University of Leicester
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Learning from Hollywood? Narrating exhibitions with suspense

posted on 2018-08-17, 14:15 authored by Ariane Karbe
A modern exhibition should be entertaining and suspense plays a vital role for entertainment media offerings. The lack of research on suspense in museum exhibitions is astonishing. This thesis aims to address this gap by investigating if and how cultural historical exhibitions could be narrated more attractively by adapting scriptwriting techniques used to produce suspense in popular films. A comparative analysis of three classical Hollywood films and three cultural historical exhibitions reveals that all dramaturgic devices described in cognitive film theory (Bordwell 1985) and how-to guides (Gulino 2004) are applied in the films, whereas barely any have been used in making of the exhibitions. As this does not prove that an application is impossible, a thought experiment explores possibilities to establish dramatic tension in exhibitions. The experiment together with the analyses suggest that decisive criteria of the exhibition medium complicate a narrating of suspenseful stories by fragmenting its structure. Having thus carved out the epic character of exhibitions (see Hanak-Lettner 2011) – in contrast to the dramatic nature of popular films – this thesis suggests, based on one of the rare scriptwriting manuals to address unconventional films (Benke 2002), that suspense could be created in exhibitions by introducing techniques which support the narrative flow, balancing exhibitions’ typical fragmentary structures. Conclusively, this thesis proposes to distinguish between mild and wild suspense, as a finer tool set for identifying different kinds of suspense. Thus the ground is laid for further studies on narrative suspense in exhibitions and also for practical experiments to tell suspenseful exhibition stories. This thesis contributes to transmedial narratology by describing the narrative potential of the exhibition medium but also the limitations of its storytelling capacity



MacLeod, Suzanne; Gibson, Lisanne

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Museum Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


Thesis in two volumes.



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