The Role of Prison Museums in Public Culture: The Case of Peterhead

Edinburgh Napier University

We are recruiting for an ARCS (Applied Collaborative Studentship), jointly supervised by Edinburgh Napier and Robert Gordon University, in collaboration with Peterhead Prison Museum in Aberdeenshire. This prestigious 3½ year studentship offers a stipend of around £18,000 per annum plus fees. The ARCS scheme is managed by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH). The successful candidate will have access to SGSAH membership and training, joining a cohort of doctoral researchers working across the arts and humanities in 16 HEIs in Scotland.

Prison museums are part of Scotland’s cultural heritage tourism portfolio, serving as iconic public history venues that interpret historical and contemporary narratives of crime, punishment and incarceration. This interdisciplinary project will examine the challenges and potential in making Peterhead Prison Museum’s curatorial approach to a complex and challenging social history ethically responsible and engaging. Placing Peterhead in a wider context of prison museums internationally, the successful candidate will use chiefly qualitative, and discourse analytical methods, with the aim of showing how Peterhead can evolve its interpretive and community outreach strategies to meet the needs of visitors and community stakeholders.

This project will be the first detailed study of prison heritage in Scotland. Its approach will be innovative, approaching Scotland’s engagement with penal history through an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing on insights from dark tourism, tourism management, cultural heritage and critical prison studies. The successful candidate will offer new insights into curatorship for prison museums, and new strategies for Peterhead Prison Museum (PPM) to develop its interpretive and visitor experience strategies in ethical and imaginative ways.

The project will address the following research questions, with some flexibility built into the approach, depending on the candidate’s experience and interests:

  1. What are current trends in prison museums internationally?
  2. What is the social responsibility of PPM as a public history resource?
  3. What is the local community’s involvement with, and reaction to PPM?
  4. How can the museum address peripherality and seasonality as a remote visitor attraction?
  5. What perspectives do various visitor groups (grouped by, for example, age, origin and motivations) have of the museum?
  6. In its exhibits and interpretive work, how can the museum achieve an ethically responsible balance between victims’ rights, prisoners’ voices and the perspectives of prison staff?
  7. What interpretive approaches would be appropriate for telling the story of notorious and controversial former prisoners, including those who were imprisoned for sexual offences?

To address the above questions, the candidate will initially undertake a literature review drawing on insights from dark tourism, museology and curatorship in difficult heritage, and critical prison studies. A theoretical framework will then be developed around prisons as public cultural and educational resources. The framework will be informed by a critical survey of other UK and international prison museums to examine how their approaches to interpretation and visitor experiences can lead to some refinement of the research questions. The initial phase will include some archival research into the history of the prison at National Records of Scotland. The researcher will then be embedded through placement at PPM, and involved in reviewing and feeding into community-engagement strategies and new approaches to visitor interpretation. Primary data will be gathered during this phase by undertaking ethnographic and other qualitative data gathering methods, including overt participant observation of visitors, focus groups with community stakeholders, and visitor surveys to gather a body of data that sheds light on visitor and community engagement, and visitor experience/expectations. Data analysis will focus on identifying opportunities for new interpretive strategies, new ethically responsible and balanced exhibits, and new approaches to community outreach, as well as strategies to address seasonality and peripherality.

The successful candidate will be expected to carry out a 6-month work-based placement at Peterhead Prison Museum during the second year of this project.

Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2:1) ideally in tourism, cultural studies, museum studies or related fields with a good fundamental knowledge of theoretical and methodological concepts in tourism, culture or heritage.

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:

  • Experience of fundamental research in a related area
  • Competent in critical theoretical approaches in tourism studies, museum studies and/or penal history
  • Knowledge of key concepts and methodological tools in tourism research, museum studies and/or penal history
  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
  • Good time management

Desirable attributes:

Some work experience in tourism, heritage or museums


For informal enquiries about this PhD project, please contact Dr Craig Wight at

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