Dr Sheila Watson

Professor of History and Museum Studies, School of Museum Studies

School/Department: Museum Studies, School of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 3967



I am interested in the ways in which the past is used in the present by different communities. My research is international in scope and my latest monograph, Museums and the Origins of Nations, Emotional Myths and Narratives  (Routledge 2021) was the first survey of origins stories in national museums and examines the ways in which such museums use the distant past to reflect contemporary concerns. I  also study contested histories, the ways in which emotion is used within heritage and the relationships of museums to communities and vice versa. 

As a Historian I completed a PhD in Propaganda and Morale in Britain in the Second World War before training as a teacher. I taught in various secondary schools the last five years as a head of department in a large comprehensive school in Hertfordshire before moving into museum education. After working as an education officer for six years in Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service I became Director/  Area Museums Officer in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. I managed three museums and an art gallery established a heritage partnership and led the redisplay of all three museums. My final project was to lead a Heritage Lottery Funded project to create a new £4.7 million new museum Time and Tide: Museum of Great Yarmouth Life. As project champion I also led the team who managed the refit of the old curing works and the display of the museum. I maintain my interest in current museum contexts and combine a practical interest in heritage with a theoretical interest in the ways in which history heritage and museums intersect in the creation and maintenance of certain types of emotional identities.

I joined the School of Museum Studies in 2003 and have been Director of Flexible Learning, Director of Research, Deputy Head and Acting Head of School. I am currently co Programme Director of the MA/MSc in Heritage and Interpretation and academic lead for changes in the programme.


My research examines the way the past is understood and used by individuals and communities in particular how and why it is contested and the impact of this on cohesive communities within a theoretical framework of cultural heritage and museum studies. Current and future research is conceived around three key themes emotions in heritage contested heritage and democratic heritage. My research is interdisciplinary and draws not only on heritage and museum studies but also memory studies, material culture studies, postcolonial theory, sociology, emotion studies, psychology,  philosophy and history. I have developed a distinct research profile that builds on my expertise in practice and challenges existing ideas relating to community engagement in particular focussing on the key role emotions play in the expression and interpretation of heritage by institutions and communities. I have been invited to advise museums worldwide on how to engage and support different communities for example in Estonia, Bogota,  Romania, UK, and Brazil. This has provided me with important research data that has led to publications which demonstrate how theory is often disconnected from practice.



Watson, S (2020) Museums and the Origins of Nations: Emotional myths and narratives. A monograph on the ways in which national museums across the world present the origin of their particular nation and what this tells us about politics and national prestige today.
Watson, S, Barnes, A and Bunning, K (2018) (eds) A Museums Studies Approach to Heritage. London: Routledge.
Watson, S. (2007) (ed.) Museums and their Communities, London, Routledge.
Knell, S., MacLeod, S. and Watson, S. (2007) (eds) Museum Revolutions, London, Routledge.
Watson, S. and Hunt, J. (1990) Britain and the Two World Wars, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press


Watson, S. (2021) ‘Emotions in the history museum’ in Mazzanti, Paolo (ed)   in collaboration with Margherita Sani, Emotions and Learning in Museums,  72 – 80 . NEMO – The Network of European Museum Organisations Deutscher Museumsbund e.V. Taubenstraße 1, 10117 Berlin Germany
Watson, S (2020 )  'Emotions and lost objects' in Exploring Emotion, Care and Enthusiasm in "Unloved" Museum Collections,  edited by Anna Woodham et al. Arc Humanities Press.
Watson, S (2019) 'The mediated museum' Critical Museology: Selected Themes Reflections from the William Bullock Lecture Series. Mexico City:MuAC.
Watson, S. (2019 ) 'The British Museum and the Royal Academy: the nation state: English and British identities and the constitution in the eighteenth century' Museum and Society, 17(1) 66- 82.
Watson. S. (2018) 'Emotional engagement in heritage sites and museums: Ghosts of the past and imagination in the present' in Watson, S, Barnes, A and Bunning, K (2018) (eds) A Museum Studies Approach to Heritage London: Routledge.
Watson, S (2017) 'The legacy of communism: difficult histories, emotions and contested narratives' International Journal of Heritage Studies
Watson, S. (2017) 'Emotional communities and Museums' in T. Saar (ed) Community Involvement in Theme Museums, Proceedings of the Estonian Maritime Museum, 8,  12 - 21.
Watson, S. (2016) ‘Why do Emotions Matter in Museums and heritage sites?’ In Carla van Boxtel (ed)  Sensitive Pasts: Questioning Heritage in Education, Oxford, New York:  Berghahn Publishers
Watson, S (2016) ‘Death from the skies.’ Photographs in museums of the aerial bombing of civilians during World War Two' in  E. and T. Stylianou (eds) Museums and Photography: Displaying Death: London and New York : Routledge.
Watson, S. (2015) 'Emotions in the history museum' in Kylie Message and Andrea Witcomb (eds) The International Handbooks of Museums Studies, Volume 1: Museum Theory 283- 301. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.
Watson S. (2014) 'Communities and museums - equal partners?' in R. Silverman (ed) Museum as Process, London: Routledge.
Knell, S.J. , 2012., Axelsson, B Eilertsen, L. Myrivili, E.  Porciani, I. Sawyer, A. and Watson, S. Crossing Borders: Connecting European Identities in Museums and Online, Linkoping University Press, Linkoping. [Results of Eunamus investigations looking at the language of art, regionalism and online museum-like spaces - available free online]
Watson, S. (2012) 'Museums and the origins of nations in Poulot, D and Bodenstein, F (eds) Grand Narratives of the Past: Traditions and Revisions in National Museums: 545-565 University of Linköping- available free online
Watson, S.. Kirk, R., and Steward, J. (2012) ‘Arsenic, wells and herring curing:  Making new meanings in an old fish factory’  in MacLeod, S  et al. (ed) Museum Making, London, Routledge
Watson, S. and Sawyer, A. ( 2011) National Museums in Britain, in Aronsson, Peter ; Elgenius, Gabriella (eds) Building National Museums in Europe 1750 - 2010, Conference proceedings from EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity, Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Bologna 28 - 30 April 2011, EuNaMus report no. 1, University of Linköping.



Contested and difficult heritage,  emotions in museums,  community museums,  democratising heritage and museums,  nationalism and heritage,  politics and heritage.


Museum Studies MA/MSc both campus based and distance learning. Heritage and Interpretation MA/MSc by distance learning. 

I am currently leading the transformation of the Heritage and Interpretation curriculum.

Back to top