Gendering the Museum is a collaborative project directed by James Daybell and Kit Heyam, which aims to help change the representation of gender in museums, galleries and heritage sites.

How the ‘Gendering the Museum’ toolkit took shape

How can museums tell new stories about gender? How can we diversify our gendered representation, integrating more stories of women and LGBTQ+ people? How can we look at our existing collections in new ways to uncover hidden stories of gender? How can we embed new ways of working across the museum to help more of these stories come to light? And how can we share these stories with the public? 

These were the questions that lay behind ‘Gendering Interpretations’, an AHRC-funded project that ran from 2018-2019 involving James Daybell, Svante Norrhem, Susan Broomhall, Jacqueline van Gent, Nadine Akkerman, Kit Heyam and Emma Severinsson.


The project developed from a previous two-year AHRC-funded research network project, ‘Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800’. This first project developed an interpretative methodology for understanding objects, exhibitions and the past through the lens of gender, power and materiality, as important factors that have shaped the design, form and function of objects – focusing on a single object, the early modern glove (Daybell et al, 2022). It also raised awareness of gender (defined broadly as encompassing gender identity, gender expression and sexuality) as an important interpretative category within the museum environment, and of the significant role this can play in generating diverse narratives – which can, when disseminated through curatorial practice, educational and public programming, have a wider societal impact.

The ‘Gender, Power and Materiality’ project brought together gender historians and literary critics specializing on early modern Europe to generate a valuable dialogue between the four universities involved (University of Plymouth, Lund University, Leiden University, and University of Western Australia); curators and researchers at the V&A; and museum professionals at Skarhult Castle in Sweden, The Museum of London, The Worshipful Company of Glovers, Powderham Castle, Catherijne Convent Utrecht and Cultural Heritage Leiden.

Implementing the research

As a result of these dialogues, we identified a series of follow-on activities that had potential for significant wider impact, and were awarded a further tranche of follow-on funding from the AHRC. We worked with museum professionals from the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), and Vasa Museum (Stockholm) to find new ways of uncovering and communicating the gendered histories of everyday objects. For the museums, it coincided with a time when they were actively considering how to rethink and represent gender in relation to their collections and museological practices. It also aligned strongly with the work of the V&A LGBTQ Working Group, which has now been working for over a decade to surface under-represented LGBTQ histories in the V&A’s collections and programming.

  1. Over the course of the year-long project, our work took place in four phases:
    Identifying the objects. We identified 10-15 late medieval and early modern objects at the V&A and Vasa which had the potential to articulate a diverse range of gendered stories.
  2. Researching the objects. We used the gendered interpretative methodology developed during the first phase of the project to analyse each object, studying its gendered history across its lifecycle from commission and manufacture to consumption and display in a museum setting.
  3. Presenting the objects. We presented our research on these objects at the V&A and Vasa through a range of interpretative pathways: public events, talks, guided tours and interactive workshops.
  4. Reflection on collaborative practice. Over the course of the project we organised two workshops at the Vasa (in May 2019) and the V&A (September 2019) which brought together the project team of international collaborators in order to work on our gendered interpretative pathways and share best practice.

Through this project, the ‘Gendering the Museum’ toolkit was born. Here, we want to share the toolkit with a wider audience of museum and heritage professionals, and to support them in using it within their organisation.



James Daybell (he/him)

Professor of Early Modern British History at the University of Plymouth, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is a specialist in gender, materiality and heritage and written more than 14 books on the Tudors, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history, letters and letter-writing, gender and politics, materiality and heritage including Women Letter Writers in Tudor England (Oxford University Press, 2006), The Material Letter (Palgrave, 2012) and Glove Culture in Early Modern England (Amsterdam University Press, 2024). He has worked with a number of museum and heritage institutions, with the V&A, the Royal Armouries in Leeds, Powderham Castle and Saltram House National Trust Property in Devon, and with the Vasa Museum in Sweden. He also co-writes and co-presents (with the TV historian and writer Dr Sam Willis) the chart-topping Histories of the Unexpected weekly podcast. He is co-author of Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything has a History (Atlantic Books, 2018) and a series of Histories of the Unexpected books on The Romans, The Vikings, The Tudors and World War Two (Atlantic Books, 2019).

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Kit Heyam

Kit Heyam (they/he)

is a writer, trans awareness trainer and heritage practitioner. A co-author of the ‘Gendering the Museum’ toolkit, Kit has supported its implementation at the V&A, where they researched objects through a gendered lens and organised a programme of public talks, tours and workshops to share them with the public); National Trust Saltram, where they researched how the house and its collections were gendered and provided a report highlighting key findings and public engagement potential, as well as delivering a cross-team trans awareness workshop; and the Royal Armouries Museum, where they were Community Project Lead on ‘Forgotten Battles: Gender in the Armouries’, an object trail, creative display and events programme created by local LGBTQ+ volunteers which reveals hidden stories of gender within the museum’s collection.

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Svante Norrhem

is Associate Professor in the Department of History, Lund University, Sweden. An expert in early modern gender, cultural and political history, he has published on gender and politics, gender and diplomacy, international relations in Europe, but also 20th century LGBTQ-history. He is co-Principle Investigator on the AHRC-funded project ‘Gendered Interpretations of the V&A and Vasa Museums’. He is project leader for early modern research project The Aristocratic Household as Academy. He is an expert in early modern gender, cultural, political and diplomatic history, as well as early modern women's and gender history, LGBT-history, and latterly gender, materiality and museum practice.

Susan Broomhall

is Professor of History at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, where she is Director of the Gender and Women's History Research Centre in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences. She is the author of numerous monographs and edited collections. Her current research includes women's activities and the role of gender ideologies in shaping experiences in the Dutch East India Company; the role of gender ideologies in early modern natural resource management and agricultural innovations from the early modern period to modern Australia, and women's activities at the Joseon Korean court.

Meghan Mills-Amissah (she/her)

is a researcher with an interest in Ghanaian and diasporic culture and gendered histories. She holds a BA in History from King’s college London and a MSc in African studies from university of Oxford. She is currently a PhD student at University of Leeds researching into the intersections of Black popular culture, heritage, and museums. She has previous museum experience as a Research Assistant on the Contested African Project at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge (MAA), Community Hub at the Horniman Museum, and as a Community Researcher on the ‘Forgotten Battles: Gender in the Armouries’ project at the Royal Armouries.


Luna Morgana (she/her)

is an artist-researcher and Cher fan based in Leeds. She has also previously organised Trans Pride Leeds, co-ran Non-Binary Leeds and founded the Queerology art collective and has exhibited art internationally. Her most recent projects include collaborating with the Royal Armouries Museum about the life of the Chevaliere D’Eon as well as the gendered history of their collection, supported by Leeds 2023 and National Heritage Lottery Fund, and a zine workshop with trans and queer young people with Bolton Museum.

Emma Severinsson

is Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Sciences, Lund University. Previously, she was Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded project ‘Gendered Interpretations of the V&A and Vasa Museums’ (Department of History, Lund University). She is a modern historian specialise in gender and fashion. She is working on a project on the Swedish men´s fashion council 1958 –1980.