University of Leicester eBulletin

Research Project into Hidden Histories of Disabled People Attracts Innovation Award

July 2003

The University of Leicesterís Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) has launched a research project to bring to light the historical evidence of disabled peopleís lives that has often been hidden from public view.

The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Boardís Innovation Awards scheme ( is entitled Buried in the Footnotes: The Representation of Disabled People in Museum and Gallery Collections and aims to identify the evidence that exists within museumsí and galleriesí collections that can attest to the historical lives of disabled people. It also aims to explore the factors that might influence the way in which this material is recorded and presented within museums.

Issues around disability within the museum and gallery sector have, to date, focused largely on the physical and sensory barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing cultural institutions. Whilst imperatives associated with funding, legislation and social inclusion have led museums to explore these barriers, there has been very little research into issues around representation of disabled people within collections. (In contrast there has been greater interest and attention given to the representation of, for example, women or ethnic minorities within collections and displays).

The project will involve gathering data through two main approaches. Firstly a questionnaire will be sent to over 200 curators across different kinds of museum (for example, national, local authority, independent etc) and with responsibility for different kinds of collections (e.g. fine and decorative art, social and industrial history etc). Secondly 5-10 museums will be selected as case studies in which more detailed investigation will take place.

The project also seeks to democratise and enrich the research process through the employment of disabled people as part of the project team. Working alongside Project Managers, Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell of RCMG, are Annie Delin, Senior Research Associate (a journalist and disability consultant with longstanding experience of disability issues in arts, media and heritage contexts) and Jackie Gay, Research Assistant, (a writer with experience of researching cultural references to disability within literature).

This project is currently funded until June 2004. It is hoped that further funding will be sought for a major multi-institutional project with international partners to run over a further three years.

For further information contact: 

Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd
, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG), Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, 105 Princess Road East, Leicester LE1 7LG, telephone 0116 252 3965/3995.

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Last updated: July 2003
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