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The heritage and museum studies subject at Ulster University has been established since 2001 and has maintained a vibrant research culture ever since.

Current research focuses around the theme Engaging the Past, which considers issues of memory, interpretation, representation, identity and political context of notions of heritage.

Recent updates

The Ulster Heritage Research cluster @Association Critical Heritage Studies, London 2020

August 2020, Doctoral Researcher Adriana Valderrama and Prof Elizabeth Crooke lead a panel at the Association Critical Heritage Studies international conference, hosted by University College London in August 2020.

The panel Constructing futures from contested pasts offered a deep exploration of memory, remembering and heritage purposes, alongside the far-ranging purposes of museums and heritage in the conflicted heritages context.

With speakers reflecting on the experiences of the partition of India, Turkey, Columba, Spain and Northern Ireland, the panel looked at the authority of heritage and museum spaces; the museum as a place where the past is negotiated and remade; and the impact of display and interpretation on how we engage with the past.

New Doctoral Researcher

Ms Catherine McCullough joined the research cluster in September 2020 as Doctoral candidate on the The EU and the museum: an investigation of cross-border museum activity in Ireland’ (Northern Bridge), a collaborative research project with the Irish Museums Association. Catherine is former Director of the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies (2018-2020).

She has previously held senior positions with National Museums Northern Ireland as Head of Learning and Partnership (2011-2018) and Armagh County Museum as Curator/Director (1992-2006). McCullough is an assessor for the Heritage Council of Ireland’s Museum Standards Programme and has authored numerous publications on cultural heritage in Ireland.

In announcing the award recipient, Professor Elizabeth Crooke, who is supervising the research at Ulster University, said:
“Catherine brings a wealth of experience in the museum sector and is ideally positioned to undertake this project. We are delighted to count on someone of her calibre to – through her research - advance our understanding of the social and political dimensions of cultural policy and museum practice in a cross-border context and stimulate new thinking about museum purposes.”
See announcement on the Irish Museums Association website

'Taking Pride in the Past': LGBTQ+ Engagement at Museums and Heritage Sites

In February 2020 Ulster University, in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces hosted a sold-out symposium at Hillsborough Castle & Gardens. ‘Taking Pride in the Past: LGBTQ+ Engagement at Museums & Heritage Sites’ was a day of talks, tours and workshops exploring the ways in which museums and heritage sites can better engage with LGBTQ+ identity and communities. Using their collections, stories and spaces to reinterpret current practice, we heard from LGBTQ+ community activists, museum practitioners and academic researchers who have already started on this journey.

The keynote was delivered by Richard Sandell, Professor of Museum Studies at University of Leicester, who has worked on UK-wide LGBTQ+ heritage projects like the National Trust’s Prejudice & Pride public programme. His paper, ‘Unconditionally Queer’ utilised powerful examples of international museum activism to galvanise those in attendance to pursue a practice that can truly effect change in the societies we serve.

The panel sessions explored the reinterpretation of objects within museum and heritage collections using a queer lens with speakers from National Museum of Ireland, National Gallery of Ireland, Historic Royal Palaces, National Museums Northern Ireland and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This was followed by presentations from LGBTQ+ community groups who have partnered with museums in the past and have been actively involved in the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland. These included TransgenderNI, the only dedicated Trans resource centre in the UK; Cara-Friend, a LGBTQ+ community group that has been supporting queer people in Northern Ireland since the 1970s and Outburst, an annual queer arts festival dedicated to LGBTQ+ activism.  
Following the presentations, a workshop led by Doctoral Researcher Kris Reid, exploring the concept of ‘queering the object’, used some of Hillsborough Castle’s handling collection to encourage participants to reinterpret their meaning. Finally, we finished the day with a LGBTQ+ tour that utilises over 300 years of history to explore the royal, political and social stories of Hillsborough Castle.

The symposium highlighted the need for museum engagement with not only LGBTQ+ communities, but global human rights and social issues. As one speaker said on the day “history should be a stimulus for creativity and change.”

Research collaboration with the Irish Museums Association

November 2019

The Irish Museums Association (IMA) is collaborating with the Ulster University Research Cluster in a Collaborative Doctoral Research project titled ‘The EU and the museum: an investigation of cross-border museum activity in Ireland’.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), via Northern Bridge, this project will provide new insights into how EU cultural and peace building strategies have impacted museum practice in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Taking a multi-faceted approach, it will examine the processes, rationale, character and working practices of EU funded cross border museum-based projects and make recommendations on how museums can continue to deepen and sustain cross-border creativity.

Welcome to new Doctoral Researcher Adriana Valderrama

September 2019

We are delighted that Adriana Valderrama has joined the heritage research community at Ulster. Adriana is former director of the Museo Casa del la Memoria, a museum in Medellin Colombia dedicated to victims of armed conflict. She holds a Master degree in Peace and Conflict studies from Ulster University. Joining September 2019, her doctoral research focuses on conflict curatorial practice when working with a contested past. Her supervisors are Prof Elizabeth Crooke (School Arts and Humanities) and Dr Philip McDermott (School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences).

Border Heritage Conference, The Irish Humanities Alliance (IHA), in collaboration with Ulster University 24-25 October 2019

October 2019

What do we mean when we talk about borders? In the context of Brexit and the approaching centenary of partition, the political border on the island comes to mind, but the term is ultimately expansive and allows us to consider multiple aspects of how we live and interact with our neighbours and our landscape.

This Border Heritage Conference offered opportunities to build links for collaboration between researchers, and organisations working in this area and allowed for an expansive discussion on the theme of border heritages from a multi-disciplinary perspective. The conference theme allowed for a wide-ranging exploration of how we can understand division and integration through the prism of heritage.

Report on the potential impact of Brexit on the museum sector

February 2018

With the Irish Museums Association, the Ulster Heritage Research Cluster has published a report on the potential impact of Brexit on museums.

Brexit and the Museum Sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: The potential impact and recommendations for the future (Elizabeth Crooke and Gina O’Kelly 2018).

This report was the outcome of the Bridge over Brexit Workshop, held October 2017, and funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht under the Cooperation with Northern Ireland Scheme.

Latest publications from Heritage researchers


  • Crooke, E. 2020. Communities, Change and the Covid-19 Crisis. Museum and Society 18(3) 305-310. Open access.
  • McDowell, S. & Crooke, E. 2019. Creating liminal spaces of collective possibility in divided societies: building and burning the Temple., 1 Jul 2019, In : Cultural Geographies. 26, 3, p. 323-339 17
  • Crooke, E. 2019. Memory Politics and Material Culture: display in the memorial museum Crooke, E., 1 Dec 2019, In : Memory Studies. 12, 6, p. 617-629

Edited collection

  • Crooke, E. and Maguire, T. eds., 2018. Heritage After Conflict: Northern Ireland. Routledge.