Professor Simon Knell

Professor of Contemporary Museology

School/Department: Museum Studies, School of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 3969



I am a museologist, historian and geographer who studies knowledge communities associated with museums looking at their constructive use of objects, institutions, and disciplinary culture. I joined the University in 1992. I was Director and Head of the Department (2002-2007 and acting Head in 2000 and 2017) and Dean of Arts (2008-2009). I was part of the senior team which undertook the reorganisation of the University from faculties into colleges completed in 2009. I won the current School building and oversaw its architectural reinvention. I led the Department’s/School’s highly successful RAE2008 and REF2014 submissions and began the diversification of its teaching programmes. In 2016, I led the redevelopment and expansion of our MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies (AMAGS) and the introduction of CRÍA, the Collective for Research into the Institutions of Art. I have a BSc (Hons) in Geography (Leeds), an MSc in Pollution and Environmental Control (Manchester), and a PhD in the History of Science (Keele). I worked in museums in Leeds, Manchester, Leicester, and Scunthorpe, and for the Area Museums Service for South Eastern England (AMSSEE), based at the Geological Museum in London.


Contemporary museology is an orientation to the subject which engages in critical understandings and proposals for practice that serve the needs of contemporary society. It is an orientation that challenges institutionalism, reductive thinking, and cultural hierarchies. A response to life in the Zeitgeist I termed the 'global contemporary', it privileges situated experiences and cultures and their interconnections. My interests extend globally and currently concern both the nature of contemporary museology and the institutional performances of art: its production, construction, representation, and consumption. My work complements that of museum practitioners and art historians concerned with borders, territories, identities, modernisation, and nationhood. My earlier work applied this lens to scientific communities and museums and most notably to the discipline and culture of geology. I have written and edited more than 20 books. A full list of publications and access to preprints and out-of-print works is available at


Simon Knell. 2021 (2020). The Museum's Borders: On the Challenge of Knowing and Remembering Well, Routledge, London.
Simon Knell. 2019 (2018). 'The museum in the global contemporary' and 'Modernisms: curating art's past in the global present', in Simon Knell (ed.), The Contemporary Museum: Shaping Museums for the Global Now, Routledge, London.
Simon Knell. 2016. National Galleries: The Art of Making Nations, Routledge, London.
Simon Knell. 2016. 'The gift of historical consciousness: museums, art and poverty', in Viviane Gosselin and Phaedra Livingstone (eds) Museums and the Past: Constructing Historical Consciousness, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver.
Peter Aronsson and Simon Knell (eds). 2012. National Museums Making Histories in a Diverse Europe, Linkoping University Press, Linkoping.
Simon Knell. 2012. The Great Fossil Enigma: The Search for the Conodont Animal, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Simon Knell (ed.). 2012. Crossing Borders: Connecting European Identities in Museums and Online, Linkoping University Press, Linkoping.
Simon Knell. 2010. 'National museums and the national imagination', in Simon Knell et al. (eds) National Museums: New Studies from around the World, Routledge, London.
Simon Knell. 2009. 'The road to Smith: How the Geological Society came to possess English geology', in Cherry Lewis & Simon Knell (eds.) The Making of the Geological Society of London, Geological Society, London.
Simon Knell (ed.) 2004. Museums and the Future of Collecting, Ashgate, Aldershot, Second Edition.
Simon Knell. 2000. The Culture of English Geology, 1815-1851: A Science Revealed Through its Collecting, Ashgate, Aldershot.


I have supervised more that 25 PhD students to completion. My research students come from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and are looking at the production and politics of museums collections, exhibitions, and objects, and acts of representation and visual performance. They undertake contemporary and historical analyses. Topics include: the politics of museums; cultural diplomacy and propaganda; representation; objects and knowledge; scientific communities; art communities; the construction of objects; constructionist approaches to the museum; disciplinarity; the history of art museums and galleries; commercial galleries; the art market; art worlds; national galleries; national art; national and local art cultures; the geography of art; art museums and art history.


Today, I teach solely on the MA in Art Museum and Gallery Studies where I deconstruct the art institution and its performances and explore the nature of art cultures. I also contribute to our annual AMAGS exhibition (working with the Arts Council Collection and contemporary artists) as well as to teaching exploring the art city. In the past, I taught Care of Collections, Material Culture Studies and the Natural Science Curation on the MA/MSc in Museum Studies. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Press and media

My current interests are in the global phenomenon of national galleries and in the museum's role in the production of knowledge and memory.
Back to top