Helen Graham, Rhiannon Mason, Nigel Nayling,


The Personal is still Political: Museums, Participation and Copyright


Museum & Society, 11(2) 105 2013

Institution of corresponding author

University of Leeds

Corresponding author

H Graham


Museums, digital storytelling, ethics, copyright, engagement

Catalogue entry

The researchers are interested in the way that the formalised practices and impersonal terminology employed in many museum contexts can be modified to reflect the way that personal relationships move to the centre. This may allow for values such as courtesy to characterise the engagement of audience member with institution.

In this article they argue that the moment of signing a copyright form is symptomatic of the larger relationship between the museum, the creators of an object and the public, and that this relationship also refers to that between the individual and the state.

Using the 2008-10 project Culture Shock!, a Tyne & Wear Archives & Musuems initiative to build a collection of 500 digital stories the researchers explored with the organisers three aspects of the dynamics of copyright; coming into the public, making an author, and making an object.

The study shows that the awkwardness of the copyright moment is telling, and if the implications are addressed, the museum can develop practices which redress the balance between the individual and the institution for the longer term.

You will find this article useful in devising participative projects in or for museums, and to provide a model of reflection on institutional practices that rely on arguments about copyright and public interest.