Research Projects

Museum and Art Gallery Publishing: from theory to case study

A book of this title will be published by Ashgate in 2016. Case studies are being identified and researched.

Books and catalogues help museums share with visitors the scholarship that supports exhibitions. These resources 'frame' the curator's ideas and themes presented in the show and contribute the information and messages that visitors use to understand the exhibition. Museum publishing has a long history but one that is poorly researched and largely unrecognised by museum studies. This research and publication project focusses on print and digital publications dissemninated to enhance visitors' understanding of collections which are not limited to those of museums and art galleries, but rather encompass botanical gardens, science institutes, libraries and organanisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage in the UK. 

The book is in preparation and the next two years will include research as well as writing. In June 2014, I am visiting the Smithsonian Institution, and museums in New York to identify case studies and conduct interviews with directors and other publishing staff.


This book presents the theory and practice of general and scholarly publishing associated with collections. Museums, art galleries, historic sites, libraries and temporary exhibitions publish physical books and electronic resources in various formats for their visitors and for a wider non-visiting audience. In the UK, all national museums and art galleries produce between 10 and 30 titles annually. These institutions with substantial annual visitor numbers are joined by university, city and regional museums and art galleries that support smaller, but significant, publishing programmes. Of the types of books produced, catalogues for temporary exhibitions are the most common, but guidebooks, catalogues raisonnée and of permanent collections and books on the collections themselves, such as the history of their formation or display make up an eclectic mix of books on all subjects published by collecting institutions. These printed materials represent their institutions locally, regionally and globally while also contributing to the complex media landscape navigated by museum audiences for entertainment and education.

The content examines the production and reception of these texts and consequently is relevant to museum and heritage studies. In the field of museum studies it extends theorists’ and practitioners’ understanding of this important but hitherto overlooked area of institutional representation and global circulation, curators’ and artists’ agency, funding and sponsorship within institutions, marketing, visitor studies, informal education and shopping. As an exploration of the position of printed commodities in institutions and their uses by staff and audiences, the topic also contributes to the current discussions on cultural relevance of books in social and personal practices.

The outline of the content listed below:

1. Introduction – why do museums publish?

2. Follow the money – museum publishing and income

3. Selling the book, selling the museum – books as representation for collections

4. Outlasting the show – book longevity and the exhibition

5. ‘Where is my book?’ – The role of books in the careers of curators and artists

6. Buyers and readers – books for museum and art gallery visitors

7. Audience development and visitor studies – the contribution of museum books

8. Scholarly publishing by collections

9. Conclusion


Dr S A Hughes, Principal Lecturer in Publishing,

Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies, 
Oxford Brookes University, 
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Posted on 28 Apr 2014

Filed Under Publishing

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Print, Publishing and Cultural Production in South Africa 1948-2012

A British Academy research project funded under the International Partnership and Mobility Scheme 2012-13

This is a research partnership between the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and the Publishing Studies programme at the University of Pretoria. The research examines the production, dissemination and reception of the book in South Africa. Drawing on the disciplines of book history and publishing studies, it aims to interrogate the institutions and processes informing textual production and consumption, and to address the role of print culture in constituting national identities during the apartheid and post-apartheid periods. The lead applicant is Dr Caroline Davis (Oxford Brookes University) and the co-applicant is Professor Archie Dick (University of Pretoria), and the project partners are Dr Sally Hughes (Oxford Brookes) and Dr Beth Le Roux (Pretoria).

A programme of activities has supported this partnership, and these events have successfully brought together book historians and researchers in publishing studies, literary scholars, early-career scholars and PhD students, starting with joint participation in ‘The Book in Africa’ International Symposium, on 20 October 2012, at the Institute for English Studies, Senate House, University of London. Plans are in progress for an edited collection based on the papers presented at this day-symposium.

A second event was the workshop 'Progressing Book History and Publishing Studies as Disciplines' at Oxford Brookes University in October 2012, which provided a forum for discussion leading to ways to strengthen the study of publishing.

A third conference entitled 'Print, Publishing and Cultural Production' took place in the University of Pretoria in May 2013. There are plans to publish articles based on papers presented at this day conference.

Together these events have aimed to strengthen these emerging disciplines and provide a basis from which to extend research collaboration to other regions of Africa. For further information about any of these events,  contact Caroline Davis (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) or Dr Sally Hughes (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)).

Posted on 15 Aug 2012

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Quality in Academic and Educational Publishing: A Terminal Decline?

A quality audit of academic and educational publishing

Many experienced people in the academic and educational publishing sectors claim that there have been progressive erosions of important aspects of quality in the industry. These may affect, among other things, the value of the product, the credibility of publishers and ultimately the future of the industry itself.

Most of these concerns are associated with the effects of rapid change on functions such as editorial, production and design. More general fears include the loss of experienced staff, de-skilling, the perceived dominance of cost and throughput over all else, the effects of large-scale outsourcing, and claims that ‘real’ quality has been replaced by lip service to quality.

The quality issue is particularly acute for academic and educational publishers because their very existence depends on the understanding and careful management of quality. All quality costs time and money, but it is at the heart of what these publishers offer and cannot simply be discarded as a soft cost.

There are pressing realities crowding in on academic and education publishing, including the need for ever tighter cost controls to keep these types of publishing viable, and the dramatic rise of alternative means of dissemination, both formal and informal. Factors such as wholesale outsourcing and the demand for high throughputs and rapid processing all add to the pressure.

Posted on 26 Nov 2008

Filed Under Publishing

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