Mapping Museums is a multidisciplinary research project that has documented and analysed the development of the UK museum sector from 1960-2020.  

From 17th March 2020 the Mapping Museums website, database, and report can be found at: www.mappingmuseums.org

This blog covers a wide range of subjects. We have written on the museums that we visited in the course of our research and on our research methods, including definitions of museums, classifying museums, predicting visitor numbers, and developing the database. We also use the blog for publicity. Subscribers to the blog will automatically be informed about any events we are running or updates on our research.



Research rationale

It was well known that during the late twentieth century there was a massive increase in the number of museums in the UK. Various claims were made about the rising numbers of museums – that they were symptomatic of cultural malaise and an epidemic of nostalgia, that they were an entrepreneurial response to de-industrialisation, or that they were evidence of a growing historical consciousness among the populace at large – but very little quantitative data was available to support these assertions. Although it was generally accepted that the majority of the new museums were independent, it was often unclear exactly when the museums opened, where they were located, what subjects they covered, or whether or not they survived. Moreover, we did not know if the sector has changed since this period of expansion.

The Mapping Museum project was conceived in response to this situation. We wanted to know how the museum sector, and particularly the independent museum sector has changed since 1960, what factors prompted and facilitated the increase in numbers of independent museums, and whether the new independent museums were symptomatic of wider cultural concerns.

Research outputs

To answer our questions about the emergence and development of the UK independent museums sector, we produced a comprehensive database on UK museums, analysed the data, and then sought to account for our findings via conducted interview based and historical research. The research has four main outputs:

  • A database containing information on over 4,000 museums. This data can be browsed, searched, and visualised, and is free to use under the terms of the Creative Commons (BY) license.
  • Mapping Museums: A report on the data’. A report designed for the organisations with responsibility for museums in the UK. It provides an explanatory guide to the data and details growth and closure with respect to governance, subject matter, accreditation status, size, location, and combinations thereof.
  • A website that houses the database and web application, and resources linked to the project. These include a glossary, detailed information on research methods, transcripts of interviews with museum founders, films and podcasts, and links to the project publications.
  • A series of academic articles that present research methods and findings from the data, and a monograph that draws on interviews with museum founders to analyse how and why so many new museums were established in the late twentieth century.  The monograph will be published in 2021.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is led by Fiona Candlin, Professor of Museology (Principal investigator), and by Alex Poulovassilis, Professor of Computer Science (Co-investigator).