Elee Kirk

Children, Nature, Museums


Current Research

I am currently working outside of museum studies, whilst continuing to write and give talks drawing on my doctoral research. I am working part time as Research Associate on the project Law in Children’s Lives at the University of Leicester, in which we are using digital games as a means of exploring primary school children’s understandings of the law. This draws on my experience of carrying out participatory, experiential research with children, of using innovate research technologies, and of working with schools.


Doctoral Research

Boy photographing badger at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Boy photographing badger at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

In 2014 I completed my PhD at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. My thesis title is “Crystal Teeth and Skeleton Eggs: Snapshots of young children’s experiences in a natural history museum”. The project took a child-centric approach to exploring what children aged four and five years experience when they visit a natural history museum with their family. I was delighted to be able to carry out the research at the beautiful Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The research can be summarised in two main questions: What are young children experiencing when they interact with natural history in a museum setting? And what methods can we use to understand children’s experiences in these settings? My intention was to find ways of providing pre-literate children with a voice within the museum literature, to which end I used children’s photography as a way of actively focusing the participants on communicating their experiences within the museum. My findings included a detailed exploration of children’s observation skills, their fascination with ferocious predators, the ways in which they and their families navigate the museum together, and confirmation of photography as an excellent research tool in museum settings.

For more detailed findings, please see my publications. You can also hear me talking about my research on this podcast from the group Boundary Objects.


Other Research Interests

My PhD research, my Research Assistant work with film heritage, and my career in science and medical museum education have prompted me to explore many broader themes than those covered within my thesis. These interests include:

  • Young children’s experiences in museums
  • The presentation of nature and science in museums
  • Qualitative research methods as a way of understanding people’s experiences of museums and heritage
  • Visitor photography in museums, as both practice and research method
  • The influence of the Reggio Emilia approach on museum education
  • Taxidermy – its history and its presence in contemporary art and culture
  • Biophilia, and the relationships between people and nature
  • The history of the natural sciences and medicine – particularly in terms of public interest and engagement


Exploring museums

I visit museums whenever I can, particularly if they display natural history collections, and would very much like eventually to visit all such museums in the UK. In 2011 I was honoured to receive the Alison James Memorial Bursary from the Visitor Studies Group, which allowed me to spend almost a month visiting museums and museum researchers in the USA, including in New York, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington DC, and this added several more wonderful museums to my list. I keep track of my explorations through photography (you can tell a proper museum geek because they also photograph the text panels), on my blog, Through the Museoscope, and also on my Google map, which you can see here.