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Beyond the Stereotype: Representing Disability in the National Museums of Great Britain

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thesis
posted on 2022-07-19, 10:54 authored by Jennifer E. Hunt

Disabled individuals form a large part of society, past and present, and yet are often overlooked when it comes to considerations of diversity both within the museum and elsewhere. Within this thesis I will explore recent museum representations of disability, examining the messages they embody and seek to convey.

This thesis focuses on three case studies: The Science Museum’s Wounded Exhibition, The Museum of Liverpool’s Pioneering People and Places: The Blind School exhibition, and the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, examining for each the site, audio and visual material, websites, external communication, and interviews with staff. Together, these develop a holistic picture of the work carried out regarding disability stories.

This view is then evaluated, building upon work in both disability studies and museum studies. From disability studies, I draw on the social model, ideas of inclusion and emancipatory research; from museum studies, I explore issues around social justice, collaboration and co-creation. By combining these, I aim to gain a deeper understanding of how museums are successfully representing disability in a way that is of interest to a wide audience.

Throughout my thesis, I demonstrate the importance of working in collaboration with disabled voices in museums, acknowledging individuals’ lived experience. In an original contribution, I also advocate and emphasise the importance of acknowledging the role of disability in our wider understanding of what it means to be human, linking to broader stories and themes.

This work is important as it speaks to inclusion and access. As I will argue, disability can best be understood as a part of humanity, so overlooking disabled people and their stories undermines museums’ capacity to represent the richness and diversity of human life and leaves disabled people more vulnerable to ignorance and abuse. Museums can challenge stereotypes underlying negative attitudes, and I feel it is important that they do so.

History

Supervisor(s)

Richard Sandell; Sandra Dudley

Date of award

2022-05-10

Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Language

en

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