MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Museum Studies

Course unit fact file
Unit code SALC70101
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This core module provides students with professional and critical knowledge and understanding of museum practice.

Students embark on the MA programme in Art Gallery and Museum Studies (AGMS) from a range of undergraduate subject areas, including Art History, Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Classics, English and Modern Languages. This course is designed to enable a diverse cohort to develop a critical and practical understanding of the museum as a site of cultural production, by applying and extending their existing disciplinary skills and knowledge to the study of institutions, past and present. The understanding of 'museum' is deliberately broad, encompassing art galleries as well as museums of science, history, anthropology, archaeology etc., as well as digital museums: the idea of the course is to identify commonalities and specificities across a breadth of disciplinary and organizational models.

During the module, you will be introduced to key concepts and issues in museum thinking and practice. Each theme is explored over one or two weeks, through a mix of lectures (including guest lectures from museum professionals), student-led activities and fieldwork. The course is designed to stimulate critical reflection, as well as enable you to develop your knowledge and understanding of some of the key intellectual, ethical, professional and political questions posed by, and of, museums.

Fieldwork is subject to government guidelines.


The aims of the module are to:

1. Provide a critical, relevant and challenging introduction to the field of contemporary museum practice, primarily in the UK, but also from a range of international contexts.

2. Equip you with thorough knowledge and understanding of the social, ethical, political and financial contexts in which museums operate today, and also the historical development of the institution.

3. Introduce and apply key concepts in museological theory to the critical analysis of the practice.

4. Develop your skills in giving presentations and responding to feedback.

5. Develop your research and communication skills and styles, both written and oral.


Teaching and learning methods

We will learn together through a combination of:  

- Lectures and seminars  

- Fieldwork  

- Student presentations

- Reading, discussion  

- Individual research  

Knowledge and understanding

- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the field of contemporary museum practice, the social, ethical, political and financial contexts in which museums operate today, and the historical development of the institution.

- Identify and evaluate diverse approaches to the theoretical and critical analysis of the museum.

- Participate in informed debate about key issues affecting museum policy and practice today.


Intellectual skills

- Demonstrate a capacity to apply theoretical and critical concepts to the understanding and analysis of institutional practice and the contexts in which the institution operates.

- Apply disciplinary knowledge and understanding to an analysis of institutional policies and practices.

- Conduct independent research in order to produce a sustained, analytical enquiry into an aspect of museum practice.



Practical skills

- Prepare and deliver a short oral presentation, and respond to audience questions and discussions.

- Conduct effective fieldwork as part of an institutional analysis.

Fieldwork is subject to government guidelines.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Demonstrate an awareness of institutional and policy contexts in relation to diverse organisations and roles (eg in a future job application).

- Apply practical skills and understanding of institutional processes to a range of professional, cultural settings.

- Use precise and nuanced language to discuss the contemporary position of the museum, in both professional and academic environments.


Employability skills

- Communicate the value and applicability of museological thinking into organisational practice - Articulate clearly key challenges in museum professional practice - Appreciate the impact of cultural, ethical and other contexts on professional practice - Manage time efficiently - Generate ideas and think laterally - Map career directions and trajectories

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Written and/or oral feedback on essay proposal


Written feedback on essay



Recommended reading

 This is a selection of important texts on museum studies, some of which will be assigned reading and some will be useful as reference texts throughout the course.


Ashton, J. (ed.). (2017/18) Feminism and Museums: intervention disruption and change, Volumes 1 & 2. Edinburgh; Boston: MuseumsEtc.

Barringer, T. and Flynn, T. (1997) Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture and the Museum. London: Routledge.

Baverstock, A. (2010) How to get a job in a museum or art gallery. London: A & C Black.

Bennett, T. (1995) The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge.

Bennett, T. (2004) Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism. London: Routledge.

Brennan, M. (2010) Curating consciousness:  mysticism and the modern museum, Cambridge, Mass.; London: MIT.

Bunning, K. (2020) Negotiating Race and Rights in the Museum. Routledge.

Carbonell, B. M. (2004) Museum studies: an anthology of contexts, Oxford: Blackwell.

Clifford, J. (1997) ‘Museums as contact zones’, in Routes: travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, pp 188-219.

Costache, I. D., & Kunny, C. (Eds.). (2018). Academics, Artists, and Museums: 21st-Century Partnerships. Routledge.

Duncan, C. (1995) Civilizing Rituals: inside public art museums. London: Routledge.

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. London: Bloomsbury.

Falk, J. H. and Dierking, L. D. (1992) The Museum Experience, Washington, DC: Whalesback Books.

Fyfe, G. and MacDonald, S. (eds.) (1996) Theorizing Museums, Oxford: Blackwell.

Gourie¿vidis, Laurence. (2014) Museums and Migration: History, Memory and Politics. London and New York: Routledge. 

Hein, H.S. (2000) The Museum in Transition. A philosophical perspective, Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, pp. 1-16.

Hill, K. (2005) Culture and Class in English Public Museums, 1850-1914. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (1992) Museums and the shaping of knowledge. London and New York: Routledge.

Janes, R. R., & Sandell, R. (Eds.). (2019). Museum Activism. Routledge.

Karp, I. and Lavine, S. (1991) Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Lonetree, Amy. (2012) Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

MacDonald, S. (ed.). (2006) A Companion to Museum Studies, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

MacDonald, S. and Rees Leahy, H, (2015) The International Handbooks of Museum Studies, 4 volumes, Oxford: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Marstine, J. (ed.). (2006) New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.

Message, Kylie. (2018) Museums and Racism. London: Routledge.

Nairne, S., Ferguson, B. and Greenberg, R. (eds.). (1996) Thinking About Exhibitions. London: Routledge.

Newell, Jennifer, Robin, Libby, and Wehner, Kirsten. (2017) Curating the Future Museums, Communities and Climate Change. London: Routledge.

Parry, R., Page, R., & Moseley, A. (Eds.). (2018). Museum Thresholds: The Design and Media of Arrival. Routledge.

Pollock, G. (ed.). (2007) Museums after Modernism: Strategies of Engagement. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Rees Leahy, H. (2012) Museum Bodies. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Sandell, Richard. (2017) Museums, Moralities and Human Rights. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routled

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Work based learning 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 267

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Martin Unit coordinator

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