I'm currently a visiting fellow in the History Department having completed my AHRC-funded PhD at the Open University under the supervision of Dr Chris A Willliams. Prior to this I gained an AHRC-funded MRes (with distinction) in Material Culture from the University of Exeter, and a first-class BSc (Hons) in the Conservation of artifacts from London Guildhall University.
As a life-long learner, studying for academic qualifications has been interspersed with periods of work for museums, art galleries and universities including the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Maritime Museum, project coordinator for the University of Liverpool's AHRC-funded project Libraries, reading communities and cultural formation in the eighteenth-century Atlantic, Heriot-Watt University museum and archives and curator for Devon & Cornwall Constabulary Police Museum. I have also carried out freelance project work for the Towner Art Gallery, the Horniman Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Thackray Medical Museum (see below).
I am a member of the Open University's International Centre for the History of Crime, Policing and Justice.
My research interests stem from my professional experience working with museums and archives - particularly for a police museum - and my MRes in material culture. These experiences synthesised to form the basis for my PhD research which examined, at a micro level, the making and preservation of murder files, but at a macro level established patterns of deposits of police records within local record offices and questioned the preservation of, and access to records for research purposes.
More broadly my research covers contemporary history and policy, the preservation of policing history, museology, material culture, public and criminal justice history, collective and organisational memory and narratives from the archive. I use mixed methods for research such as combining oral histories or semi-structured interviews to provide personal narratives and to underpin larger-scale surveys of online catalogues or data.
The preservation of police records for future research: Why it is important, what is failing and lessons that can be learned, Sutton-Vane, A., Public Money & Management, 42, 1 (2022)
Investigating the murder file: A biographical analysis of creation, survival and impact (2021) PhD thesis, the Open University
Murder cases, trunks and the entanglement of ethics: The preservation and display of scenes of crime material (2020) in Adam, Alison Crime and the construction of forensic objectivity from 1850, pp.279-301, Palgrave Histories of Policing, Punishment and Justice.
Acid bath murderers and poison: Why dark tourism is important (2015), The Conversation.
Crime and Punishment Collections Network / Understanding British Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, 2021: Convenor and co-Chair for 'Portraits of crime? The ethics of displaying real lives and people.'
Centre for Policing Research & Learning annual conference, 2019: ‘Should murder files become Public Records? Lessons to be learned from the historical management and release of police information.’
British Crime Historians Symposium, 2018: ‘The private life of CID paperwork: The transition of murder files from institutional to public record,’ (winner of Clive Emsley Prize for best postgraduate paper)
Social History Society conference, 2017: ‘Recording crime: Narratives of policing history and organisational memory, 1920-1980’
Portraits of crime? The ethics of displaying real lives and people, December 2021: Convenor and co-Chair for a collaborative webinar hosted by Understanding British Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Crime and Punishment Collections Network.
The Crime and Punishment Collections Network, 2016-2017: Project consultant and applicant for a successful grant application to Arts Council England for £30,262 in order to re-launch the group, undertake a survey of all crime and punishment collections and create a new website with searchable directory.
Policing past, community present, 2014-2015: Consultant, funding applicant and project manager on a Heritage Lottery grant-funded project to explore moving the historic collections of Devon & Cornwall Police away from the force and into a charitable trust. In addition the brief was to explore ways of increasing sustainability and to connect the collection to specific policing themes around community safety, citizenship and personal social responsibility.
The Thackray Medical Museum, 2013: Consultancy work in order to design, develop and pilot a funded project to develop the museum's handling collections in order to support people living with dementia. The consultancy included creating handling boxes, identifying audiences and organising pilot sessions.
Driving Heritage, 2006-2008: Following a successful funding application for a Heritage Lottery grant, as curator of Devon & Cornwall Police Museum, I devised, designed and managed this project to increase access to the museum's stored collections. The project value was £69,000 and funds were used to commission a bespoke outreach van, handling boxes, a 'pop up' museum, employ an education officer and develop audiences, programmes and events for schools, care homes and other organisations.
The Towner Art Gallery, 2002-2003: A collections consultancy to undertake a complete survey and prepare a report of the gallery's collection of 4,162 artefacts in preparation for their move to a new venue.
I am Chair of the Crime and Punishment Collections Network - an Arts Council England subject specialist network supporting collections, museums, libraries and archives relating to courts, prisons, police, judiciary, forensic science, pathology and coroners.