Exhibitions and Cultural Policy: The Case of Sherlock Holmes

Submitting Institution

University of Winchester

Unit of Assessment

Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management 

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies

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Summary of the impact

Dr Neil McCaw's research has had a cultural, educational, and policy impact on individuals, groups of individuals, and organisations in the UK and countries overseas. His work on the development of The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest (the largest collection of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia in the world, of which he was appointed Academic Director in 2005) and detective and crime culture more widely has underpinned the following: a worldwide series of interlinked museum exhibitions visited to date by more than 350,000 citizens; a variety of connected educational projects involving school-age pupils of different nations; and regional public policy and heritage development work with a UK local authority that has informed tourism and cultural strategy. McCaw's research engages with communities, audiences and users far beyond academia through highly interactive media, written text, public exhibitions and televised airings of his expertise, all disseminated from its institutional, and regional, base in the UK to Germany, France, the USA, and Japan.

Underpinning research

The research focus of McCaw's work is the cultural influence, significance and literary effects of the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and crime and detective fiction generally, growing out of his role as Academic Director of The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. The collection is the previously un-accessed life's work of Richard Lancelyn Green (who died in 2004), the leading world authority on Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

This research initially involved assisting with the organisation and cataloguing in excess of 60,000 unlisted, unarranged items in a way that accessibly told the story of the material's collector, the life of Conan Doyle, and the development of the popular fascination with detective and crime fiction in the different countries of the world since the nineteenth century. The new knowledge and awareness drawn from this emerging archive (no academic scholar had previously seen any of the material) then became a key part of the development of a series of linked research outputs authored by McCaw. These include a monograph concerned with the cultural adaptation and appropriation of crime and detective fiction and its socio-political consequences in the late twentieth century Adapting Detective Fiction: Crime, Englishness and the TV Detectives (2010); a book chapter which pursues the political vein of adaptation and the jurisdiction of textual modification and its effects, 'Sherlock Holmes and a Politics of Adaptation' which appeared in The Afterlives of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes (2012)), and the `Introduction' to a new non-academic Complete Works of Arthur Conan Doyle.

All of this research, which has underpinned McCaw's related activities increasing the profile and public awareness of the Conan Doyle Collection through media work, educational projects, policy development, and a series of museum exhibitions, has been undertaken in his capacity as Reader in Literature and Culture at the University of Winchester.

References to the research


1. McCaw, N., Adapting Detective Fiction: Crime, Englishness and the TV Detectives (Continuum, 2010).

2. McCaw, N., 'Sherlock Holmes and a Politics of Adaptation' in Wynne, C. and Vanacker, S., (eds), The Afterlives of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes (Palgrave, 2012) pp. 36-48.


3. McCaw, N., 'Introduction' (pp. vii-xviii) to The Complete Works of Arthur Conan Doyle in 56 Volumes (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009).


4. The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor, Portsmouth City Museum (2006-)
Different incarnations of this exhibition (with their own local nuances and display elements) have travelled within the UK, as well as to France, Germany, and Japan (2006-).

5. A Study in Sherlock, Portsmouth City Museum (2008-)

Details of the impact

McCaw's research has enlightened and empowered the general public and academic audiences both in the UK and overseas with insights into newly-discovered aspects of their cultural heritage and literary knowledge related to the life of the British cultural and literary icon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the role of detective and crime genre as part of literature and culture more generally from the nineteenth century to the present day. In particular his work has significantly enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the longstanding international fascination with Sherlock Holmes as a global icon and how this articulates and intersects with various national and ethnic identities.

McCaw's research has been disseminated to the general public as well as to more academic/research audiences through introductions to popular books, journal articles, television appearances, curated interactive museum exhibitions, education projects, and cultural policy developments and initiatives. The early stages of the published research underpinned the initial The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor exhibition at Portsmouth Central Museum, which first introduced items from the Conan Doyle Collection to the wider world and sought to inform and ignite general interest in the works, life, and subsequent impact of Conan Doyle's cultural contribution. This display was then successively and independently commissioned by regional governmental bodies in Caen, France (2006), Maizuru, Japan (2008), and Duisburg, Germany (2010) — the latter as part of the European Capitals of Culture programme of the Ruhr. On each occasion the display was tailored to meet the particular cultural and linguistic character of the nations involved. In total to date this exhibition has been visited by well over 100,000 visitors in the UK and overseas, and been reviewed in the national media of each of these countries.

McCaw's second exhibition, A Study in Sherlock, has been in situ in Portsmouth's City Museum from 2008 to the present, and been updated on a regular basis as new Collection finds have been uncovered. This award-winning exhibition has an interactive aspect designed to engage with a wide range of visitors and audiences (users), exemplified by the exhibition's narration by Stephen Fry (the Collection's patron). Supporting materials written by McCaw include text/display panels, the audio narration which he recorded with Fry, a new Sherlock Holmes educational script performed by local amateur actors and produced as a film specifically for the exhibition, as well as an accompanying book: A Study in Sherlock: Uncovering the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. A Study in Sherlock is a monument to the life of the collector of the archival material featured in it, as well as to Conan Doyle's life in the city of Portsmouth, Hampshire's literary heritage, and the phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes in the UK and abroad. It has raised the profile of each of these features on both the national and international stage and has been visited by more than 250,000 visitors to date.

McCaw has acted as spokesperson for the Conan Doyle Collection overseas, and been an invited public speaker in each of the countries the exhibitions have visited, as well as at the University of Minnesota (2010), where he participated in meetings with the curators of all the other major world Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes collections (Minnesota, Chicago, and Toronto), to discuss how these cultural resources (alongisde the Portsmouth Collection) could be integrated and made more accessible to researchers (of all levels) globally.

The reach of McCaw's research impact is evidenced by visitor attendance figures to his exhibitions. The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor: c. 856 visitors at the Hotel de Ville, Caen (France, 2008); c. 12,636, Maizuru Museum (Japan, 2008); c. 1,503, Meridian Centre (Havant UK, 2009); c. 96,542 Duisberg Central Library (Germany, 2010). A Study in Sherlock: c. 70,186 (2008-9); 64,533 (2009-10); c. 97,195 (2010-11); c. 55,459 (2011-12).

The significance of McCaw's impact is evidenced by the high exhibition attendance figures and the resulting widepread recognition of his research and its effectiveness in disseminating the Conan Doyle/Sherlock Holmes legacy. A Study in Sherlock was awarded a media prize for `Best Exhibition' in 2009, a category voted for by the public, and was reviewed in numerous media, notably The Independent (2008) and the Mail Online (2009). McCaw's exhibitions also created a surge of interest from television broadcasters. He was featured in The History Channel/STV TV documentary 'In Search of Sherlock' (2010) in which he discussed aspects of the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon (reviewed in Pop Matters in 2010), as well as in news items on BBC TV and ITV on four occasions, and also in an episode of 'Flog It!', a popular TV programme syndicated around the world and watched by millions of viewers, in which he was the resident expert on Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle.

The significance of the research impact is also evident in a programme of educational events and projects for schools in the southern region (UK) linked to McCaw's work on Conan Doyle. He has delivered interactive talks to children ranging from 5-16, and been part of an EU-funded Interreg project wherein The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor exhibition formed a central part of an exchange visit between pupils from the UK and France within which they took part in detective-themed literacy and numeracy tasks in both their own country and that of their `foreign' partner school.

McCaw's research is also central to his close working with the Cultural Services department of Portsmouth City Council in relation to the strategic policy development of the Conan Doyle Collection, as well as related cultural and educational policy developments in the region. This has had manifest outcomes in terms of affecting the direction of local cultural strategy and provision, as well as contributing to an influx of visitors to the area (and Portsmouth specifically) from countries with a major interest in Sherlock Holmes as far afield as the US, Japan, Australia, numerous countries within Europe and, more recently, Israel. This has had an unarguably positive impact on the local economy and tourist industry.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Portsmouth City Council. A Report to the Executive Member for Culture and Leisure. 9 November 2006. www.portsmouth.gov.uk/media/cl20061109r3.pdf
    `There was a Gala opening to the exhibition attended by Richard Lancelyn Green's mother and brother, the Executive Member for Leisure and Culture, VIP guests, Dr Neil McCaw, and also John Guy-Hawthorne from the Museums and Records Society who presented a cheque for £6,000 to go towards the cataloguing of the Collection.
    Work is currently ongoing to evaluate the effectives of the exhibition in relation to its original aims. This will provide key information for the shape and design of the more substantial exhibition currently being developed for the summer 2007 to open the Portsmouth Festivities'.
  2. Portsmouth City Council. Leader's Portfolio Decision Meeting. 11 March 2008.
  3. Portsmouth City Council. The Arthur Conan Doyle, Lancelyn Green Bequest 2009 Achievements. www.portsmouth.gov.uk/media/cl20101021r5.pdf
    `Receipts: One of 33 original surviving Conan Doyle manuscripts `The Adventure of the Creeping Man' and its display in `The Study in Sherlock' exhibition at the City Museum. Receipt of a very large portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the estate of his daughter Dame Jean Conan Doyle...Exhibitions: Support and delivery of `The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor' at Havant Meridian Centre as part of the Havant Literary Festival. Adaptations to `The Study In Sherlock` exhibition at the City Museum to include the winning short `Hound of the Baskervilles' animation from the competition run by the 2nd year animation students at the University of Portsmouth and a new display of material relating to The Hound of the Baskervilles.'
  4. The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest. `The Collection in Japan.' Spring/Summer 2008 Newsletter.
  5. The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Lancelyn Green Bequest. `A Study in Sherlock:
    Uncovering the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.'
  6. The News. `READERS VOTED..Nominated and voted for by readers of The News. Best Exhibition Winner: A Study in Sherlock (Portsmouth City Museum).'
    We asked our readers to nominate their favourite for the 15 vote-led categories and then held a further vote to choose the top six in the running for each title. Our panel of experts then deliberated over the results of the poll to decide a winner and runner-up. All shortlisted nominees were invited to the ceremony when the results were made public for the first time.
  7. The Independent. 17 May 2008.
    www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/trail-of-the-unexpected-the-game-is-afoot-sherlock-holmes-and- the-fa-cup-connection-829544.html
  8. Mail Online. 13 September 2009. www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1211502/Six-things--Portsmouth.html
  9. Pop Matters.`The Search for Sherlock Holmes'. 18 November 2010.
  10. Letter from Head of Cultural Services, Portsmouth City Council. 2 May 2012.