Richard Sandell is Professor in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and co-director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries. His research and practice, carried out in collaboration with museums, galleries and heritage organisations, explores the potential that museums might play in supporting human rights, social justice and equality.
His most recent books include - Museums, Moralities and Human Rights (2017) and Museum Activism (with Robert R. Janes) (2019), winner of the Canadian Museums Association’s award for Outstanding Achievement for Research in the Cultural Heritage Sector.
My research interests focus on the social roles, possibilities and potentials of cultural organisations. I am the author two monographs and five edited volumes. My most recent publications include – Museums, Moralities and Human Rights – a monograph published in 2017 which explores museums’ engagement with and contribution to social movements and Museum Activism, an edited volume with Robert Janes that examines the development of socially purposeful museum practice around the globe. In 2018, I co-authored and edited Prejudice and Pride: LGBTQ heritage and its contemporary implications.
I have experience of leading wide-ranging research projects (including multi-partner collaborations) funded by a wide range of organisations including the Wellcome Trust, Arts and Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England, National Trust, National Lottery Heritage Fund, NESTA, Historic Royal Palaces and the Science Museum. I have recently completed a major research collaboration with the National Trust, the UK’s largest heritage organisation, researching, revealing and engaging audiences around queer histories. I currently co-lead a number of research collaborations including with the Wellcome Collection, London (Disorder, dissent, disruption, which explores ethical and right-based ways of reframing disability and difference in museum narratives of medicine and informed their new permanent gallery, Being Human, that opened in 2019) and the National Trust (HumanKind, which explores the role of culture and heritage in combating social isolation and loneliness).
With colleagues within and beyond the School, I am also working on initiatives to support current students, recent graduates and alumni in developing their careers and fostering innovative practice within the sector.
In 2015, with colleagues in RCMG, we completed a research project entitled Stories of a Different Kind – funded by the Wellcome Trust and in collaboration with the Science Museum, London, Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Physicians, SHAPE with advice and support from Katherine Ott, Curator at the Smithsonian Institution – that interrogated the potential for medical collections and museums to offer new ways of seeing and understanding disability, and to inform contemporary debates about disability rights and equality.
This built on a suite of projects exploring representations of disability carried out with Jocelyn Dodd over the past 15 years. In 2009, we completed a two year project entitled 'Rethinking Disability Representation' that explored the role that museums and galleries might play in challenging prejudice by informing the ways in which people think about disability and understand disabled peoples’ lives.
The £.5m project, instigated and managed by the School’s research centre (RCMG) and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and NESTA involved nine museums across the UK working with a think tank of disabled activists, artists and cultural practitioners to develop new approaches to the interpretation and display of collections linked to disability.
The project, which ran from 2006 until early 2009, built on the findings of an earlier project, 'Buried in the Footnotes' which was funded through the AHRB’s Innovation Awards scheme. The report from this project can be downloaded free from the Leicester Research Archive. A book - Re-Presenting Disability: activism and agency in the museum, edited with Jocelyn Dodd and Rosemarie Garland Thomson was published in 2010. This book features contributors working in wide ranging museums, galleries and cultural sites in Australia, Zambia, Norway, Taiwan, America, Canada, UK and Cambodia.
In 2013, I explored some of the themes that my research addresses through photography including portrayals of LGBT people in the public sphere and representations of disabled people through a series of portraits of performer, Mat Fraser, which now form part of the Wellcome Images collection.
In 2012/13, I worked with colleagues in RCMG on a research project commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces to inform new approaches to the interpretation of stories of torture, imprisonment and punishment at the Tower of London.
Janes, R. R. and Sandell, R. (2019) (eds) Museum Activism, Routledge, London and New York.
Sandell, R. (2017) Museums, Moralities and Human Rights, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R. and Nightingale, E. (2012) Museums, Equality and Social Justice, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R., Dodd, J. and Garland Thomson, R. (eds) (2010) Re-Presenting Disability: activism and agency in the museum, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R and Janes, R. R. (eds) (2007) Museum Management and Marketing, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R. (2007) Museums, Prejudice and the Reframing of Difference, Routledge: London and New York
Sandell, R. (ed) (2002) Museums, Society, Inequality, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R. ‘Museums and the Human Rights Frame’ in R. Sandell. and E. Nightingale. (2012) Museums, Equality and Social Justice, Routledge: London and New York.
Sandell, R. and Dodd, J. ‘Activist practice’ in R. Sandell, J. Dodd and R. Garland Thomson, R. (eds) (2010) Re-Presenting Disability: activism and agency in the museum, Routledge: London and New York: 3-22.
Dodd, J., Jones, C., Jolly, D. and Sandell, R. ‘Disability reframed: challenging visitor perceptions in the museum’ in R. Sandell, J. Dodd and R. Garland Thomson, R. (eds) (2010) Re-Presenting Disability: activism and agency in the museum, Routledge: London and New York: 92-112.
I currently supervise students investigating a range of topics including disability narratives in museums, museum and health/wellbeing partnerships, military museums and inclusion, youth engagement, social media, the role of objects in socially engaged practice, museum use of lived experience in socially purposeful museum programmes
Past PhD students, who have since gone on to take up academic appointments or to develop their careers within the museum sector, have explored a range of topics including:
- new approaches to presenting diversity in ethnographic museums – Dr Serena Iervolino
- emancipatory research methods and practices in museums – Dr Heather Hollins
- the social agency of museums in Ireland - Dr Alan Kirwan
- museum publishing - Dr Sally Hughes
- representing diverse communities in the National Museum of Colombia - Dr Cristina Lleras
- Learning, recollection and connection: a study of cultural identities amongst visitors to local museums in Taiwan – Dr Chia-Li Chen
- Government policies and fine arts museums in Taiwan – Dr Hui-Jong Hsieh
- Motivations, Attitudes and Loyalty: towards a pricing strategy model for Taiwanese Museums – Dr Yupin Chung
- Admission charges, the representative audience and public museums - Dr Yung-Neng Lin
- Perceptions of the art museum in Cyprus - Dr Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert
- Representations and readings of national identity in the new National Museum of Korea - Dr Jeong-eun Lee
- Museum Learners Club: social environments for inclusive learning - Dr Susan Baldino
I draw on my research and practice to contribute to teaching across all of the School’s campus based and distance learning programmes.
Get in touch for media enquiries, expert opinion, interviews, images or video.