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Collecting and Curating Popular Music Histories

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Who: Academics at the University of Liverpool, working on an AHRC funded project in partnership with the UK museum sector.

What: To facilitate knowledge exchange between scholars, museum staff, librarians, collectors and the wider public.

Why: To develop effective strategies for collecting, preserving, representing, and interpreting popular music.

Where: University of Liverpool

When: Ongoing

Project description

The project connects academic research in popular music studies and museology with museum practice around the country, facilitating knowledge exchange between scholars, museum staff, librarians, collectors and the wider public. Researchers from the Institute of Popular Music at University of Liverpool are undertaking a comprehensive survey of the collection and use of popular music and its material culture in UK museums. Research findings will be published through both academic and sector-specific channels, and new collaborations will be established through which to share expertise.

Working in partnership with National Museums Liverpool, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the British Music Experience, and seeking opinions from a diverse range of museum workers across the UK, this is the first major impact study on the use and display of popular music within UK museums.

3.	Gallery display within the British Music Experience

Museums currently engage with popular music in a variety of ways: from collections work and conservation, curation and interpretation, to education and community outreach. The research involves working closely alongside representatives working in all of these areas in order to document and develop the skills and practices of those working with music materials within the sector.


  • Facilitate improved dialogue between academics, the museum sector, archivists and other interested parties related to the use and display of popular music.
  • To establish what policies are in place for the collection of popular music heritage.
  • To establish how museums value, preserve, interpret and transmit histories of popular music.
  • To learn how museums work with the sonic, visual, material and performance practices of popular music to articulate ideas about popular music history.
  • To investigate how museums can enhance, engage and extend the public understanding of popular music heritage.
  • Share and publicise best practice in the field between museum professionals and the academic community.
  • Raise public awareness of issues surrounding the preservation, representation and interpretation of popular music histories through events and a range of other dissemination strategies.

“There’s an old Welsh hymn: Pwy Fydd Yma Mhen Can Mlynedd? (Who will be here in a hundred years?) Music has always been an important part of Welsh society, with concerts, local bands and local performers, but it’s a culture under threat. That was a big spur: to collect before everything disappears.”Gari Melville, The Welsh Rock and Pop Archive

“We use costume a lot in this gallery and I’m quite pleased about that because I always think that it’s an unusual way into the subject. Music isn’t just a musical instrument, writers aren’t just scripts and sport isn’t just medals.” Paul Gallagher, Curator of Contemporary Collecting at National Museums Liverpool

Results and outcomes

What worked well1.	Installation of National Museums Liverpool&#039;s popular music exhibition &#039;The Beat Goes On&#039;

  • Dr Marion Leonard worked on a two year secondment to National Museums Liverpool, leading the curatorial team for their major exhibition The Beat Goes On. This highly successful collaboration led to the development of the research project.
  • Academics on the project are currently offering advice on several new museum initiatives concerning popular music, connecting academic discourse with public outcomes in exhibitions and displays.
  • Discussions around the research project have the potential to influence the shape of internal museum policies regarding the collection and use of music.
  • The project enables researchers to act as effective, vocal advocates for the different ways in which museums can engage with popular music, connecting practitioners and raising awareness of issues.
  • A public engagement event hosted by National Museums Liverpool in 2011 will seek to widen participation in the project and the results will feedback into the research.
  • Working with the British Library an event designed to appeal to museum professionals, librarians, archivists and collectors is being planned for 2011 to engage different potential audiences for the research.
  • The project will result in bringing together a professional network which will enable the sharing of knowledge and resources, informing future collecting and outreach activities and exhibition planning.

What didn't work well

  • It is important to plan well ahead in order to deal with busy schedules and commitments of those working in the museum sector.
  • The huge diversity and range of potential research partners and sites can be a challenge. Maintaining the focus of the project is paramount.

Resources Required   

  • We are very grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for funding the project as part of their Beyond Text strategic initiative.
  • Relationships with research partners are crucial - the project relies on learning from the experience and expertise of museum professionals.

Top Tips

  1. Think broadly about partners
  2. The range of the museums in the UK is huge; the project is discovering that popular music features in many unlikely places. Visiting and speaking with people from all of these sites has already greatly added to the value of the research.
  3. Tap into existing networks
  4. Working with organisations such as the University Museums Group, the Social History Curators Group and the Museum Association has raised awareness of the research and resulted in a positive response.
  5. Get involved
  6. One effective method of dissemination and engagement is to participate in museum public programmes. Being open to these opportunities is adding extra reach to the project.
  7. Plan ahead
  8. When planning any partnership with an institution in the sector, remember that museum work and exhibition schedule are often developed months or years ahead. Effective time management is a must to integrate university and museum timetables.


Name: Dr Marion Leonard & Dr Robert Knifton

Name of organisation: University of Liverpool

Email: &

Telephone: 0151 794 6972 & 0151 794 6972


1: Exhibition at the British Music Experience

2: Installation of National Museums Liverpool's popular music exhibition 'The Beat Goes On.' Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool