Professor Christopher Whitehead
Professor of Museology

Background

I joined the University in July 2002. Prior to this, I worked as a museum curator, a lecturer in Art History and sometime languages teacher, translator and interpreter in the UK, in Italy and in the US.

Roles and Responsibilities

- Member of the Great North Museum Board

- Member of the University Cultural Affairs Steering Group

- Member of the Hatton Gallery Steering Group and Capital Development Group

In the past I have been Director of ICCHS, Director of Research for the School of Arts and Cultures and was the first head of Media, Culture, Heritage

 Qualifications

- BA in Art History (University of Leicester), 1993
- MA in Museum Studies (University of Leicester), 1994
- PhD in Art History and Theory (Perfezionamento in Storia della Critica d'Arte) (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa), 1999
- Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (Newcastle University), 2003

Memberships

ICOM

ICOFOM

Museums and Galleries History Group

Languages

Fluent Italian; improving Turkish; reading skills in French and Spanish.

Research Interests

I trained and worked as an art historian and art curator, but my research activities today are much broader, encompassing museums of different types (especially history museums) and heritage, with particular emphases on the cultural politics of memory, display, knowledge construction and interpretation. I am currently working on political uses of the past, time and place and contested histories and heritages, especially where these relate to contemporary social tensions and conflict. I have interests in social constructionism, theories of representation, cultural cartography, art theory, epistemology and Turkish, Italian and (more recently) Scandinavian museum and heritage politics.

I co-ordinate two large projects:

1. The EU-funded CoHERE project, a €2.5million Horizon 2020 study into European Heritages and Identities, working with 11 other organisations across Europe. 

2. The Katip-Celebi Newton fund project Plural Heritages of Istanbul: the case of the Land Walls

Before this I managed the Newcastle University work package of the EU FP7 'MELA' project: European Museums and Libraries in/of the Age of Migrations - a €2.7million award working with 8 other institutions across Europe, led by the Politecnico di Milano.  Publications can be accessed here. I am currently building on the results of this project in the form of a website - http://thinkingthroughmigration.com - with free resources for museums interested in dealing with migration. 

Alongside these activities I maintain research interests in the general areas covered in my monographs on the 19th Century Art Museum (Ashgate 2005), Museums and the Construction of Disciplines (Bloomsbury 2009) and Interpreting Art in Museums and Galleries (Routledge 2012). My most recent book is the edited volume Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe (Ashgate 2015).

With my colleague Dr Emma Coffield I run the Newcastle University interdisciplinary research group on the Cultural Significance of Place. Please contact me or Emma (e.j.coffield@ncl.ac.uk) if you wish to be added to the mailing list. 

I am a member of the AHRC Peer Review College (Academic) and a series editor (with Professor Peter Stone and Professor Peter Davis) of the Heritage Matters book series published by Boydell and Brewer. I am on the editorial Boards of Museum and SocietyMuseum History Journal, the Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy and Curator: the Museum Journal.

Postgraduate Supervision

I am currently supervising the following doctoral research projects:

  • Institutional approaches to art museum interpretation (Jen Locke)
  • Interpreting public art as civic collection (Rebecca Farley)
  • Constructions of the public history of ‘contemporary art’ through the collecting activities of north-western-European museums of modern art (Alistair Robinson)
  • Faith in displays: an analysis of the changes in the representation of Islamic art in Western Museums (Muhammad Ilmam Bin Tharazi)
  • Place attachment and heritage activism as a barrier to the redevelopment and re-use of historic buildings: the re-use of historic former mental hospitals (Carolyn Gibbeson)
  • Social Art and the Common Good: What is the relationship between the contemporary practice of social art and the construction of social value? (Hannah Marsden)
  • The social agency of photo books in the Artworld (Briony Carlin)
  • Political uses of Magna Carta and the 1683 Siege of Vienna in European contexts (David Farrell-Banks)
  • Austerity politics in UK museums (Tom Hopkins)
  • Interpreting the photographic archive of Maurice Broomfield (Katherine Clough, collaborative doctoral award with the V&A Museum) 

I have supervised Claire Pike, Susannah Eckersley, Gabriella Petkova, Pamela Erskine-Loftus, Alex Elwick, Yun-ju Chen, Bronwen Colquhoun, Emma Coffield and Gabriella Arrigoni, all of whom have successfully completed their PhDs.

I can take on new students as and when my current students submit and complete. On that proviso, I am interested in supervising doctoral students with a fundamental interest in cultural politics and an openness to theory who wish to work on (in no particular order of preference):

  • memory studies, difficult history, uses of the past
  • heritage, museums, galleries and social and political theory
  • non-official heritage in theory and practice  
  • museum and gallery history
  • interpretation in art museums and galleries, history museums and heritage sites
  • museum epistemology, particularly regarding the production of histories
  • the use of maps in museum interpretation
  • representations and experiences of time and place, place identities
  • museums and heritage in the EU, European identities
  • museums and migration
  • museums, cultural heritage and contemporary social conflicts and tensions
  • visitor studies
  • museums and cultural heritage in the UK, in Turkey, in Italy, and in Norway

Please contact me if you would like to enquire about studying for a research degree under my supervision. 

Work with the heritage sector

All of my scholarly work is in some way intended to benefit the sector and cultural policy makers, including the provision of recommendations for practice, training and building reflexive awareness of key issues (both past and present) for museums, galleries, heritage and society. I have also co-produced exhibitions, such as the permanent display 'Northern Spirit' at the Laing Art Gallery, and have provided advice for museums such as the Natural History Museum, the Manchester Museum, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, and the National Gallery in London. I am an active contributor to international and European ICOM workshops.

Keywords 

heritage; museums; memory; cultural and social theory and politics; art curatorship; art theory; epistemology; display; art interpretation; museum history; social constructionism; disciplinarity; place; time; migration; EU; difficult history; uses of the past; cultural politics; identity; representation.

I have interrupted my normal teaching duties to concentrate on research projects. I continue to teach on the HASS Postgraduate Research Training Programme on the HS8004 module on Qualitative Methods and Critical Analysis, in particular within the 'museums, galleries and heritage' and 'thinking theories' strands.