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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. 

Education/Academic qualification

Master, Birkbeck University of London

Master, University of Liverpool

Bachelor, University of Nottingham

External positions

Peer reviewer, Archive Service Accreditation

2014 → …


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

Fingerprint Fingerprint is based on mining the text of the person's scientific documents to create an index of weighted terms, which defines the key subjects of each individual researcher.

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Research Output 2006 2019

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

Breakell, S., Jul 2019, (Accepted/In press) 18, 2

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship

Breakell, S., 11 Sep 2018

Research output: Contribution to journalBook ReviewResearch

Open Access

The materiality of the archive: creative practice in context

Breakell, S., 2018, (Accepted/In press)

Research output: Book/ReportBook - editedResearchpeer-review

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

Breakell, S., 2018, (Accepted/In press) The materiality of the archive: creative practice in context . Breakell, S. & Russell, W. (eds.).

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

'A valuable stimulus to design development': Six emigre designers at the University of Brighton Design Archives

Breakell, S. & Whitworth, L., 2017, Designs on Britain: An exhibition by Jewish Museum London. London, p. 37-43

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterResearch

Activities 2012 2018

  • 11 Invited talk
  • 2 Oral presentation
  • 1 Conference
  • 1 Editorial work

Connecting subjectivities: archives and creative practice

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
9 Feb 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

Navigating the ‘discursive terrain’ of the archive

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
5 Jun 2018

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

Unboxed: Artists and the Archive

Sue Breakell (Participant)
6 Sep 2017

Activity: EventsConference

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

Sue Breakell (Presenter)
15 Mar 2017

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk