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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Prof. Christina Riggs

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Professor (History of Visual Culture) in the Department of History

Contact Prof. Christina Riggs (email at christina.j.riggs@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

I am a historian of photography and archaeology, with a particular interest in North Africa and the Middle East. My research has considered how different people, at different times, have imagined, studied, and represented the culture we know as ‘ancient Egypt’ – and how the fields of archaeology, art history, and Egyptology developed in tandem with colonial and imperial expansion. I see archives and museum collections not as dead legacies of these difficult pasts, but as living expressions of them which, as historians, we have a responsility to analyze, evaluate, and confront.

Most recently, I have been working on the history of the Tutankhamun discovery and the different trajectories taken by the tomb, its 'treasures', and its archive, from the 1920s to the present day. This is the subject of my most recent book, Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century (Atlantic Books 2021; US and Italian editions out in 2022). My study of the photographic archive of the Tutankhamun excavation, including the work of Harry Burton, has been published in a book called Photographing Tutankhamun (Bloomsbury 2019), as well as several articles, catalogue essays, and as a museum exhibition.

I am now extending my research to other photographic archives, media representations, and museum collections, to inform longer-term projects on 1) the historiography of ancient Egyptian art, via the creation and circulation of visual images, and 2) the photographic culture of archaeology in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia, during the construction of dams at Aswan in the 19th and 20th centuries.

More broadly, I am interested in how photography informs historical methods and how photographs function as social and material objects. Approaches from anthropology, museum studies, and the history of science have helped shape my interdisciplinary work. Trained as an Egyptologist, I began my career working on the visual culture of Roman Egypt and curating museum collections of Egyptian antiquities. Before joining the Department of History at Durham University, I spent twelve years in the Department of Art History and World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia, Norwich.

My research has been funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I have been a Two-Year Fellow, a Visiting Fellow, and the Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford University. My Evans-Pritchard Lectures were published as Unwrapping Ancient Egypt (Bloomsbury 2014), which was first runner-up in the BKFS Book Prize for Middle Eastern Studies in 2015.

Research Supervision

I welcome inquiries from potential postgraduate research students interested in the history of photography, archaeology, and visual culture. With my Durham colleague Dr Robert Witcher, I am second supervisor of Poppy Grima, who holds an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award in conjunction with the British School at Rome; her thesis is looking at the photographic archive of the South Etruria Survey, 1955-75.

Research Groups

Department of History

Research Interests

  • History of photography
  • History of museums, collecting, and display
  • Archaeology, colonialism, and empire

Selected Publications

Authored book

Edited book

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

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Supervises