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Fiona Candlin

  • Overview



    Fiona Candlin worked in the education department at Tate Liverpool, and in the School of Architecture and Art History at Liverpool University, before being appointed to a lectureship jointly held by The British Museum and Birkbeck in 2000. In this role she established and organised the World Arts and Artefacts Certificate programme, which offered specialist collections-based teaching at numerous London museums. She joined the department of History of Art at Birkbeck in 2009, where she worked with colleagues to establish the MA Museum Cultures. She has published widely on various aspects of museums, particularly on small independent museums, data collection in the museum sector, and the history of touch. 


    • In 2016 Fiona Candlin and Alex Poulovassilis Professor of Computer Science at Birkbeck were awarded £1,000,000 by the AHRC for the Mapping Museums research project. The team has since collected information on over 4,000 museums, and then built a database that allows that information to be browsed, searched, and visualised. The database is publicly accessible and free to use.

      Fiona and the Mapping Museums team have produced a report that identifies and analyses trends in the emergence, distribution, and closure of UK museums since 1960. 

    • The Mapping Museums research team have been awarded £190,000 COVID rapid response funding for their work on UK Museums during the Pandemic. Beginning in January 2021, the project will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to assess museum closure, risk and resilience during and after the crisis. There is more information on the project blog.  

    • You can listen to Fiona talking about her interview-based work with people who set up their own museums on the Radio 3 broadcast New Thinking About Museums. 

    • In 2018 the Bakelite Museum in Somerset closed its doors to the public. Fiona was invited to film its final days and she worked with the Derek Jarman lab to make The Plastic Phoenix, which can be viewed online.  


    • BA (Hons) Fine Art, Leeds University, 1991
    • MA Critical Theory, University of Sussex, 1993
    • PhD , Keele University, 1998

    Administrative responsibilities

    • MA Museum Cultures programme leader

    Visiting posts

    • Visiting Professor, KonstLab, Gothenburg University, 10-2005 to 09-2007

    Professional memberships

    • Board Member of the Birkbeck Centre for Museum Cultures

    • Board Member of Raphael Samuel History Centre


  • Research


    Research overview

    Fiona Candlin has written extensively on histories and theories of museums. Her work has consistently examined and challenged received conceptions of museums, of what they do, how they are used, who founds and runs them, and of how they are studied.

    Candlin was the director of two large-scale AHRC-funded research projects, both involving a multi-disciplinary team of computer and data scientists, historians, and museologists. Mapping Museums documented and analysed the development of the UK museum sector from 1960 until 2020, producing the only longitudinal database of UK museums since 1960, the first comprehensive analysis of how the sector had developed and changed, and the book Stories From Small Museums. Here, Candlin explained how and why community and special interest groups established their own museums and in so doing changed the profile of the UK museum sector.

    UK Museums in the Pandemic started where the Mapping Museums research finished. The project developed and used innovative web-scraping technologies to document and assess museum opening, closure, and activity during the pandemic.

    Mapping Museums developed out of Candlin’s previous Leverhulme-funded study of small independent museums. Arguing that the study of micromuseums could change dominant ideas about what museums are and do, her book Micromuseology analysed museums including the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle, the Bakelite Museum in Somerset, and the Lurgan history Museum in Northern Ireland. Before that, Fiona wrote histories of touch in museums, and was particularly interested in how audiences touch exhibits without permission.

    Her new work considers experimental museums and notions of museum permanence. 

    Research projects

    UK Museums during the COVID-19 crisis: Assessing risk, closure, and resilience.

    Mapping Museums: The history and geography of the UK independent sector 1960-2020.


    Art, Museums, and Touch

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    I am happy to consider enquiries from potential doctoral students on topics relating to

    • micromuseums
    • independent museums 
    • local authority museums
    • museum environments
    • museum closure
    • theories of objects

    Doctoral alumni



    Fiona teaches on the MA Museum Cultures and BA History of Art

    Teaching modules

    • Museum Cultures Work Placement (ARVC054S7)
    • MA Museum Cultures Dissertation (ARVC056D7)
    • Museum Cultures - Approaches, Issues, Skills (ARVC059S7)
    • Micromuseums (ARVC276S7)
    • Museum Experiments (ARVC293S7)
  • Publications




    Book Section

    Conference Item


  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • museum closure
    • small museums
    • long-term change in the museum sector
    • museum founders and volunteers


      Working with organisations with responsibility for museums in the UK (ongoing)

      Multiple presentations on the methods and findings of the Mapping Museums project to Arts Council England (ACE), the Museum Development Network (MDN), the Department of Digital Media and Culture (DCMS), and the Museums organisations group (which includes senior representatives from ACE, MDN, DCMS, the Museums Association, the Association of Independent Museums, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Museum Directors Board and others).


      BBC Radio 3: New Thinking on Museums  October 2020

      The Plastic Phoenix, a film about the closure of the Bakelite Museum made with the Derek Jarman Institute

      The Micromuseums Archive Bishopsgate Institute, London (ongoing)
      The Micromuseums Archive, opened at Bishopsgate Institute in March 2015 and houses materials relating to small independent museums in the UK. At present, the archive contains interviews with museum founders and the leaflets, booklets, and postcards that were collected by Dr Fiona Candlin in the course of her research. Candlin and the archive are actively developing these holdings.

      There are approximately 1300 small, independent museums (micromuseums) in the UK. They cover subjects as diverse as lawnmowers, lead mining, and Witchcraft and, in so doing, make an important contribution to our cultural life and history. The Micromuseums Archive aims at documenting these venues and at enabling future study in the area. 

      Public presentations and lectures

      The UK independent museums boom. Invited lecture at the Association of Independent Museums annual conference June 2019.

      Mapping Museums. Invited lecture at the Association of Independent Museums annual conference June 2017.

      Mapping Museums. Museums Showoff, London January 2017

      Micromuseums as Radical Heritage. Radical Heritage Symposia, Raphael Samuel History Centre, Wellcome Institute, 2015.


      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Arts Council England: Invited member of Steering Committee on Data Collection