School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Professor Christopher Whitehead

Professor of Museology



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.


- 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




Museums and Galleries History Group


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

Google scholar: Click here.


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, particularly where these relate to contemporary social tensions, division and conflict. I work across museum, memory and heritage studies but borrow approaches and interests from anthropology, geography, cultural theory, political science, design research and the theory of history. Methodologically, most of my work is ethnographic, qualitative and collaborative, involving ethnography, community engagement, co-production, and experimental, creative design of heritage processes and resources (including digital ones), with a view to positive social and policy impact. Geographically, the majority of my work relates to Europe (particularly the UK, Scandinavia and Italy), Turkey and, to a lesser degree, North America. 

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 - - 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 Museums and Galleries (Routledge 2012). My most recent book is the edited volume Museums, Migration and Identity in Europe (Ashgate 2015). I am currently writing a new monograph - Analysing Museum Display - and editing another - Dimensions of European Heritage and Memory, both with Routledge.

With my colleagues Dr Emma Coffield and Dr Jo Hicks, I run the Newcastle University interdisciplinary research group on the Cultural Significance of Place. Please contact me or Jo ( if you wish to be added to the mailing list. 

I am 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. I am co-editor of the new Rutledge book series Critical Heritages of Europe.

Postgraduate Supervision

I am currently supervising the following doctoral research projects:

  • 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)
  • 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, Gabriella Arrigoni, Carolyn Gibeson, Rebecca Farley and Jen Locke, 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 Scandinavia

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. In 2017 I was a member of the Scientific Committee for the International Museum Day theme of 'Museums and Contested Histories', and videos relating to this can be seen here.


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.

Recent and forthcoming talks

‘Critical Heritages of EUrope’, University of Malmo, Sweden, invited talk, June 2018

'Food, Heritage and Nostalgia in an English Open-Air Museum', University of Bologna, invited talk, March 2018

'Museums and an Extroverted Sense of Place', Reykjavik University, invited talk, January 2018

'Critical, Playful, Plural Heritages', CHEurope conference, University of Amsterdam, keynote, January 2018

History UK Plenary address, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 4 November 2017

Recent and ‘Geohistories of Responsibility, plenary address, Curating History conference, European University Institute, Florence, 11-13 October 2017;

Keynote, AHRC Heritage Priority Area conference on ‘Heritage Studies: Critical Approaches and New Directions’, in association with the Association of Critical Heritage Studies UK Chapter, British Academy, London, 5 October 2017;

Invited paper: ‘Museums of Experience: stories of places and lives in recent European museum practice’, Cultural History Museum, Oslo, 11 September 2017;

Keynote, ICOM Annual General Meeting, ‘Rethinking Difficult History: museums and serious play’, UNESCO, Paris, 7 June 2017

(with T. Schofield, D. Foster-Smith and G. Bozoğlu) ‘Walking the Walls: ethnography, design and ‘heritage from below’ in Istanbul’, Ethnography on Foot II, Cultural Significance of Place research group, 1 June 2017

Invited talk: ‘Long-term implications of Brexit for Heritage’, Brexit and Heritage, Newcastle University London Campus, 29 March 2017

Invited talk: ‘Heuristic Uses of the Past: the Holocaust in museum education’ Geography Matters, National and Kapodostrian University of Athens, 23 March 2017

Invited talk: ‘Critical Heritages of Europe?’ University of York, 14 February 2017;

Invited talk: ‘Museums and Difficult History’ University of Oslo, 7 February 2017

Invited talk: ‘Food Safety: consuming cultural difference in museums’ Food as Heritage, University of Bologna, 2-3 February 2017

Invited 'Knowledge Exchange' talk (for museum staff): ‘Thinking Through Migration’, Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, 14 December 2016

Keynote: ‘Critical Heritages: national museums and the negotiation of difficult pasts’, ICOM Europe, Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, 29 November 2016

Invited talk: ‘Critical Heritages: performing and representing identities in Europe’, Understanding Europe – Promoting the European Public and Cultural Space, Research Executive Agency, European Commission, Brussels, 17 October 2016




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.