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Can Museums Rise to the Challenge: Preparing Museums for the Age of Participation

Unit(s) of assessment: History

Research theme: Global Heritage

School: School of Arts and Humanities


Preparing Museums for the Age of Participation

Many museums started as enlightenment institutions focused on their collections. but in today’s global society, audiences expect a lot more. museums need to engage their visitors and respond to changes in society quickly to guarantee a sustainable future. museums are no longer arbitrary gatekeepers. Visitors expect a more exciting experience. changing demographics, new media, and increasing globalisation have created new challenges for the sector.

Addressing the Challenge

Our expertise is equipping museums with new tools to meet the future

The research is led by Professor Graham Black. He’s been working in the field since the 1990s and has seen a huge number of changes sweep across the museum industry. Professor Graham Black is regularly asked to share his expertise at museums across the world and help them tackle the unique challenges they face.


Professor Graham Black teaches on the MA Museum and Heritage Management, responsible for the year-long module on Presentation Management, covering visitor studies, marketing and audience development, visitor services, learning and interpretation.

Graham Black is currently exploring the issue of how best to evaluate history museums in the 21st century. This combines his commitments to visitor participation and inclusivity with his belief in the need for academic rigour.

Areas of research interest include the following:

  • Practical application of interpretive principles to develop environments at museum and heritage sites that support participation and learning
  • A new research area looking at the making and presentation of history in museums

Making a Difference

Sharing knowledge across the sector:

Professor Black monitors new ideas in the sector and holds workshops at international conferences. He works with local community groups to explore their role in museums like Coalville in Leicestershire or Vila Luka in Croatia.

His publications include:

  • The Engaging Museum (2005)
  • Transforming Museums in the 21st Century (2012)

"Many museums require root and branch transformation If they are to survive. There Is no single way forward – I see my work as a provocation, to stimulate thinking and action within the profession". - Professor Graham Black


  • ‘Night Shift’ Museum & Heritage Group, Rotterdam. Merel van der Vaart. The Social Role of Museums: a provocation. October 2018
  • Workhouse Museums Network. Andrew Gritt. Engaging with Difficult pasts in the ‘Age of Participation’. September 2018
  • Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. Scott Cooper, CEO. Restructuring Museums for the ’Age of Participation’. August 2018
  • Exhibiting Contentious Heritage: the Voices of 68 Exhibition, Ulster Museum. Chris Reynolds/Graham Black. Museums and Difficult History. June 2018
  • NTU Global Heritage Showcase. The ‘Age of Participation’ engaging with the 21st century museum. May 2018
  • The Future of Coalmining Heritage in the East Midlands. Natalie Braber. Dealing with difficult pasts – the example of Northern Ireland. April 2018
  • Commonwealth Association of Museums workshop: The Post-Colonial Museum. Richard Benjamin, President of CAM and Head of International Slavery Museum, Liverpool. Museums and Difficult Pasts: Northern Ireland’s ‘68. Chris Reynolds. April 2018
  • ‘Defining the Museum’, ICOM + St Andrews University. Karen Brown
  • Annual conference German Association for Education in Museums, Stuttgart. Elke Kollar, Chair of Association. Museum Informal learning in the ‘Age of Participation’  November 2017
  • William Blair, Director of Collections, NMNI. Staff Conference, National Museums Northern Ireland. Principles governing the 21st century audience-centred museum. September 2017
  • Cambridge University Heritage Research Group Seminar. Museums in the ‚Age of Participation‘: The Engaging Museum Revisited. January 2017
  • The Engaging Musum: Bundesakademie fur Kulturelle Bildung, Wolfenbüttel. The Engaging Museum Revisited. November 2016
  • Katharina Lorenz, professor of classical archaeology, and lead for Horizon 2020 project Nottingham University: Digital Art History and Digital Museology: modes of analysis, curation and audience engagement. A Museologist’s Perspective: moving from visitor to user. July 2016
  • William Blair, Keeper of History, Ulster Museum: Collecting the Troubles and Beyond Project. Engaging with Difficult History. June 2016
  • Martin Hager-Saltnes, Director of Public Services, National Museum of Culture, Oslo. Museums in the ‘Age of Participation’. June 2016
  • Derby Museums: ‘Think, Feel, Do’ Symposium. Museums in the ‘Age of Participation’. April 2016
  • Slovenia Museums Association. Museums in the ‘Age of Participation’. October 2015


  • Exhibition brief for ‘Reflection Zone’ within Voices of 68 temporary exhibition, Ulster Museum + travelling. September - November 2018
  • Exhibition brief for re-display of the archaeology of Vela Spila prehistoric cave site in Vela Luka Museum, Korčula, Croatia + wider proposal for major development of museum and cave visitor experience. This is the most important prehistoric cave site in the Mediterranean region. April - May 2017
  • Community Heritage Strategy for Coalville, Leics. Ongoing
  • Consultancy for Chesterfield Museum development of Vision Statement for the future of the museum. October - December 2015
  • Consultancy to develop Interpretation Plan as part of wider submission to HLF for re-development of British Horological Institute. Successful – received grant of £5m. 2014


  • Meeting the Audience Challenge in the 'Age of Participation' - Museum Management and Curatorship, 33(4), September 2018, pp302-319
  • It's the Principles that Matter - Soares, B.B., Brown, K. & Nazor, O. (eds) Defining Museums of the 21st Century: plural experiences, pp198 - 205
  • Museum Informal Learning in the 'Age of Participation' - Standbein Spielbein, Journal of the German Association of Museum Educators 109(1), 2018, pp10 - 21
  • Ch17 Museums and Tourism: Time to Make Friends - Hooper, G. (ed.) Heritage and Tourism in Britain and Ireland, pp263-278
  • A New Audience for an Old Favourite - Sir John Soane’s Museum Annual Review 2015-16, pp32-39
  • Remember the 70%: Sustaining ‘Traditional’ Museum Audiences - Museum Management & Curatorship, 31, pp386 - 401Journal of the Association for Heritage Interpretation, 21(1), Summer 2016, pp8-9
  • And My Favourite Interpretive Device is... The Object Label - Victoria & Albert Museum Annual Review 2013 – 2014, pp66 - 71
  • What Makes a Great Museum? ed. McCarthy, C. (2014) Museum Practice: The contemporary museum at work, Volume 2 of the International Handbooks of Museum Studies. Oxford and Malden MA:  Wiley-Blackwell, pp123-151
  • Transforming Museums in the 21st Century - Book – publisher Abingdon: Routledge
  • Museums and Participation - Art Today, Today Art Museum, Beijing, pp137 - 142
  • Ch. 22, Museums and Civil Engagement - Anderson, G. (ed.) (2nd edition) Reinventing the Museum, pp271 - 290
  • Museums, Memory & History - Cultural & Social History, 8, pp415 - 427