Rewriting the script: towards a new ethos of writerly practice for museums
This thesis investigates the effectiveness of interdisciplinary writing strategies in mitigating the specific deficits of museum writing practice. Text is perhaps the most fundamental method through which museums communicate with their audiences. But while the mechanics of museum text development, including attracting and retaining visitor attention, ideal word counts and accessible language, have been extensively studied, the actual practice of writing – its workflows and how they are managed, its participants and how they interact – has received little attention. As a result, museum writing lacks theoretical and practical frameworks to scaffold this complex, collaborative process.
To address this, the thesis deploys an innovative methodology centred on three practice-based research interventions. The interventions live tested writing strategies inspired by three distinctive arenas – television, wikis and user-generated fiction – across a series of exhibition projects. The research design is rooted in a robust understanding of the realities of current museum practice – drawing on practitioner interviews and museum sector literature – and in the field of writing studies, which offers theoretical principles that allow us to conceptualise the challenges inherent in the museum writing process.
The thesis establishes, for the first time, a framework for museum writing that is both theoretically grounded and practically applicable. It defines a toolkit of actionable strategies that respond directly to the deficits of museum text development and, ultimately, proposes a new ethos of writerly practice for museums. This ethos shifts away from current orthodoxies of practice – where writing is siloed, depersonalised and viewed as an act of problem-solving – and reimagines it as an empathetic, holistic, writer-led, imaginative, open-ended, visible and valued practice: one that balances the inevitably collaborative and the profoundly personal dimensions of writing and that embraces writing in all its complexity and potential.
Supervisor(s)Ross Parry; Giasemi Vavoula
Date of award2023-07-24
Author affiliationSchool of Museum Studies
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester