sense the converse of industrial archaeology, which seeks to understand the functioning of a site from what survives of its material form: here, we have begun with knowledge gained largely from document sources, and aim to bring it to life for visitors by pointing to the material consequences. Connecting doors and architectural symmetries illustrate founding unifications and alliances; infilling and glassing-over, constrained expansion; grand but obscured frontages, displaced priorities.Populating the site with accounts of its lived existence is a powerful tool to communicate history, but it is important not to create an 'official' memorialisation: audiences often know the site at first hand, and may question any received version. I conclude by calling for a reflexive treatment, mapping the histories of the stories themselves. © 2013.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-715
Number of pages15
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013