School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Emeritus Professor Peter Davis

Emeritus Professor


Peter Davis trained as a marine biologist, oceanographer and ecologist, and worked in conservation organisations and national parks before moving into the museum world as a specialist curator. Following some twenty years in museums - his last post being Deputy Curator of the Hancock Museum - he joined the Department of Archaeology of Newcastle University, setting up the MA in Museum Studies there in 1992. Following University re-organisation he helped to found the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) as a distinct unit in the newly-created School of Arts and Cultures. He became the first Head of School of Arts and Cultures, relinquishing this position in 2005 to take up a part-time role at the University of Gothenburg, assisting in the development of museum and heritage programmes there. Now retired, he continues to play an active role in Media, Culture, Heritage as a Series Editor of the book series ‘Heritage Matters’ published by Boydell and Brewer.  He is a Trustee of the Natural History Society of Northumbria and President of the Society for the History of Natural History.


Research Interests

Emeritus Professor Peter Davis has research interests in natural history museums, the history of natural history and biography of key 19th century collectors. Much of this work relates to analyzing the emergence of the conservation ethic, and the roles that museums have played in fostering it. His research on museums, botanic gardens, aquaria and zoos is primarily related to the ways in which these organisations played a role in the emergence of environmentalism, and his book Museums and the Natural Environment (1996) discusses this phenomenon.

His biographical research has focused on important scientists and collectors, and he has written several entries for the New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), and for The Dictionary of 19th Century Scientists (Thoemmes Press/Continuum). He continues to research the life and work of the naturalist George Johnston (1797 - 1855), a doctor who did much to further the progress of natural history and museology; this work complements his co-authored book Sir William Jardine: A life in natural history (2001), a contemporary and friend of Johnston. This work is a continuation of his in-depth research into collectors and naturalists in northern England.

Community museology and new museology, and one type of museum - the ecomuseum - form a third major research interest. His book, Ecomuseums, a sense of place (1999), was the first book in English to document this global museological phenomenon from French, Spanish and Portuguese sources, so making the concepts and ideologies of ecomuseums more widely available. Peter has published extensively on ecomuseum theory and practice since 1999, particularly in relation to developments in Italy, Japan and China. A second edition of Ecomuseums, a complete revision of the worldwide situation, was published by Continuum in 2011.

He is closely involved in the development of Heritage Matters as a Series Editor; these books (based in ICCHS and published by Boydell and Brewer) cover a range of heritage issue. Peter has co-edited four volumes, namely Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (2012), Making Sense of Place (2012), Displaced Heritage (2014) and Changing Perceptions of Nature (2017). With Michelle Stefano he edited The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage (2017).

Current Work

Peter Davis' current research deals primarily with contemporary approaches to museology, in particular how museums deal with questions relating to communities, place and 'sense of place', local distinctiveness and cultural identity. He has a worldwide network of contacts involved in the branch of museology known as community museology or ecomuseology, and is working with colleagues in Italy, Japan, the Netherland, Brazil, India, China and Portugal to assess the impact of community-based approaches to the conservation of tangible and intangible heritage. Emerging strands within this research is the relationship between ecomuseums, community sustainability and bio-cultural conservation, so bridging the perceived gap between nature and culture.

Postgraduate Supervision

The following students supervised by Peter Davis successfully completed research degrees:

•Alfred Hatton (Master of Philosophy): 'Museums and performance indicators' (1995).

•Eila McQueen (Master of Philosophy): 'Museums and their communities: a case study in Argyll and Bute' (1998).

•Tae Il Jeon (Master of Philosophy): 'A comparative study of the impact of marketing and marketing strategies on museums in Britain and Korea' (1999).

•Hyun Jeong Kim (Master of Letters): 'Repatriation of cultural heritage between North and South; a case study of Korea' (2001).

•Julia Cassim (Master of Philosophy): 'Cognitive and physical accessibility to museum collections of art and artefacts for visually impaired audiences' (2002).

•Anastasia Valavanidou (Master of Philosophy): 'The role and the future of technology museums in Greece' (2003).

•Rosa Yoon Ok Park (Doctor of Philosophy): 'Museums and Cultural Identity: a comparative study between Britain and Korea' (2003).

•Leslie Jessop (Doctor of Philosophy): 'The uses and limitations of the forensic method in assessing Marmaduke Tunstall's collections and Hawaiian Wicker Heads' (2004).

•Claire Loughney (Doctor of Philosophy): 'Colonialism and the development of the English provincial museum, 1823 - 1914' (2006).

•Sharon Roberts (Doctor of Philosophy): 'Childhood material culture and museum representations' (2006).

•Gabriela Petkova-Campbell (Doctor of Philosophy): 'The history and development of museums in Bulgaria' (2007).

•Susannah Eckersley (Doctor of Philosophy): 'Key factors influencing new museum building in the UK and Germany' (2007).

•Sarah Elliott (Doctor of Philosophy) 'Dams and cultural heritage in Turkey; ecomuseological solutions'(2008).

•Diana Walters (Doctor of Philosophy) 'Attracting Zealots - responses to disability in museum collections and practices in the early 21st century' (2008).

•Stephanie Hawke (Doctor of Philosophy) 'Heritage and sense of place in the North Pennines' (2011).

•Patricia Francis (Master of Philosophy) 'Philip Brookes Mason, his collections and museum building' (2011)


He acted as secondary supervisor to the following successful doctoral students:

* Han-Yin (Elly) Huang 'Local Cultural workshops and sense of place in Taiwan' (2009)

* Michelle Stefano 'Intangible Cultural Heritages in North East England' (2010)

* Justin Sikora 'Approaches to the interpretation of battlefield heritage sites' (2012)

* Jared David Bowers 'Ecomuseology and sustainable tourism in the Iwokrama region of Guyana' (2012)


Esteem Indicators

Guest Professor of Museology, Museion, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, from July 2005 - June 2009

Fellow of the Museums Association

Fellow of the Linnean Sociey of London

Member of Council, Linnean Society of London

First President, Museums and Galleries History Group

Chairman, Natural History Society of Northumbria from 2003 - 2011

Member, Editorial Board, H-Museum

Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Tourism Anthropology

Member, Editorial Board, Museum History Journal

Member, Editorial Board, Museum Management and Curatorship

Member, Editorial Board, Organon

Editor, Archives of Natural History, 2012-2017

President, Society for the History of Natural History, 2018 – 


Peter Davis taught at undergraduate level in several departments in the University (History; Zoology; Marine Biology, Archaeology) when he was Deputy Curator of the Hancock Museum; he developed and taught courses in ‘The history of Natural History', 'Biological Conservation', 'Ecology and Biology of Fishes' and 'Introduction to Museum Studies' amongst others. However, his main teaching roles since 1993 were at postgraduate level, especially in relation to the MA programme in Museum Studies and ICCHS' other heritage programmes. He has taught on all of these and has acted in all the roles associated with delivering them and ensuring a rewarding experience for students.