The Tangible Archive Symposium

The Tangible Archive Symposium showcased how archives and collections can inspire new ways of understanding the past, by exploring the diversity of ways they can be used in academic study and creative practice. We had access to our Special Collections, a rich and eclectic resource for study, including documents and objects. The symposium looked at tangibility as a lens that offers new perspectives on material in the archive and encourages connections and curiosity through the senses.

Demonstrating that there are multiple routes to the past, the speakers in the Symposium covered a broad range of practices and methodologies. They showed that the archive can be both a personal and a collaborative starting point for creativity, experimentation and discovery. Each speaker demonstrated that studying archives and collections through tangible objects brings new reflections and contemporary relevance to historical material.

The Symposium was recorded for future dissemination as a podcast, and there will be a further call for papers, for a special journal edition.

Symposium conveners:

Head of Special Collections
Peter Fisher
Corporate Records (Historic) and Outreach Manager
Special Collections
Senior lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies for postgraduate design degrees within the School of Art, Architecture and Design
Senior lecturer on BA Textiles and Critical and Contextual Studies within the School of Art, Architecture and Design
a reading room with some archival files opened

Details: Thursday, 7 December at 10am in the Wash Houses, Aldgate campus


The Tangible Archive Symposium












Start and coffee

Welcome from symposium organisers

Keynote Presentation 

Sue Breakell (and Wendy Russell) - Archival materiality as connective tissue 

Rethinking Objects in the Archive 

David Dewing - Not just chairs, but vessels of history: searching the Frederick Parker Collection and Archive 

Keren Protheroe - Contemporary relevance of 19th century manufacturer’s log books. Morris & Co paint collection, 2021 

Tea and Coffee Break 

Rethinking Archival Practices  

Gavin Maitland - Im(Materiality) in the Archive: Things We Lost in the Fire 

Ian Hicks - A Study into the Emotional Response to Handling Original Manuscripts 

Ekua McMorris - Archives as inspiration: An Artist’s Delight in Encountering New Material

Lunch and Tours of Special Collections 

Bringing Practice to the Archive 

Sophie Nield - The Archive Workshop: generating creative responses to tangible pasts 

Donna Claypool - ARChive Stories - The Archive as Pattern, People and Place

Emily Evans - The Tangible Archive as an illustration & animation tool 

Tea and Coffee Break  

Archives and Audiences

Ania Dabrowska - Agitated Archives: Site-Specificity and the Co-Symbiotic Relationship of Archives and Contemporary Curatorial / Art Practices

Philip Milnes-Smith - O Brave New World: Decolonising, queering and beyond in archival practice at Shakespeare’s Globe 

Closing remarks  

Speaker Biographies

Sue Breakell

Sue Breakell is Archive Director and Principal Research Fellow at the University of Brighton Design Archives, UK; she co-leads the ‘Museums, Archives, Exhibitions’ strand of the University’s Centre for Design History. She formerly worked as a visual arts archivist in UK national museums, most recently as head of Tate Archive, London. Her research bridges critical archive studies, twentieth century art and design history, and material culture. She is co-editor, with Wendy Russell (BFI), of The Materiality of the Archive: Creative Practice in Context (Routledge, October 2023). 


David Dewing

My career began as a furniture designer, but I switched into museums, first at the Museum of London and then at the Geffrye Museum, now the Museum of the Home, where I was Director for 25 years. I researched and published on the history of caned chairs of the late 17th and early 18th centuries and have a strong interest in British regional furniture. Recently I co-wrote and edited a new online catalogue of the Frederick Parker chair collection.

1973 BA 3-Dimensional Design, Ravensbourne College

1982 Museums Diploma, University of Leicester

1989 MA London Studies, Birkbeck College

2017 Awarded OBE for services to museums.


Dr Keren Protheroe

Dr Keren Protheroe is the Archivist at Liberty the London retailer. She is a design historian with more than 20 years’ experience caring for and researching pattern design archives. Her research interests include the literacy of making and the historical role of designers and craftworkers in the British textile and wallpaper industries.


Gavin Maitland

Gavin Maitland is an archivist and artist.


Ian Hicks

I am an Archivist and Records Manager with thirty years of experience in the heritage sector. I’m the Archives and Local Studies Collections Manager at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

My main field of interest is how users physically interact with original archives as cultural artifact. These artifacts have their own unique stories, which are interpreted differently by individual users. I’m particularly interested in discovering the emotions/connections felt when touching archival material and how the user describes these epiphanic moments of numinosity by creating a mnemonic narrative to help them make sense of the emotion. 


Dr Ekua McMorris

Dr Ekua McMorris is a tutor at the Royal College of Art in London. Her research and visual practice explore the politics of race, memory, narratives, and belonging against the backdrop of British colonialism.


Dr Sophie Nield

Dr Sophie Nield teaches theatre and film history in the Drama Department at Royal Holloway. She has research specialisms in nineteenth and early twentieth-century popular performance histories, and has recently published on the impact of theatre technology on the modernist visual imagination. Between 2003 and 2006, she was PI on an AHRC-funded archive resource enhancement project with the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection. More recently, she has led training and teaching initiatives in collaboration with the RHUL College Archives, and Senate House Archive service, as well as presenting on archive work at the PGR TeCHNE Congress.


Donna Claypool

Donna Claypool is a PhD candidate, Programme Leader at the University of Bolton and Chair of the North-West Craft Network. Donna has presented practice-based and collaborative archival research at conferences within the UK and USA.

Programme responsibilities include coordinating the undergraduate textile programme, teaching printed textile design and professional practice, organising international study visits to archives, trade fairs and factories in the UK, Europe and USA.

Current PhD research focusses on Examining Heritage, Textile Design Knowledge and Practice through the Museum Archive: Creative Interpretation of the Joseph Johnson Collection and is due for completion summer 2024.


Emily Evans

I am the Course Leader on the BA Illustration & Animation at London Metropolitan University

I am in the early stages of developing a research practice at LMU.

My own research is practice-based and looks at the development of portable processes of collage and mixed media making whilst remote.

My written research is currently ongoing and looks at college as a methodology and way of thinking.


Ania Dabrowska

Ania Dabrowska, award-winning artist, curator, Senior Lecturer in Photography and Critical & Contextual Studies, London Metropolitan University since 2013, with an interest in the use of archives and myth, with a particular focus on margins, identity and how the use of site-specificity, contemporary platforms of dissemination and cross-disciplinary frameworks impacts on narrative shapeshifting and cultural empowerment.

Exhibited and published internationally since 2001. Selected publications, exhibitions, talks on archives: “Ania Dabrowska, A Lebanese Archive in From Ear to Ear to Eye” exhibition, Nottingham Contemporary, 2017-2018, “A Lebanese Archive: From the Collection of Diab Alkarssifi”, Published by Book Works and Arab Image Foundation, 2015, Ania Dabrowska, “Drift / Resolution.


Philip Milnes-Smith

Philip Milnes-Smith works part-time as the Digital Archivist at Shakespeare’s Globe where he has been leading the archives work in decolonising and inclusive practice.  One of ARA’s Diversity and Inclusion Allies, he is part of the Inclusive Cataloguing and Approaching Marginalised Communities working groups and leads the Accessibility working group.  He founded the Disability Collections Forum in 2022.