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Durham e-Theses
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A visual and visitor-based analysis of the presentation of prehistory in museum displays across England

MCDOWALL, FELICITY,AMELIA (2020) A visual and visitor-based analysis of the presentation of prehistory in museum displays across England. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



Prehistory museum displays represent a vital medium through which the complex narratives of early human history are communicated to the public. These narratives, however, have not previously been analysed. The thesis addresses this historical imbalance by providing an evaluation of contemporary prehistory displays in England. The evaluation operates at both a macro and micro-scale to facilitate the interpretation of broad trends influencing the presentation of prehistory, as well as capturing 'fine-grain’ detail about how these displays influence visitor preconceptions and engagements. The combination of a visual and visitor-based analysis adopted by the thesis reveals visitor familiarity and understandings of prehistory prior to viewing displays, trends influencing the representation of prehistory within displays and visitor engagements with these different styles of prehistory display.

To facilitate the visual analysis of prehistory displays and enhance the objectivity of the analysis, 13 variables of display were recorded for 173 museums from Alnwick to Penzance. The expression of these variables analysed within the thesis reveals representational trends influencing the display of prehistory in a diversity of museums. To support the macro-scale visual analysis, tracking surveys and questionnaires were undertaken with 718 visitors across 6 case study museums: The British Museum, The Stonehenge Visitor Centre, North Lincolnshire Museum, Torquay Museum and the Great North Museum at the micro-scale. The visitor-based evaluation of prehistory displays produced qualitative and quantitative data reinforcing the visual analysis revealing how traditional approaches to presenting prehistory still govern displays today. The thesis will emphasise how these displays have resulted in representational disparities that hinder the relatability of our distant past. Moreover, the thesis will illustrate the lack of a recognisable ‘brand’ associated with prehistory in the public consciousness and will conclude by providing empirically-based solutions to these issues and recommendations for creating representative, enjoyable and engaging prehistory displays.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Prehistory, Engagement, Museums, Representation, Visual Analysis, Evaluation, Tracking surveys, Questionnaires
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2020
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:24 Nov 2020 15:57

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