Skip to main content

Dr Mary Brooks

Associate Professor

Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies


Trained as a conservator, Mary worked as a conservator and curator in the USA, Europe and England before becoming Head of Studies and Research at the Textile Conservation Centre. She was Reader and Programme Leader for their MA Museum & Galleries at the University of Southampton. In 2009-2010, Mary was Director of Studies (Acting) for the MA Cultural Heritage Management, Department of Archaeology, University of York. Appointed to Durham University in 2013, Mary became an Associate Professor in July 2019.

Her research focuses on how society engages with 'material things' and how these are, or have been, collected, interpreted and represented in museums. She is also interested in exploring how conservation approaches operate as means for engaging with object-based research and the wider interpretation and presentation of cultural heritage. She is particularly interested in how textiles have ‘disappeared’ from collective memory as well as the physical problems these materials present in terms of degradation and preservation, especially in relation to seventeenth-century embroideries and regenerated protein fibres. 

She was guest curator for The Eye of the Needle exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in summer 2014, showcasing Elizabeth and Michael Feller's collection of 17th century embroideries, never before displayed in public. The exhibition explored the role these embroideries played in 17th century women's lives as well examining the 'material culture' which they created. It was accompanied by lectures,workshops and a study day on 25 September 2014; see With wonderful generosity, the Fellers have now given all their embroideries from the exhibition to the Ashmolean Museum. The exhibition The Needles Excellency at the Ashmolean Museum (April-June 2017) showcases contemporary embroideries inspired by these embroideries. Mary presented an invited paper 'Curiosities from Female Hands' at the Symposium on 27 May 2017 which accompanied this exhibition.

Mary has undertaken curatorial and conservation consultancies for a number of museums and collections. She was Monument Fellow at York Castle Museum in 2011-2012, working on a knowledge transfer project with colleagues and helping to raise awareness of the textile collection. She lectures regularly to universities and professional organisations in this country and abroad. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Textile History having previously been a joint Editor,

Mary is Director of the MA Museums & Artefact Studies; see MA Museum and Artefact Studies - Durham University 

Mary teaches elements of preventive conservation and an introduction to textiles on the MA Conservation of Archeological & Museum Objects and the MA Museum & Artefact Studies.

She also convenes the Museum Communication module on the MA Museum & Artefact Studies which results in public engagement through collections. In 2022-23, the exhbition focused on ritual and thes students created an exhibtion at Palace Green Library called Throwing it out There! The Archeology of Rituals, Rivers & Rubbish along with an online exhbtion and a range of learning resources; see Throwing it Out There - Durham University

In 2020-2021, the students created two on-line exhibitions drawing on the collections of the Museum of Archeology and the Oriental Museum: Hidden Stories from the River Wear 18 June 2021 - 4 June 2022

Jericho: An Ancient City Revealed 10 June 2021 - 10 June 2023 

PhD supervision

I supervise PhD students on topics ranging from heritage to conservation and material culture, often with a textile perspective. I welcome enquiries from those who wish to explore such topics. I am especially interested in those who wish to look at sacred material culture, explore the social and cultural value of conservation and examine the interaction between things and gender in the early modern period. 

International Teaching & Learning


Durham-Groningen-Uppsala ‘Things That Matter’ Summer School 1-23 June 2023 - invited lecture, entited Shifting Realities? Museums, the Real Thing and the Digital, Uppsala, 19 June 2023


Durham-Groningen-Uppsala ‘Things That Matter’ Summer School 12 July 2022 - invited lecture, entited Shifting Realities? Museums, the Real Thing and the Digital

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - invited on-line lecture entitled Curating the Museum: Exhibition Methodologies, Research & Practice


Pingyao Urban-Rural Cultural Heritage Conservation and Development International Workshop, China, 12-20 July 2019, organised by Peking University, School of Archaeology & Museology at Donggeshan Village and Xigeshan Village, Pingyao County with the World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for the Asia and the Pacific Region, UNESCO, Beijing Center; the College of History & Culture, Shanxi University; the School of Tourism Management, Sun Yat-sen University and the Department of Natural Resources, Pingyao County as co-organisers - invited on-line lecture with workshop sessions entitled An Approach to Scenario Analysis for Cultural Heritage (14 July 2019).


Palace Museum and Durham University Lecture Series in Archaeology and Museology, Palace Museum, Beijing Forbidden City Conservation Foundation, the College of Arts and Science of Beijing Union University and the Zhejiang Provincial Archaeology - lecture and seminar 


International Institute for Conservation (IIC) International Training Centre for Conservation (IIC-ITCC), Palace Museum, Beijing, China Mary was one of the invited experts who taught on the third thematic workshop on textile conservation principles and practice at the International Institute for Conservation (IIC) International Training Centre for Conservation (IIC-ITCC) at the Palace Museum, Beijing, China in November 2017. Twenty-three mid-career conservation professionals, representing a wide range of backgrounds from around the world, were selected to attend this intensive workshop which took place in the newly established and very impressive ‘Hospital for Conservation'. Fellow lecturers included Sarah Staniforth (President of IIC), Dr Dinah Eastop, Dr Austin Nevin and Diana Collins, together with Dr Shan Jixiang, Director of the Palace Museum, Dr Song Jirong, Vice-Director of the Palace Museum and Dr Shi Ningchan from the Palace Museum. The programme started by focusing on current approaches to preventive conservation and non-destructive analysis of textiles followed five days exploring key principles and themes in the practice of textile conservation. The workshop was the precursor to the Unroll and Unfold: Preserving Textiles and Thangkas to Last Symposium held in Hong Kong on 24-25 November 2017 and jointly presented by IIC, Palace Museum and Leisure and Cultural Services Department Hong Kong. Mary was a key note speaker at this symposium, speaking on 'Material Memories: cloth, clothing and conservation'.

Recent conference papers and public lectures:


Mary Brooks, 'Making, Obtaining and Preserving Catholic Vestments in Post-Reformation England', invited lecture, Fashion for God Symposium, Museum Catharijne Convent, Utretcht, The Netherlands, 11-12 January


University of York, Research Seminar, History of Art Department, Invited public lecture 'Time, Decay and the Museum', 8 November                                                                                              

Mary Brooks, 'Material Culture under Penalty': New Approaches to understanding the Histories and changing Significances of Recusant Vestments', lecture, Popery, Politics and Prayer: British & Irish Catholism. 4th Early Modern British & Irish Catholicism Conference, Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham University & University of Notre Dame, 11-13 July 2023

Mary Brooks, 'Cloth and Coal: The Miners Legacy', invited lecture, Ustinov College Global Citizenship Programme /North East Local History Team, 18 May 2023

Mary Brooks, 'Unpicking the Morton 'Cope': Medieval Vestments Reconfigured', Association of Northern Stitch Groups, Bowburn, County Durham, 22 April 2023

Mary Brooks, 'Material Faith: Catholic Embroidery & Vestment-making in Seventeenth-century England', invited lecture, St John's College ,Oxford, Vestments Conference, 10 March 2023

Mary Brooks 'Revealing the Hidden: Unpicking the Stories in Archbishop Morton’s ‘Cope’, on-line lecture, European Textile Network Conference Codes: Stories in Textiles, Poldz, Poland, 4 March 2023 


Mary Brooks 'Looking on the Dark Side: Decay, Preservation & the Making of Knowledge.' Invited lecture, University College London: Institute for Sustainable Heritage, 28 April 2022

Mary Brooks 'Embroidered faith and power: Archbishop John Morton and his vestments.' Durham World Heritage Day Monday 18 April 


Mary Brooks 'Re-viewing the Morton ‘cope’. Invited lecture, Architectural & Archaeological Society of Durham & Northumberland, 18 September

Mary Brooks 'Material Legacies: Vestments associated with Archbishop John Morton.' Invited lecture, Early Textiles Study Group 2021 Conference 'LEGACY: The Past informing the Present', 9-11 September

Mary Brooks 'Material Memories' lecture for the Sutton Trust Summer School, 11 August

Mary Brooks Reviewing women's domestic embroidery in 17th century England through the lens of curiosity. Ornamental Embroidery, on-line, 17 February

Mary Brooks & Sonia O'Connor Re-viewing the Morton 'cope'. York Conservation Consortium, on-line lecture, 12 January


Mary Brooks & Sonia O'Connor Unpicking the Morton ‘cope’. Invited lecture, Society of Antiquaries of London, 27 February 

Brooks, Mary M Unpicking the Morton 'cope' History of Christianity Seminar,Theology & History Departments, Durham University, 22 January 


Brooks, Mary M. & Arwa Badran. World Heritage Site Placements & Projects. MA International Cultural Heritage Management. World Heritage UK Summer Networking Meeting, Durham World Heritage Site, August 2019.

Brooks, Mary. M., Recusant Vestments, Pugin Workshop (Ornamental Embroidery), Ushaw College, 17 June (Material Culture under Penalty project)

Brooks, Mary M. (presenter), Blackburn, R & Quye, A. Forgotten Histories & Possible Futures: Learning from Fibres and Films made from Regenerated Protein Sources, The Plastics Heritage Congress 2019 – History, Limits and Possibilities, Lisbon, 29-31 May.

Brooks, Mary M Stitching For Your Soul Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 8 February.

Brooks, Mary M Sustainable Fashion: Follow the Fibre DUCFS Festival of Sustainability, Durham University, 26 January.


Brooks, Mary M. with Marsland, C. The Fabric of Resistance: English Catholic Textiles in the Early Modern Period. Authority, Gender & Social Relations. Durham Early Modern Studies Conference, Institute of Medieval & Early Modern Studies, Durham University, 24 July.

Brooks, Mary M. Unpicking the Morton 'cope': Exploring a Fragmented Medieval Vestment. Archaeology and the Small Finds of North-East England Conference. Finds Research group, Material & Visual Culture Research Group, Durham University, Architectural & Archaeological Society of Durham & Northumberland (AASDN), 20 April.

Brooks, Mary M., The Raiment of the Lord: Investigating the Morton 'Cope'. English Benedictine History Commission, 43rd Symposium, Douai Abbey, 12 April.


Brooks, Mary M. Material Memories: Cloth, Clothing and Conservation. Hongkong Symposium.Unroll & Unfold: Preserving textiles & Thangkas to Last. IIC, Palace Museum & Hong Kong Leisure & Cultural Services Department, 24-27 November 2017.

Eastop, Dinah and Brooks, Mary M. Social Sustainability and Textile Conservation. Abegg Stiftung, Berne, Switerland. Ehemaligentreffen Symposium 

Brooks, Mary M. Investigating the Morton 'cope' : Evidence for Changing Faith and Practice, Durham University, Belief in the North-East, 1 October 2017.

Brooks, Mary M.The Tangible Minster: York Minster’s Textiles York Minster (Arts Council England), Unlocking Cathedral Collections, 12 September 2017.

Brooks, Mary M. Heart of Darkness: Making Sense of Decay in the Museum. Museum of Archaeology, Durham University ‘Dig Deeper’ lecture series, 23 August 2017.

Brooks, Mary M. and Marsland, Claire. 'Raiment of the Bride of Christ'. The Design, Creation and Reception of Architect-designed Ecclesiastical Vestments in 19th and 20th Century England. Catholicism, Literature and the Arts:1850 to the Present. Durham University, Centre for Catholic Studies, Centre for Visual Arts & Culture and Ushaw College, 5-7 July 2017.

Brooks, Mary M. and Eastop, D. D. Conservation and the Narrative Power of Exhibited Garments. Costume Committee Meeting, London College of Fashion, The Narrative Power of Clothes. ICOM, 26-29 June 2017.

Brooks, Mary M. Curiosities from Female Hands, Ashmolean Museum, The Needles Excellency Symposium, 27 May 2017.

Brooks, Mary M. and Eastop, D. D. Refashioning and Redress: the conservation and re/presentation of dress in museums and beyond. Centre for Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion, 8 March 2017.


Caple, Chris and Brooks, Mary. Object Lessons. Inaugural Learning & Teaching Conference, Durham University, 13 September 2016.

Brooks, Mary. Potential and Perception: Exploring The Life of Moses Tapestries of Durham Castle Creating Connections: National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement & Arts Council (North East). Museum University Partnerships Initiative (MUPI), University College, Durham University, 31 March 2016.

Brooks, Mary. Decay and Meaning-making. Accessing the Past: The Evidence of Artefacts. Artefact Research Group, Department of Archaeology & Institute of Advanced Study. Palace Green Library, Durham University, 31 March 2016.


Brooks, Mary and Eastop, Dinah. Worn Dress: Display as Meaning-making. ICOM Costume Committee Meeting, Toronto, September 2015 

Current research projects:

Material Culture under Penalty: Revealing Hidden Catholic Liturgical Vestments and Practices, c.1530-1829  British Academy funded project with Claire Marsland (Ushaw College)

Material Culture under Penalty analyses a hidden aspect of early modern Catholic material culture to develop new knowledge and practice. It focuses on the penal period (c.1530-1829) when conformity to the Church of England was legally enforced and the practice of Catholicism illegal. In consequence, recusant Catholics developed distinctive liturgical vestments for their clandestine religious practice. This material culture is under-studied and often unidentified, surviving in churches and houses as well as museums. This material is not readily recognised for its unique qualities or and made readily understandable to the public as part of a personal, regional, national and transnational cultural/social history of the practice of concealed faith. The project will use co-production of knowledge and meaning-making to locate and examine these pieces and explore and communicate the inter-relationship between material culture, memory and faith and the sustaining, forgetting or reviving of suppressed religious practice.

Mary gave a brief presentation on this research project at the British Academy Roadshow at Durham University in May 2017.

The first workshop of the project took place at Ushaw College on 23 May 2017.

Material Culture under Penalty British Academy research project - Fabric of Resistance website: 

2019 Contextualising the Morton ‘cope’ Society of Antiquaries (London) funded project with Dr Sonia O'Connor, University of Bradford

This research builds on discoveries made during recent research funded by a Society of Antiquaries Janet Arnold Award in 2016. This established that theso-called ‘cope’, now in the form of a pieced oblong, was once two distinct vestments – a cope and, probably, a chasuble. It aims to contextualise the newly revealed vestments by researching the six surviving vestments associated with Morton to establish whether they originated from the same workshop and how far the unusual features of the Auckland vestments may be interpreted as a individualexpression of Morton’s beliefs. 

Investigating the Morton ‘Cope’ Society of Antiquaries (London) funded project 

Led by Dr Pam Graves, Durham University.

The Morton ‘cope’ is a rare survival of a medieval vestment associated with a known individual, Cardinal John Morton, who was both Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor (c.1420-1500). It is now held by the Auckland Castle Trust, Bishop Auckland County Durham; see The 'cope' is thought to have been made sometime after 1461. Previously a lavish vestment, it has the unusual motif of a Lily Crucifix together with motifs of a barrel and eagle - a rebus which is a visual pun on Morton’s name. It is now in the form of a panelled flat textile which may have been used as an altar frontal or dorsal. The IHS Christogram embroidered on the other face, a later addition, raises the question of whether, in this form, the reworked ‘cope’ might have formed part of an altar dressing used by Roman Catholics during the penal period (1538-1829) or alternatively during the nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholic revival. This project aims to ‘unpick’ the complex biography of the ‘cope’ with the goals of contributing to understanding of the changing religious and iconographic significance of a ‘recycled’ garment, and to enhance its interpretation for visitors to Auckland Castle.

A workshop was held to study the 'cope' and discuss research discoveries at the Oriental Museum, Durham, on 24 May 2017.

Networks: British Catholic Material Culture: Sacred Textiles (British Art Network Research Group) Seminar Arundel Castle 17 July 2023



2010 University of Leeds:  PhD  Innovation, invention & failure: the case of regenerated protein fibres

2001 National Qualifications  & Curriculum Authority: National Vocational Qualification G3 Level 4 Development of the Museums, Galleries & Heritage Sector

1986 Textile Conservation Centre/Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London: Post-Graduate Diploma in Textile Conservation

1983 Council for National Academic Awards / Polytechnic of Central London: Post-graduate Diploma in Management Studies

1981 University of Cambridge: MA

1977 University of Cambridge: BA (Hons) English

Research Networks

2019 Co-convenor with UNESCO Professor Robin Coingham of the Department of Archeology's Heritage, Archeology, People & Places Research & Impact Group (HAPPi).

2014-2016 Co-convenor with Dr Chris Caple of the Artefact Research Group, Department of Archaeology

2011 The Real Thing, Research Network for Textile Conservation, Dress and Textile History and Technical Art History, University of Glasgow (funded by the Getty Foundation)

2010-2013 Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700, AHRC,

Research interests

  • Cultural significance of heritage and museums, conservation and conservation’s contribution to the making of meaning
  • Educational methodologies for teaching and learning in professional education in heritage and conservation sectors
  • Material Things: Early Modern English Embroidery as Art, Social Practice and Material Culture
  • Material Things: Innovation, Fibres and War: the Agency of Regenerated Protein Fibres
  • Sacred material culture, especially vestments and ecclesiastical textiles

Esteem Indicators

  • 2018: Member of Durham Cathedral Fabric Advisory Committee:
  • 2017: Celebrating Excellence:
  • 2016: Fellow of Society of Antiquaries (London):
  • 2016: Member of the Faith Museum Advisory Panel, Auckland Castle Bishop Auckland: See
  • 2014: Guest curator The Eye of the Needle Ashmolean Museum Oxford: The Eye of the Needle 1 August -12 Otober 2014

    The Eye of the Needle will display, for the first time in public, a selection of eye-catching, virtuoso 17th-century embroideries from the internationally renowned Feller Collection, together with outstanding examples from the Ashmolean’s own holdings.

    These remarkable embroideries include colourful raised and flatwork pictoral panels, beautiful samplers and household items such as boxes and cushions and dress accessories including caps, coifs and gloves. 

    sublayerThe exhibition will explore the context in which these dramatic and technically exacting works were made, examining their importance in creating the ideal goodly and godly woman through the discipline of painstaking embroidery, reinforcing both social status and appropriate behaviour.

    Exquisite objects in their own right made with colourful silks, pearls, and semi-precious stones, the embroideries also reflect the religious, political and social concerns of the English Civil War period.

  • 2014: Celebrating Excellence: Invited to attend 'Celebrating Excellence', Durham University, 19 May 2014
  • 2013: Pasold Research Fund Governor:
  • 2012: External Examiner, MA Heritage (Contemporary Practice) Kingston University (2012-2015):
  • 2010: Textile Conservation Foundation Trustee:


Authored book

Book review

Chapter in book

Conference Paper

Edited book

Journal Article

Other (Print)

Supervision students