Exhibitions of violence: The potential of museums to foster a critical understanding of violent pasts

Exhibitions of violence: The potential of museums to foster a critical understanding of violent pasts
Leisure, Culture and Communication for Human Development
The candidate will be jointly mentored by two scientists. Angela Bermudez, from the Center for Applied Ethics will act as primary advisor. Jaime Cuenca, from the Institute of Leisure Studies will act as secondary advisor.

Angela Bermudez Velez
Research ID: WoK: H-1290-2011 / orcid.org/0000-0002-5269-6420
Angela Bermudez is the Principal Investigator of the Center for Applied Ethics in Deusto University, where she also chairs the research group on Conflicts and Cultures of Peace. Her own research studies the role that history education in formal and informal sites can play in fostering or hindering a critical understanding of political violence, and thus, how it may contribute to sustainable peace building. She obtained her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2008 where she investigated youth engagement in the discussion of social and political controversies. Prior to that, she worked in Colombia, where she was born and raised. For over a decade she worked in the field of democracy education, developing curriculum guidelines and teaching and assessment resources, training teachers, teaching youth, and doing research and consultancy with national and international organizations.

Jaime Cuenca Amigo
Research ID: orcid.org/0000-0001-5744-4073
Jaime Cuenca is researcher at the Institute of Leisure Studies of the University of Deusto. His research focuses on the political construction of modern cultural audiences, both from a historical and philosophical point of view. He has been an active member of several EU-funded research projects on cultural audiences, such as the Erasmus+ project “CONNECTING AUDIENCES – European Alliance for Education and Training in Audience Development (CONNECT) (575807-EPP-1-2016-1-ES-EPPKA2-KA)” and the Creative Europe project “Audience DEvelopment STrategies for cultural organisations in Europe (ADESTE+) (2018 – 2685 / 001 – 001)” and is also the coordinator of the research project “PUBLICUM. Audiences in transformation” (HAR 2017-86103-P), which is funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and focuses on the transformations of the experience of visiting museums.
Candidates will be hosted by two research teams at the Center for Applied Ethics (CAE) and the Institute for Leisure Studies (ILS), of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. CAE will serve as the primary host research unit, but both research teams will offer guidance and support to the student.

The CAE houses a research team in the field of applied ethics. It seeks to help people and organizations understand and address the ethical challenges faced in our society. The research line on Conflicts and Cultures of Peace studies social processes that contribute to normalize or de-normalize violence as a means of managing social and political conflicts. One of its projects focuses on the relationship between history education, the social construction of memory, and the development of sustainable cultures of peace.

The ILS hosts the research group on Leisure and Human Development and different postgraduate programs. It has become widely recognised for pioneering interdisciplinary research on cultural audiences in Spain. Combining different perspectives (from audience development to political theory and philosophy of art), ILS has led different projects on cultural audiences, both at a European and national level, one of them particularly focusing on the transformation of museum audiences in Spain.
Prospective applicants for this position should have general academic training in social sciences and humanities. It is particularly valued if applicants have academic training and/or professional experience in the fields of museum studies and/or memory studies. Prior experience with qualitative research is recommended.
• Required skills: independent work habits, collaborative team work, and academic writing.
• Languages: English reading, oral, and writing. Spanish: reading, oral and writing (recommended)
  • Social Sciences and Humanities (SOC)
This research program investigates the role that museums (historical, anthropological, memorial) that exhibit violent pasts can play in fostering a critical understanding of political violence among citizens. What possibilities do they afford? What obstacles and challenges do they face? The project analyzes three distinct dimensions relevant to the problem of study:

Analysis of Museum Exhibitions
o How do museums represent the violent pasts? What narratives do they communicate?
o How is the representation of violence shaped by the interaction of textual and visual media, objects, and environmental design in museum exhibitions?

Analysis of the museums as political institutions
o What relationships exist between museums, relevant communities of reference and local communities around the design, display and management of exhibitions?
o Who gets to decide what story is told and how it is told?

Analysis of Audiences
o What kinds of publics are attracted to the exhibitions in question? How do they get there? How do museums intervene to generate new publics?
o What do the exhibitions of violent pasts generate in different publics? What sentiments and reflections do they provoke? What transformations in understanding do they foster?

Applicants are expected to present a cohesive and feasible proposal of the dimensions/questions on which they would focus their study, as well as a general indication of its thematic focus and possible museums to be analyzed.


Bermudez, A. & Epstein, T. (2020). Representations of violent pasts in memorial museums – Ethical reflection and history education. Journal for the Study of Education and Development 43(3) (Monographic number “Popular Uses of Violent Pasts in Educational Settings: the Effects of Fading Boundaries”) ISSN: 15784126, 02103702. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02103702.2020.1772541
o Impact factor: (JCR 2019): 0.907; (SJR 2019): 0.35 – Q3 in Education and Developmental and Educational Psychology. Position in area of “Education” (JCR 2019): 56th. # 543/1225

Bermudez, A. (2020). Narrative justice? Ten tools to deconstruct narratives about violent pasts. In, Keynes, M., Åström Elmersjö, H., Lindmark, D., & Norlin B. (eds). Historical Justice and History Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. (Forthcoming)
o Palgrave MacMillan – Position 12 in the list of international publishing houses of SPI (Scholarly Publishers Indicators).

Haste, H., & Bermudez, A. (2016). The Power of Story: Historical Narratives and the Construction of Civic Identity. In Carretero, M. Berger, S., & Grever, M. (Eds.) Palgrave Handbook of Research in Historical Culture and Education. Cap. 23. pp. 427-447. London: Palgrave MacMillan. DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-52908-4_23
o Palgrave MacMillan – Position 12 in the list of international publishing houses of
o SPI (Scholarly Publishers Indicators).

Bermudez, A. (2015). Four Tools for Critical Inquiry in History, Social Studies and Civic Education. Revista de Estudios Sociales, 52, 102-118. ISSN: 0123-885X.
o Impact factor: (JCR 2015): 0.192; (JCR 2019): 0.742/Q3; (SJR 2015): 0.178 – Q2 en History and Cultural Studies. Position in área of “Cultural Studies” (SJR 2015): 51th. # 339/702

Bermudez, A. (2014). Integrating Cognitive and Discursive Approaches in the Analysis of Critical Reflection Within Relational and Socio-Cultural Contexts. SAGE Cases in Methodology. London: Sage Publications. Online ISBN: 9781446273050.
o DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305014533946
o https://methods.sagepub.com/Search/Results?contentTypes=Cases&Keywords%5B0%5D.Field=Author%2FEditor&Keywords%5B0%5D.Text=Angela%20Bermudez&ContributorTypes=All%20People
o Sage Publications – Position 8 in the list of international publishing houses of SPI (Scholarly Publishers Indicators):

Ayala Aizpuru, I., Cuenca-Amigo, M. & Cuenca, J. (2020). Transformations in museums from the audience´s perception. In Alonso Tak, A. & Pazos-López, A. (eds.): Socializing Art Museums. Rethinking the public’s experience. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2020, pp. 46-64. ISBN: 978‑3‑11-064632‑0
● De Gruyter – Position 7 of 96 in the list of international publishing houses of SPI (Scholarly Publishers Indicators 2018). ICEE 386.000

Cuenca, J. (2019). La mirada en el museo. El visitante como sujeto escópico. In Bayón, F. & Cuenca, J. (eds.): Públicos en transformación. Una visión interdisciplinar de las funciones, experiencias y espacios del público actual de los museos. Dykinson, Madrid, 2019, pp. 185-206. ISBN: 978-84-1324-533-1
● Dykinson – Position 13 of 104 in the list of national publishing houses of SPI (Scholarly Publishers Indicators 2018). ICEE 456.000
Bayón, F. & Cuenca, J. (2019). El público. Una consideración epistemológica. In Cuenca-Amigo, M. & Cuenca, J. (eds.): El desarrollo de audiencias en España. Reflexiones desde la teoría y la práctica. Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao, 2019, pp. 17-35. ISBN: 978-84-1325-039-7
Ayala Aizpuru, I., Cuenca-Amigo, M. & Cuenca, J. (2019) Examining the state of the art of audience development in museums and heritage organisations: a Systematic Literature review. Museum Management and Curatorship, 35:3, 306-327. DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2019.1698312. ISSNe: 1872-9185 (Online).
● Scimago impact factor 2018: 0.378 (Q1 in the subject category “Visual Arts and Performing Arts”)
● Journal indexed in Arts & Humanities Citation Index (Web of Science)

Ayala Aizpuru, I., Cuenca-Amigo, M. & Cuenca, J. (2019). Principales retos de los museos de arte en España. Consideraciones desde la museología crítica y el desarrollo de audiencias. Aposta. Revista de Ciencias Sociales, 2019, nº 80, pp. 61-81. ISSN 1696-7348.
● Journal indexed in Emerging Sources Citation Index (Web Of Science)
Bermudez, A. (P.I.). “Understanding Political Violence through History Education: Comparative Study of History Textbooks and Teachers in the Basque Country, Colombia and the United States. Funding: Marie Curie Career Integration Grant (EU 7th Framework Programme 2012-2016)

Bermudez, A. (P.I.). “Understanding Political Violence through History Education in the United States”. Funding: Spencer Foundation Research Grant (USA) (2013-2014).

These two international research projects were the basis for the development of an analytic model on narrative representation of violent pasts in education resources. These models will be used and further developed in the current research project.

Cuenca, J. (P.I.). “PUBLICUM. Públicos en transformación. Nuevas formas de la experiencia del espectador y sus interacciones con la gestión museística (HAR2017-86103-P)”. Funding: Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (2018-2021).

Cuenca, J. (member of the research team). “CONNECTING AUDIENCES European Alliance for Education and Training in Audience Development (CONNECT) (575807-EPP-1-2016-1-ES-EPPKA2-KA)”. Funding: European Commission. Erasmus + Programme. KA2 – Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices (2017-2019).
Cuenca, J. (member of the research team). “Audience DEvelopment STrategies for cultural organisations in Europe (ADESTE+), Agreement number: 2018 – 2685 / 001 – 001”. Funding: European Commission. Creative Europe Programme (2018-2022).


Knowledge areas: Discursive Psychology and Narrative Analysis, Museums Studies, Political Philosophy, Memory Studies, Cognitive Psychology and History Education, Ethics.

This project proposes to investigate three dimensions central to the role that museums can play in fostering or hindering a critical understanding of political violence: a) the narratives about violent pasts communicated through museum exhibitions, b) the relationships that museums establish with relevant communities of reference and with local communities around the design, display and management of exhibitions, and c) the interaction between the museum and its audiences both in terms of attraction and participation and in terms of the impact that the museum has on visitor’ understanding of the violent pasts in question. This multidimensional definition of the problem of study requires that we draw on different disciplines such as Discursive Psychology and Narrative Analysis, Museums Studies, Political Philosophy, Memory Studies, Cognitive Psychology and History Education. The diversity of disciplines allows us to capture the particularities of the different aspects of the problem, and to employ specific methodologies necessary to investigate them.
The thesis will be co-directed by Angela Bermudez and Jaime Cuenca.

Doctor Bermudez is the P.I. of the research team at the Center for Applied Ethics. She has professional training in education and pedagogy, and an extended research trajectory in qualitative analysis of teaching and learning in the field of history education. She has developed novel methodologies for integrating discursive analysis and cognitive analysis of learning processes (Bermudez, 2014; 2015). More recently, she developed an analytic model to study the narrative representation of violent pasts in history education resources, including museum exhibits (Bermudez, 2020; Bermudez & Epstein, 2020). The doctoral candidate will be trained in the use of these methodologies and models in the development of his/her study.

Doctor Cuenca is P.I. of the PUBLICUM project, which focuses on an interdisciplinary study of museum visitors and their experience. Within this research line, he has explored the political role played by museums in shaping the interaction between their visitors and the exhibits by visual means (Cuenca, 2019). Under his guidance, the doctoral candidate will learn how to analyze the way in which certain display strategies (like dioramas, for instance) may contribute to a naturalization of violent pasts in museum settings.
Interdisciplinarity will be achieved through different means. As explained above, the definition of a multidimensional research problem requires a multidisciplinary approach to examine the museum as an institution, the social and political context in which it operates, the collective memories, historical knowledge and social narratives that manifest in its exhibitions, the interactions established with different audiences, and the learning and understanding that unfolds in them.

Further, interdisciplinarity will be achieved through the co-tutoring of the doctoral candidate by two scholars with shared research interests but different areas of thematic and methodological expertise. In this sense, this CoFund project would be a valuable opportunity to stimulate and support the creative integration of two recognized research teams of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities that have had little interaction to date.

Interdisciplinarity will also be enhanced through the participation of the doctoral candidate in different academic conferences and professional and research networks, and through the experience of preparing his/her research for publication in different kinds of academic journals.

Aligned with the 2030 Agenda, the Horizon Europe missions and goals and the Basque Country Smart Specialisation Strategy, DEUSTO research blends competitiveness, innovation and technology to tackle challenges for communities, companies and public bodies in the region. Ageing and Wellbeing; Cultural and Creative Industries and Cities; Gender; Social Justice and Inclusion and Strengthening Participation are the focus of the 5 Interdisciplinary Research Platforms. Besides, advanced research units contribute to generate knowledge and innovative solutions in the fields of efficient and clean Energy, Industry 4.0 (advanced manufacturing, data analytics…), Health and Territory.


Dr. Bermudez is part of the “Making Histories” network led by Dr. Carretero at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the “Historical Culture” network led by Dr. Grever at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Both networks are interested in the role that museums play in forming a critical citizenry. They submitted grant proposals to H2020-MCSA-RISE calls of 2017, 2019 and 2020; and to the RIA call H2020-SC6-CULT-COOP-2017. Proposals made it to the waiting lists. They are further exploring new grant opportunities. Dr. Cuenca has a close contact with the research group led by Dr. Savoy in the Technische Universität Berlin, where he recently completed a research stay. Dr. Savoy is a renowned expert on the traumatic records of violence in cultural heritage institutions and has a prominent public role in championing a new political and ethical awareness of the mission of museums. There is a strong interest both from the TU and Deusto in collaborating in future common projects (e.g., under the HERA funding scheme), including other partners like University of Oxford Dr. Hicks.

The proposed topic is well aligned with EU research priorities, particularly with the topics Education for democracy and New ways of participatory management of cultural institutions and museums. A CoFund project would be a good opportunity to strengthen the participation of Spanish research teams in the study of topics that have a strong presence in the European agendas, but are not yet well established in Spain.


The project proposes the collaboration between university based research centers, museum, and relevant communities of reference. Research will be developed with an active participation of museums throughout the process.

In regards to the European Regional Innovation and Specialization Strategy (RIS3), this proposal aligns well with the priority defined for Euskadi, focused on Leisure, entertainment and culture.

Jaime Cuenca has a proven track of experience in this type of active collaboration in research projects with social and cultural stakeholders beyond academia. The PUBLICUM project, for instance, includes a strategic partnership with three different administrations in charge of establishing the cultural policies for museums in Spain: the General Deputy Direction of State Museums of the Spanish Ministry of Culture, the Observatory of Cultural Heritage Audiences of the Generalitat of Catalonia and BizkaiKOA (the body in charge of managing the museums of the Regional Government of Biscay). There is a solid and established relation with these political decision-makers, and we are confident that this project would be of interest to several museums included under the umbrella of these administrative bodies: e.g., the National Anthropological Museum and the Museum of America (Madrid – Ministry of Culture), or the Basque Country Museum (Gernika – Regional Government of Biscay), among others.

Deusto Research works closely with more than 1250 organisations (public administration, business, non-profit organisations, education and training institutions, technology centres, etc.) in areas such as health, urban development, gender, social justice and inclusion, democratic participation, regional competitiveness and energy. Since 2014 DEUSTO has been involved in 89 international research projects and worked with more than 770 partner organisations. From data collection to the implementation and piloting phases, stakeholders have an active role throughout the research project life cycle.


The core target groups of this research are memorial, historical and anthropological museums. We envision that their curatorial and education teams will be interested in using the research based guidelines and tools developed to improve the design of museum exhibitions and educational resources and activities. As noted in the previous section the ILS has a network of social, cultural and political stakeholders with whom we have already collaborated.

Given the focus on exhibitions of violent pasts, the resulting guidelines and tools will aim to foster an active engagement of audiences in critical reflection about collective memories that circulate in communities regarding political violence, discrimination and the violation of human rights. Fostering this kind of reflection is fundamental in order to denormalize violence, nurture tolerance and pluralism and build sustainable cultures of peace and non-violence. Further, it will also foster the development of historical consciousness by contributing to making reflective connections between past and present, addressing controversial issues through disciplined inquiry, and integrating historical representations with ethical reflection about the sources, agents, dynamics, consequences and alternatives to violence. This can also help counter extremist narratives that justify violence.

External stakeholders will be involved throughout the project, in order to address their needs and concerns through participatory methodology.

Deusto Research pursues societal impact that goes beyond academia focusing on the transformation of today’s society, leading to fairer and more diverse societies, where inclusive social development and welfare are enhanced.


The actual final outcomes of this research cannot be totally foreseen, as they will be shaped along the collaboration with participating museums and their communities of reference, but they may include: the redesign of collections display (e.g. general narratives, wall labels, display devices), the production of new mediation and education materials, the implementation of new protocols of relationship with diverse collectives of visitors and for gathering their contributions to the exhibition of violent pasts.

The potential for innovation of these outcomes stems from an understanding of the educational role of museums that goes far beyond the transition of information and dominant narratives. Museums that are sensitive to the questions and needs of present times and redefine their relationship with society can introduce in social discourse the discussion about the destructiveness of violence, the social costs of human rights violation and the importance of social and cultural diversity and inclusion. Thus, this project offers an innovative approach to fostering a democratic culture through the involvement with cultural and creative sectors. The results of this research can help to advance the contribution of museums to fostering social wellbeing, social inclusion, and recovery from trauma. This will be partly achieved through the involvement with local and relevant communities of reference who´s voice should be heard in the process of defining how to exhibit violent pasts.

DEUSTO research internationalisation strategy pursues innovation through the participation in international research and innovation initiatives (H2020 projects, Innovation Radar)


Violent practices, by their own nature, imply the exclusion, victimization, oppression, and silencing of different social groups and individuals: ethnic minorities, national communities, political opponents or dissenters, gender, class based, etc. A study on the role that museums can play in the promotion of a critical understanding of violence necessarily involves giving voice to these groups that have been silenced and making the violence inflicted upon them the object of critical reflection with the aim of fostering inclusion and justice.

Inclusion is an underlying principle of the 6i Dirs project. The leadership vocation of the University of Deusto goes hand in hand with its aspiration to excellence and quality and a firm commitment to social justice and inclusion. The Interdisciplinary Platform on Social Justice and Inclusion articulates interdisciplinary collaborations and channel research efforts for contributing to social justice and more inclusive and fairer societies.

In addition, gender based violence is a particularly salient dimension in the examination of representations of political violence. There is a growing awareness of the role museums have played in making the violence against women appear natural. For instance, the Museo del Prado has opened a pioneer exhibition on the image of women in the arts (“Invitadas”), while a recent study has highlighted the role of the museum itself in the exclusion of women from public life (Riaño, 2020). However, there is still no hint of any discussion at a national level of the complicity of museums with colonial discourses, something that represents a vibrant area for debate and reform in other European countries (such as France, UK or Germany). This project would help Spanish museums to take a step forward in this line of research and question their own role in justifying and naturalising violent pasts.

Deusto recognises gender equality as a key driver for sustainable development and inclusive growth across regions, and believes that equality of academic opportunity for women is key. The Interdisciplinary Research Platform on Gender is a dynamic vehicle that teams up experts from different areas of knowledge with the dual purpose of fostering collaboration and integrating existing expertise to address society’s emerging challenges on gender issues. (https://www.deusto.es/cs/Satellite/deustoresearch/es/inicio/plataformas-interdisciplinares-de-investigacion/deusto-gender/the-university-of-deusto)
Moreover, to seek real inclusion for people with specific support needs, the 6i Dirs project ensures equal rights and opportunities with respect to access to the programme and the acquisition of the skills expected to achieve the PhD and enhance their career development and future employability. All vacancies on the Euraxess EU portal bear the Science4refugee logo to encourage refugees to apply for them. Furthermore, DEUSTO is a partner of the Scholars At Risk Network (SAR), which offers safety to scholars facing grave threats.