Reshaping the Archive: Exhibition as a mechanism for change

2020-01-17T12:04:57Z (GMT) by Peter Anthony Lester
This thesis examines the recent phenomenon of physical exhibition-making within archives. It investigates how physical exhibitions are conceived and made in archives and their role in reimagining new ways for audiences to experience archival collections. Situated within a context of increasing digitisation, declining onsite visits to archives and progressively reduced finances, the research more broadly considers the role of exhibition in wider restructurings of archival spaces and organisations. It examines how and why archivists seek to transform the physical experience of being in public archives, thereby making archives more relevant and meaningful to people’s lives. The research uses an interdisciplinary methodology and develops a theoretical framework which draws on the spatial and phenomenological ideas of Henri Lefebvre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to re-examine archival exhibition practice. The research comprises a broad, international survey of exhibition practice and two detailed case studies. The thesis makes a contribution to knowledge by developing understanding around archive exhibition, based upon a broad yet detailed body of research findings and an innovative theoretical and methodological approach; and has potential impact both in terms of archival theory and practice. The thesis argues that existing discussions of exhibition within archival literature are largely framed through a discourse of justification; whilst exhibition is principally conceived as a form of outreach. Drawing across a whole range of recent archival practice, the thesis shows that exhibition is, rather, part of a pluralising of experience that recognises distinct and diverse audiences and uses. In this sense, exhibition is understood not only as a form of promotion but also as a means of encounter and as a site of discussion and debate. Moreover, the thesis proposes wider implications for the space of the archive as a cultural venue and meeting place.

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