Sensational Museum aims to change how museums work for everyone - Museums Association

Sensational Museum aims to change how museums work for everyone

Research project sets out to challenge split between provision for disabled and non-disabled people
The project aims to develop a new sensory logic in museums that does not privilege any one sense over the others
The project aims to develop a new sensory logic in museums that does not privilege any one sense over the others Museums Association

The recently launched Sensational Museum project has outlined its goal to challenge the hierarchical split between museum provision for disabled and non-disabled people, and create a museum that "works for everyone".  

The two-year research project will create a “a new kind of sensory logic” in museums that doesn’t privilege access through any one sense.

The £1m initiative is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and supported by a range of industry partners, including the Museums Association.

At its digital launch on 27 June, project lead Hannah Thompson of the Royal Holloway, University of London, said the project would “experiment with ways of being in museums where no one sense is necessary to gain a museum experience”.

The project will rethink the role of senses in all aspects of museum work, from accession, cataloguing and collections through to curating, exhibitions and the visitor experience.  

The team is particularly interested in decentralising the sense of sight, which is privileged in museums, and in developing non-visual ways that museums might be experienced, said Thompson.


As part of the initiative, researchers will follow a museum object on its journey from being collected and entering the museum, through to documentation and up to when it is displayed and experienced by the public.

The team will trace and evidence moments when sensory assumptions are made in describing and recording the object, and how museum staff interact with it.

“We will have the opportunity, in other words, to re-imagine a new accessible form of collections management – both for people visiting and working in museums,” said Ross Parry, director of the Institute for Digital Culture at University of Leicester, who is also on the project team.

The Sensational Museum will work with industry partners to help inform and shape the practical outcomes of the project, and will dissseminate its findings.

The project is looking to include a wide range of museum professionals in its workshops and retreats. The Sensational Museum newsletter provides regular updates about the project.

There will be a session on the Sensational Museum at Conference 2023: The Power of Museums, which takes place from 7-9 November at the Sage Gateshead.

Hannah Thompson is an editorial advisor on the upcoming anti-ableism themed issue of Museums Journal, which will be out at the start of September

Comments (2)

  1. Jason Finch says:

    Erm, I assume the people involved in this project will talk to others-you know, the people who use (and don’t use) museums, and work in them? Before they make the usual grand meaningless, pointless statements about what needs to change?

    Or will this be the usual? A lot of well meaning, out of touch individuals who have no real experience of the museums sector making the usual “lets change things” statements that have no connection to the reality of the museum sector?

    Of course, we all know it will be the later (and folks like the MA won’t admit to that cause they don’t understand what life is like in the sector)

    The best bit is I can say things like this cause I know the MA doesn’t review posts on MJ articles and never challenges them

    So I can say things like this, based on experience on working in museums and knowing what the MA will say, and be confident that the MA won’t say I’m wrong

    I guess the MA might challenge my response to this article and disprove my above statement…

    And I say this as someone who walked away from the UK museum sector for, in part, all the reasons this project claims it wants to address

    1. Hannah Thompson says:

      Hi Jason: the project is designed to address precisely the concerns you raise. I’d be happy to discuss them with you and we would very much welcome including your insights in the project. Please reach out to me via email or the Sensational Museum website.
      Hannah (PI The Sensational Museum)

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