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Name: Peter Lester

PhD: Museum Studies

Thesis Title: Reshaping the Archive: Exhibition as a mechanism for change


Thesis Description: The research examines the recent phenomenon of 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.

Ethesis at the University of Leicester's Research Archive:


Supervisors and Institution(s):

  • Professor Suzanne MacLeod, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
  • Professor Emerita Elizabeth Edwards, formerly Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University




Conference Papers and Presentations:

  • 'Archival Space: Towards User-Centred Design', International Council on Archives/Australian Society of Archivists conference: Designing the Archive, Adelaide, 21 - 25 October 2019
  • 'Towards a Material Understanding of the Archive', Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI) conference, 8 - 12 July 2019
  • 'Materiality and Meaning: Engagement with medieval objects', Institute for Medieval Studies, International Medieval Congress, Leeds (session co-organiser and chair), 1 - 4 July 2019
  • 'The Phenomenological Archive', Objective Networks: Materiality in the Archives, University of Manchester, 13 February 2019
  • 'Exploring Archive Exhibitions', Archives and Records Association East Midlands regional meeting, Nottingham, 29 October 2018
  • 'Exploring Archive Exhibitions', Leicester City Council Adult Skills and Learning Service, 5 October 2018
  • 'The Archive as Venue: Rethinking the Visitor Experience through Exhibition', Archives and Records Association conference: People Make Records, Glasgow, 29 - 31 September 2018
  • 'Archive Exhibitions', teaching session for MARM Students, Centre for Archive Studies (LUCAS), University of Liverpool, 10 May 2018
  • 'Exploring Archive Exhibitions', Archives and Society Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 8 May 2018
  • 'Opening the Case: Reframing Visitor Engagement with Archive Exhibition', Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI) conference: Windows, Frames, Landscapes, Toronto, 10 - 14 July 2017
  • 'Logic of the Archive: a CDF initiative' (with Natasha Barrett), M3C Research Festival, Leicester, 25 May 2017
  • 'Alternative Approaches to Archives', Logic of the Archive, M3C day workshop, 27 April 2017
  • 'An Introduction to Archives and Archive Exhibitions', Think Tank (elective workshop) for MA Students, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, 9 November 2016
  • 'The Archival Exhibition: a contextual argument for research', School of Museum Studies Research Week, University of Leicester, 22 June 2016
  • 'Marks on Surfaces: different approaches to documents', five-minute research relay presentation and digital story, M3C Research Festival, Nottingham, 17 May 2016
  • 'Bringing Collections to the Visitor: archives as works of art in the design of new archive repositories', Future of Museum and Gallery Design conference, Hong Kong, 13 - 15 November 2015 
  • 'Research Project and Design', pechakucha presentation, North-West European Educator's Network (NAET) PhD workshop on Research Design, Archivschule Marburg, 3 - 5 August 2015
  • 'Learning to Read: Archives and Palaeography', The Archivist as a Teacher, Archives and Records Association (ARA) Archives for Learning and Education Section annual conference, 2014
  • 'Creating an Online Exhibition: Exploring the Electronic Environment and the Opportunities presented by the Internet', An Introduction to Display, Archives and Records Association (ARA) East Midlands Region training event, 2006


Student Development Fund (SDF) funded activities:

  • Research trip to the National Archives of the Netherlands, the National Library and Amsterdam City Archive, October 2017
    This research trip comprised interviews with the archivists, librarians and designers at the National Archives of the Netherlands, the National Library and Amsterdam City Archives.  These contrasting institutions provide different but innovative approaches to the exhibition and interpretation of archives. 
  • Conference paper presentation and attendance at the Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI), Toronto, and research trip to Ottawa, Toronto and Washington DC, July 2017
    The conference examined current research trends in archives.  I presented an academic paper which discussed one of my research case studies and theorised findings resulting from this.  The research element of the trip enabled visits to and interviews with archivists and designers at Libraries and Archives Canada, the US National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library, as well as additional archives and museums.  This trip was part-funded by the RTSG (Research Training and Support Grant) fund.
  • Two research trips to the Royal Library, Copenhagen, April 2017 and September 2017
    These trips provided an opportunity to interview designers and research the design process involved in the installation of exhibitions at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and to analyse the exhibitions once they had opened in summer 2017.  The Royal Library explores innovative ways of creating a personal encounter between the visitor and the document; these diverse exhibitions encompass performative artistic collaborations as well as discussing issues around difficult histories and subject matters.
  • Research trip to the National Archives of Luxembourg, January 2017
    This research trip comprised interviews with the archivist and exhibition designer at the National Archives of Luxembourg, and exhibition analysis.  The exhibitions utilise innovative forms of user-created content as well as focusing on concepts of identity, and provide unusual methods of engaging interesting discussions around archives.  This trip also enabled a visit to the city archive in Trier, Germany; and to a number of local museums in Luxembourg.
  • Attendance at the Museum Design: International Forum on Designing for Visitor Engagement in Museums, Taipei, October 2016
    This event comprised a day-conference at the National History Museum and a workshop at the National Taipei University of Education, both focusing on the museum visitor experience with a specific emphasis on a design perspective.  The trip also enabled associated activities as part of the Design Forum organised in partnership with UKTI, and visits to a number of museums in Taipei and Tainan.
  • Conference paper presentation and attendance at the Future of Museum and Gallery Design conference, Hong Kong, November 2015
    This conference explored innovative and dynamic forms of design within museums and galleries.  I presented an academic paper on artist-generated design initiatives in archives.  The trip also enabled visits to key archives and museums in Hong Kong.


Cohort Development Fund (CDF) funded activities:


Other activities:

  • Copy Editor, Museum and Society, 2019 - present
    Museum and Society is an independent peer-reviewed journal produced by the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester; it brings together new writing by academics and museum professionals on the subject of museums
  • Editor-in-Chief, Museological Review, 2016 - 2017
    Museological Review is an online peer-reviewed journal published annually by the community of PhD students at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
  • Judge, Leicestershire and Rutland Heritage Awards 2016
  • Co-curator, Exhibition of Research, Museums in the Global Contemporary conference, 20 - 22 April 2016
    I provided organisational support for the visual submissions element of the School of Museum Studies' 50th anniversary conference, including liaising with contributors and co-curating the exhibition of research


University email address:; 

Twitter: @Pablester

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