The Centre for Design History’s research reframes the relationship between museums, exhibitions, archives and design. Our work centres on the historical and contemporary practice of exhibition design, the display and interpretation of designed objects in museums and collections, and the social, economic and political agency of museums, exhibitions and archives as designed objects. Our scholarship ranges from the theoretical to the applied, spanning the modern era to the contemporary. Members have specific interests in public engagement, decolonial/postcolonial and participatory approaches to design in this context.
Members of our thriving postgraduate community often work in collaboration with the institutions they study, including at the British Museum, the Design Museum, and the University of Brighton’s renowned Design Archives. Major research initiatives include Harriet Atkinson’s monograph The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People (2012), Claire Wintle’s project on mid-twentieth-century curatorial practice funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, and Lara Perry’s Leverhulme-funded international research network which explored feminist curating practices. Centre members have edited volumes ranging from Louise Purbrick’s The Great Exhibition of 1851: New Interdisciplinary Essays (2001) to the more recent interventions of Design Objects and the Museum, co-edited by Liz Farrelly (2015), and Sue Breakell’s special edition of Archives & Records on archival practices in visual art archives (2015).
Practice-based initiatives that have probed the relations between design, exhibiting and collecting include the exhibition Fashion Cities Africa at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery (2016-2017, now on tour to the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam), led by Helen Mears, and the Arts Council England-funded Maps & Lives at Phoenix Brighton, a participatory exhibition that considered the potential for collaboration and collective creativity in exhibition design. Our 2018-2019 summer lecture series featured lively debate on contemporary cultures of curating.
Image credit: ‘Proposed Ceylon Court’, Commonwealth Institute, London, by James Gardner (1961). James Gardner Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.