A critical survey of museum collections of popular music in the United Kingdom


  • Robert Knifton University of Leeds
  • Marion Leonard University of Liverpool




collecting, heritage, material culture, museum, popular music


Drawing on an extensive nationwide survey of UK museum practice and interviews with museum professionals, this article documents and reflects on the increasing prevalence of popular music within museum collections. It argues for the significance of developing popular music as a museum subject, placing into context the differing ways in which museums have defined ‘popular music’ on an institutional basis, reflecting the history and context of the organizations themselves. The nature of popular music objects collected are analysed, with the classificatory systems into which they are inserted discussed and collecting motivations examined. Key museological issues affecting the collection of popular music material such as collection care, suitability for display, difficulty of acquisition, and ease of storage are addressed. Limiting factors such as the absence of popular music from many museum collecting policies and the perception that the museum is not the natural home of popular music are viewed as specific inhibiting factors in the growth of popular music as a museum subject; however the fact that popular music continues to develop within UK museums demonstrates shifting perceptions of cultural heritage and developing practices of contemporary collecting.

Author Biographies

Robert Knifton, University of Leeds

Robert Knifton is University Academic Fellow in Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Heritage at the University of Leeds. From 2012–2016 he worked at the Visual and Material Culture Research Centre at Kingston University, where in 2015 he co-curated the HLFfunded project ‘Histories in the Making’.


Marion Leonard, University of Liverpool

Marion Leonard is Senior Lecturer in Music and member of the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool. From 2010–2011 she was Principal Investigator on an AHRC Beyond Text funded project investigating the collection and representation of popular music in museums, conducted in partnership with National Museums Liverpool and the V&A.


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How to Cite

Knifton, R., & Leonard, M. (2017). A critical survey of museum collections of popular music in the United Kingdom. Popular Music History, 10(2), 171–191. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.33288