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Alison Hems – Bath Spa University

Personal statement 

I worked for a number of years in the museums and heritage sector. My career spanned local authority, national and independent organisations in a wide variety of roles, from managing collections to mentoring staff and trustees, overseeing capital projects to writing exhibition copy, preparing development plans and funding applications to liaising with government departments and briefing government minsters. I am particularly interested in the ways in which heritage policy is made and how it fits within broader cultural policy - and in how it is so often absent from it.

Between 2005 and 2008, I was responsible for the Renaissance in the Regions programme at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, managing substantial government investment in England's non-national museums. The programme sought to strengthen our museums as responsive, open and creative organisations, which placed their audiences and their communities at their heart.

Before joining MLA, I was Head of Interpretation at English Heritage for nearly ten years, leading the development of new approaches to access and learning at over four hundred historic properties, from the great iconic sites such as Stonehenge and Whitby Abbey to smaller and often locally-managed archaeological sites and buildings. During my time there, we strengthened our focus on audience research and consultation and began to engage directly with local communities through a number of outreach projects. We began to think more carefully about the relationship between designated sites and the wider environment in which they sat, and to place the former more clearly in the context of the latter.

My expertise in heritage interpretation has taken me to Europe and the USA where, over three summers, I advised the National Botanic Gardens of America on the management and development of a major cultural site on the island of Maui in Hawaii. This was a wonderful experience, and taught me a great deal about the nature of true community engagement in the designation and preservation of heritage sites. In a similar way, a short contract at York Minster in 2009-10 provided a different basis for understanding the role of great buildings as evidence of the past and as a focal point for their communities in the present.

Since joining the Department, I have introduced a new taught MA in Heritage Management. The MA takes a deliberately wide view of heritage, and considers both the physical remains of our past - buildings, landscapes, city streets, archives, artefacts and archaeological sites - and the intangible associations of tradition, language and memory - our sense of place, of identity and of belonging. These all continue to shape the ways in which we live our lives, while changing policy at local, national and international level creates new challenges and opportunities for the sector. With the introduction of the MA, Bath Spa can now offer its students a comprehensive grounding in the theory and practice of heritage management at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, in a city and region where heritage has such profound economic - and thus political - importance. My extensive network of professional colleagues, particularly at national level, provides a strong foundation for future partnerships, focused teaching, and my own research.

I also supervise a growing group of PhD students, and would be really interested in hearing from potential researchers with an interest in heritage and cultural policy, public engagement, and managing heritage in the contemporary world.

Academic qualifications

  • BA University of Liverpool
  • PhD University of Liverpool
  • PGCE King's College, London.

Professional qualifications

  • Associate of the Museums Association
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Current scholarships

  • 'Looking out into England': a heritage perspective: Conference paper, Other Voices, Other Times, Bath Spa University, 2012
  • 'Beyond interpretation: the space between the words': Conference paper, Artists in the Archive, The National Archives and Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 2013
  • 'Culture with heritage left out: changing perspectives in UK policy', Nottingham Trent University, 2014
  • ‘Art and history: commemorating the First World War’, The Young Gallery, Salisbury, 2014
  • ‘Museums, heritage, place’, Intercultural Connections, New York, 2014
  • 'Rethinking what matters: interpreting the English country house', Encounter: European Network for Country House Research', Gammel Estrup, Denmark, 2015
  • 'Museum Insight: building sustainable museums', Museums Association Annual Conference, Birmingham, 2015
  • Joe Collins, Peter Collins and Alison Hems, 'Understanding commercial performance in museums: research and development report', Nesta, 2015.

Other external roles

  • Member of the UK World Heritage Tentative List: Technical Evaluation Panel, advising on nominations for World Heritage Site status
  • Academic adviser, Professional Practice in Heritage and Museum Studies, Suffolk University Campus (under the auspices of the University of Essex).

Areas of expertise

  • Senior Lecturer in Heritage and Public History
  • Course Director, MA Heritage Management, at the University's Graduate School, Corsham Court, Corsham, Wiltshire.

Research and academic outputs

Go to ResearchSPAce

Heritage interpretation: theory and practice

Hems, A and Blockley, M (2006) Heritage interpretation: theory and practice. Routledge, Abingdon. ISBN 9780415237963

Heritage interpretation

Hems, A (2018) 'Heritage interpretation.' In: López Varela, S.L, ed. The encyclopedia of archaeological sciences. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9780470674611

Keynote address

Hems, A (2017) Keynote address. In: Animating the Archives Conference, Salisbury International Arts Festival, 9 June 2017, Salisbury Museum, Salisbury, UK.

Critical heritage studies, cultural heritage and the current political context in the UK: supporting critical practice?

Hems, A (2016) Critical heritage studies, cultural heritage and the current political context in the UK: supporting critical practice? In: Association of Critical Heritage Studies: UK Chapter Symposium, 11 July 2016, University of Exeter, Penryn, UK.

Beyond interpretation: the space between the words

Hems, A (2013) Beyond interpretation: the space between the words. In: Artists in the Archive, 30 September 2013, The National Archives and Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham, UK.

'Looking out into England': a heritage perspective

Hems, A (2012) 'Looking out into England': a heritage perspective. In: Other Voices, Other Times, 29 June 2012, Bath Spa University, Bath, UK.

Understanding commercial performance in museums: research and development report

Collins, J, Collins, P and Hems, A (2015) Understanding commercial performance in museums: research and development report.

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