The Period Room: Museum, Material, Experience

18, 19 & 20 September 2014 

Since the late 19th century the Period Room has been a consistent presence in the public museum, and yet over the past 25 years the Period Room has become a contentious museum object, leading many museums to question the legitimacy of the Period Room as an effective and appropriate method of display and interpretation. 

As dislocated fragments, often remodeled to fit the spaces in the Museum, the Period Room is, for some: a signifier for the inauthentic, an outmoded method of display and an example of unfashionable museum interpretation. Many museums retain their Period Room displays, but the recent changes in the perspectives on Period Rooms have also led a number of museums in the UK, Europe and the USA to reconsider their continued relevance as museum objects. This may include dismantling or de-accessioning the displays, and in some cases, repatriating the Period Rooms to their places of origin (if they still exist). 

This conference, jointly organised by the University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum, and supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, considered the Period Room, and the historic interior, from a wide variety of perspectives in order to address some key questions about the history and practice of Period Room displays in Museums.

The conference had an interdisciplinary framework incorporating theoretical and practice-based perspectives. It brought together leading academics and museum professionals from a wide range of institutions in the UK, Europe and the USA, to discuss, debate and share perspectives on history and interpretation of Period Rooms and historic interiors in museums. 

For conference delegates there was also a chance for wider participation in the debates through the mid-conference ‘Sandpit’. The conference had wide appeal and hope that it will have a significant impact on future museum practice and museum theory.

Conference highlights included:

Keynote talks from Thomas Michie, (Senior Curator, Decorative Art and Sculpture at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Giles Waterfield, (Former Director, Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Closing conference address was from Professor Helen Rees Leahy (Professor of Museology at the University of Manchester).

Conference speakers included museum professionals from:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Art; New Orleans Museum of Art; National Museums, Scotland; Historic Royal Palaces; The Science Museum, London; The Jewish Museum, Vienna, and the Universalmuseum Joannneum, Graz.

Together with academics from:

University of Cambridge; University of Ghent; KTH Royal Institute, Stockholm; De Montfort University; University of
Durham; Open University; University of Potsdam; University of Southampton.