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Biography - Helen Graham

Before joining the Social History of Learning Disability Group, I had worked in adult learning, access and community engagement in museums. In 2006 I came to work with Dorothy Atkinson and with the wider Social History of Learning Disability Group as a project worker on the Heritage Lottery Funded History of Day Centre in Croydon. In the wake of the closure of Croydon’s large day centres, I collaborated with people who had used the services to document and share their histories through developing an archive and exhibitions with the Museum of Croydon. In many ways the project was a life changing experience for me. It enabled me to take a much more embedded approach to community history, where hanging out and allowing possibilities for developing a meaningful, collaborative histories and understandings to slowly emerge was an essential way of working. But it also crucially enabled me to see museums from the outside and through many different eyes.

This idea of seeing museums from the outside and from lots of different people's perspectives has become central to my work on museums, participation and inclusion since. For example, in 2010-11 I held a Museum Practice Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution where I worked with self-advocates and teenagers with learning disabilities to visits museums and explore what might make them more welcoming, engaging and exciting. I am currently continuing this connection with the Smithsonian through conducting action research as part of their new and now ongoing initiatives, All Access Media Camp and Club. I am also is currently working on a number of Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research projects exploring question of participation and ways of knowing in both research and museums and heritage (Ways of Knowing; How should decisions about heritage be made?), but all of the approaches I am taking – embedded, emergent, collaborative approaches – have their inspiration in a Croydon resource base and in the Social History of Learning Disability Group.

Publications list

  • Mason, R., Nayling, N. and Graham, H. (2013) ‘The Personal is Still Political: Museums, Particpation and Copyright’, Museum and Society.
  • Graham, H. (2012) 'Modest against the cuts: museums+public+democracy+personal', Open Democracy, 2 October. Available at:
  • Graham, H. (2012) 'Scaling Governmentality: Museums, co-production and re-calibrations of the "logic of culture"', Cultural Studies, 26(4): pp. 565-592.
  • Mason, R., Nayling, N. and Graham, H. (2012) Earning Legitimacy: Museums, Participation and Intellectual Property (booklet). Available at:
  • Graham, H. (2012) All Access Digital Arts Camp Report, Centre for Education and Museum Studies and Accessibility Program, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Mason, R., Whitehead, C. and Graham, H. (2012) 'Place shaped and place shaping: The role of a civic art gallery then and now'. In Convery, I., Davis, P. and Corsane, G. (eds) Making Sense of Place, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer.
  • Graham, H. (2010) 'Participation, Person-centred approaches and Personalisation: Museums working with adults with learning difficulties'. In The New Museum Community: Audience, Challenges, Benefits, Edinburgh, MuseumsEtc.
  • Graham, H. (2010a) 'To label the label?: "Learning Disability” and Exhibiting “Critical Proximity"'. In Sandell, R., Dodd, J. and Garland-Thomson, R. (eds) Re-Presenting Disability: Activism and Agency in the Museum, London, Routledge, pp. 115-129.
  • Graham, H. (2009) 'Policy Review: Department of Culture, Media and Sport Peer Review', Cultural Trends, 18 (4): pp. 323 – 331.
  • Mason, R., Newman, A. and Graham, H. (2009) 'Historic Environment, Social Capital and Sense of Place: A Literature Review'. Commissioned by English Heritage. Available at:
  • Graham, H. (2009) 'Oral History, "Learning Disability" and Pedagogies of Self', Oral History, 37(1), pp. 85-94.

Contact us

About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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