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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

Sue Breakell is Archivist at the University of Brighton Design Archives, and a Senior Research Fellow. In line with the Design Archives’ principle of research informed stewardship, her research engages with critical thinking about the nature, meaning and practice of archives, focussing on their use in visual arts contexts and in the history and practice of art and design. 

With an academic background in English Studies, Archive Studies and the History of Art, Sue worked for many years in archives in national museums and galleries, before joining the University in 2009, bringing her professional practice into an academic context. She has extensive experience of working with archives of all sizes and kinds, including cataloguing the papers of Kenneth Clark and other large archives of modern British art and artists at Tate Archive; working as both War Artists Archivist and Museum Archivist at the Imperial War Museum, and as Company Archivist at Marks and Spencer.  Prior to her post at Brighton she was head of Tate Archive.

Research interests

Sue is interested in the diversity of perspectives on the theory and practice of archives, bridging discourses of archive studies and other humanities disciplines, promoting greater cross fertilisation for mutual enrichment and new insights. Her engagement takes place at the intersection of stewardship, research and creative activities, involving a range of approaches to the notional and physical archive.  In both analogue and digital forms, this work in essence reflects on the place and nature of archives in contemporary culture.  Specialising in visual arts archives, her current particular research interests include archival materiality, and practices of archival selection.

Sue’s art and design history research focuses on the collections with which she works: twentieth century British art and design and their contexts, with a particular focus on the mid-century.  Current research includes work on the archives of émigré designers; she has recently published on the design advocacy of the art historian Kenneth Clark, a founding member of the Council of Industrial Design whose archive is held at the Design Archives.  She has worked closely on the archives of the architect Joseph Emberton and the designer HA Rothholz, and is currently working on that of designer FHK Henrion. 

Supervisory Interests

Sue is based at the University of Brighton Design Archives and supervises research on archives in theory and practice, particularly in art and design; and on twentieth century British art and design and their contexts, with a particular focus on the mid-century. She currently supervises Masters and Doctorate projects both at Brighton and elsewhere, and is happy to hear from potential students with interdisciplinary interests that intersect with archives practice or the Design Archives collections.

Education/Academic qualification

Master, Birkbeck University of London

Master, University of Liverpool

Bachelor, University of Nottingham

External positions

Tutor (dissertation supervisor), University of Dundee, Centre for Archive and Information Studies

2019 → …

Peer reviewer, Archive Service Accreditation , National Archives

2014 → …


  • N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
  • CD921 Archives

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Research Output 2006 2020

The materiality of the archive: creative practice in context

Breakell, S., 2020, (Accepted/In press) Routledge.

Research output: Book/ReportBook - editedResearchpeer-review

'The true object of study’: the material body of the archive

Breakell, S., 2020, (Accepted/In press) The materiality of the archive: creative practice in context . Breakell, S. & Russell, W. (eds.). Routledge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterResearchpeer-review

Fine Arts
Critical Practice
Art Education

Snail trails and alternative momentum: locating the Fine Art Critical Practice archive

Breakell, S., 2019, (Accepted/In press) In : Journal of Visual art Practice.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and Civilisation

Breakell, S., Feb 2018, In : Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone.

Research output: Contribution to journalBook ReviewResearch

Activities 2007 2019

  • 12 Invited talk
  • 3 Oral presentation
  • 1 Conference
  • 1 Editorial work

‘Memory’s instruments and its very medium’: the archival practices of émigré designers

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
17 May 2019

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

Navigating the ‘discursive terrain’ of the archive

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
5 Jun 2018

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

Only Connect: digital archives and the Exploring British Design project

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
22 Feb 2018

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

Connecting subjectivities: archives and creative practice

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
9 Feb 2018

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

'The sort of separation that is going to leave a trace in my life': emigre designers and the archive

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
30 Nov 2017

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk