Exhibiting Classical Collections in UK University Museums: Contexts, cultures and practices in gallery redevelopments

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Ifigeneia Anagnostou


This thesis examines museological approaches and display practices surrounding collections of classical antiquities in UK university museums, as these have emerged through recent redevelopment projects that have reshaped UK's cultural landscape since 2000. Despite the critical role University Museums have played in the formation, research and representation of the classical archaeological discipline, the fact that they hold important collections of classical antiquities, and their recently reinvigorated role as the public interface between Academia and the wider community, yet there is limited existing research concerning the contemporary display of classical antiquities, in general, and within University Museums, in particular. This research comes to address this gap by shedding light into the ways current approaches to classical collections are shaped by the interplay of disciplinary developments, practices of display production and socio-cultural contexts. The research draws on theoretical approaches emphasising context-specific readings of material culture, 'behind the scenes' perspectives, and the relational aspects of museum practice. Methodologically, it is grounded on qualitative research undertaken in three case study museums: the Manchester Museum (University of Manchester), the Fitzwilliam Museum (University of Cambridge) and the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology (University of Reading): first, an overview of the collections' histories in the three museums situates each collection within their respective local institutional culture and traces shifts in its perceived role and meanings. Then, contemporary approaches towards classical collections are explored by examining both the processes of display production (here, the gallery redevelopment process) in each case study and the resulting exhibitions as finished products. The thesis provides an analysis of how the three museums responded to needs and realities of a changing socio-cultural landscape, which was heavily shaped by funding opportunities, governmental priorities and strategic agendas set by the institutions themselves and their parental universities. It also provides a discussion of the impact of the broader disciplinary developments and the engagement of each institution with the wider museum community on the interpretation and re-display of classical antiquities. This thesis acknowledges these factors as important in shaping approaches to classical collections. The thesis goes on to argue that the ways each institution has nevertheless approached its classical collections is also intimately linked with local contexts: these are provided by the institutional 'culture' of each case study, the professional identities of museum staff working with classical collection, the character and scope of collections themselves, the relationship between the museum with its parent university, and the community the museum serves.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2019