Collecting and Curating Popular Music Histories

Award Holder

Dr Marion Leonard


Higher Education Institute

University of Liverpool


Despite being a prominent aspect of social and cultural history, museums have not traditionally collected popular music materials. However, in recent years there has been an increased interest within this sector in collecting and displaying material which tells popular music histories. Around the world different museums and galleries have offered exhibitions focused upon popular music venues, artefacts, artists and contexts. A number of dedicated visitor experiences have also been established which focus wholly on popular music.

There is a need to review the ways in which the history of popular music culture in all its forms is being preserved for the future. Focussing on UK museums this project will investigate and compare how museums value, preserve and interpret popular music heritage. It will explore the ways in which museums work with other custodians of popular music and consider the implications of the fact that much of this material currently resides in private ownership.

Museums are key sites for learning about history and are public institutions through which narratives about history are disseminated to the public. The project will look at the possibilities opened up by museums in dealing with the subject of popular music. Through interviews with museum curators and the development of case studies it will explore how museums can further develop ways to interpret and transmit music histories. It will consider how museums can tell these histories in new and exciting ways which go beyond the written form by working with sounds, images and material culture.

The outcomes of this research will be of interest to academics, museum professionals, archivists, collectors and the wider public. The project will enable the sharing of information and ideas about the representation of popular music histories. Through work with different museums and their collections it will identify examples of current practice and offer a theorisation of particular issues related to the collection and interpretation of popular music. The research findings will be shared through public events, conferences, communication with practitioners and written outputs. The project aims to develop understanding of the value, importance and uses of popular music materials and so inform museum practice and the future development of collection policies.

Arts & Humanities Research Council: Each year the AHRC provides approximately £100 million from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. In any one year, the AHRC makes approximately 700 research awards and around 1,000 postgraduate awards. Awards are made after a rigorous peer review process, to ensure that only applications of the highest quality are funded. Arts and humanities researchers constitute nearly a quarter of all research-active staff in the higher education sector. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. See Arts & Humanities Research Council website.