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Personal profile

Research interests

Annebella Pollen is an academic working across a range of interests in material and visual culture.

Her research areas include mass photography and popular image culture, and histories of craft, design and dress. She has developed projects on historical youth cultures and experiments in living, on silhouette portraits, snapshot photographs and picture postcards, and on revivalism and utopianism.

Annebella leads the Academic Programme in History of Art and Design (BA Hons History of Art and Design; BA Hons Fashion and Dress History; BA Hons Visual Culture; BA Hons Philosophy, Politics, Art; MA History of Design and Material Culture; MA Curating Collections and Heritage). She is also Deputy Director of the university's Centre for Design History.

Supervisory Interests

Annebella is currently supervising eight PhD students and has examined a further ten PhDs at University of the Arts London, University of Brighton, British Museum/University of Nottingham, Bolton University, Lancaster University, SOAS and University of Sussex in topics across the history, theory and practice of art and design. She is interested in supervising projects relating to visual and material culture, especially in relation to popular photographic practices and popular image cultures, Mass Observation, interwar British art and design, non-elite design and dress history, everyday / vernacular cultural practices and countercultures.

Scholarly biography

Dr Annebella Pollen is Principal Lecturer and Academic Programme Leader in the History of Art and Design, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Design History. Previously she has been Assistant Director of the Internationalising Design History research cluster (2016-17), AHRC Research Fellow (2015-17), and Director of Historical and Critical Studies, Faculty of Arts (2012-15). Her research interests and publications span a range of forms and historical periods but broadly cluster into three areas: the visual and material culture of everyday life especially in relation to popular image culture and photography; cultural politics, particularly in relation to countercultures; and the uses of the past in popular culture. 

Annebella holds a PhD from University of the Arts London. She has a first class BA in Visual Culture, a PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (Distinction) and an MA in Design History and Material Culture (Distinction), all from the University of Brighton where she has lectured since 2005 in the History of Art and Design.

In 2018-19 Annebella is working on a new commercial book commission, examining eight decades of cultural relations through a popular history of the British Council Visual Arts Department.

During 2015-17 Annebella was awarded a two-year AHRC Fellowship for the project 'Picturesqueness in Everything: The Visual and Material Culture of British Woodcraft Groups, 1916-2016'. This grew out of Annebella's 2013-14 University of Brighton sabbatical award, and developed her ongoing research into the role of art, craft, design and dress as forms of resistance, radical educational strategies and utopian ideals, focusing on progressive interwar reform organisations including the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, Woodcraft Folk and Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. Annebella's book The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: Intellectual Barbarianswas published by Donlon Books in 2015; her co-curated exhibition on the subject ran from October 2015-March 2016 at Whitechapel Gallery. Alongside, Annebella co-steered the 2015-16 Heritage Lottery Funded project, 90 Years of Woodcraft Folk, and co-edited and contributed to A People's History of Woodcraft Folk (2016). In 2018-19, Annebella is working with creative partners to develop her research on Kibbo Kift into a feature-length documentary film, and is working with colleagues at UCL on a symposium and edited collection entitled Education for Social Change: The many histories of Woodcraft Folk.

Annebella’s longstanding research interest in the history and ethnography of mass photography has covered the subject of found photos, family albums, vernacular archives, amateur competitions, photographic publishing and the photographic industry. It is the focus of her book, Mass Photography: Collective Histories of Everyday Life (I. B. Tauris, 2015). Further research into the meanings and uses of photography can be found in the co-edited collection with Ben Burbridge, Photography ReframedNew Visions in Contemporary Photographic Culture (I. B. Tauris, 2018), and in commissioned chapters for the  Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Photography, and the Bloomsbury Handbook of Photographic Studies. 

Annebella's interest in photography intersects with her work on popular image culture more broadly, and includes research on Victorian valentines (Early Popular Visual Culture, 2014), Edwardian picture postcards (Photography and Culture, 2009) and a co-edited publication on the history of the silhouette portrait (University of Brighton, 2013). Supported by a 2017-18 University of Brighton sabbatical award, she is developing aspects of this work into a new book-length study, provisionally entitled The Image at Large. Her monthly column, Flea Market Photobooks, for Source: The Photographic Review explores the role of the image in non-canonical illustrated publications.

Research into design histories cuts across many of Annebella's interests. Publications include the co-edited collection with Charlotte Nicklas, Dress History: New Directions in Theory and Practice (Bloomsbury, 2015), and journal articles and book chapters on dressing-up costumes, political uniforms, nudism and dress reform. In 2019 she is co-convening a panel with Louise Purbrick at the Association for Art History annual conference on the subject of Dress and Dissent and leading a collaborative research project on twentieth-century everyday dress with Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

Approach to teaching

In my University of Brighton teaching, I have worn two hats. As Principal Lecturer in the History of Art and Design, I teach students in the History of Art and Design programme. As Director of Historical and Critical Studies, 2012-15, I oversaw the historical and theoretical elements of arts practice courses. These differing roles require differing teaching styles and modes of delivery, even as they share subject content. As such, they require flexible, adaptive and innovative teaching to maximise student engagement.

Case Study 1 - Object-led Learning: Learning to Look, Learning to Feel

I firmly believe in the centrality of object-led teaching, wherever possible. At Brighton we are lucky enough to have extensive handling opportunities available in the Dress and Design History Teaching Collection. Compiled over many years through the enthusiasm of Professor Lou Taylor, this collection of historic dress, textiles and accessories, alongside printed material, photographs and other artefacts, provides a rare opportunity for students to handle period objects, and to encounter, first-hand, the size and weight, scent and feel, design and construction of the material culture of the past.

By engaging all of the senses, and examining objects made and used instead of objects as symbols and ideas, students can get close to their subject of study, debunk misconceptions and test theory. Through the knowledge brought by touch, students can increase their understanding of the materiality of things: the distinctive differences between natural and synthetic fibres, the changing size of waistlines over time, the differing weights of historical photographic formats, for example, can be revelatory and may only be understood through close examination of objects in the flesh. These kinds of opportunities can help demonstrate how objects were experienced, creating greater historical understanding. The surprise and interest expressed by students that I have taught in this way has led me to reflect further on the role of touch in learning, and I have gone on to develop taught content on the topic of sensual culture and the politics of touch for final year History of Art and Design students.

Case Study 2 - Theory and Practice: Objective and Subjective?

The role of history and theory in the teaching of art and design practice at degree level can sometimes be contested. While the importance of knowing your field for locating your own work is undisputed, and the acquisition of the skills and vocabulary to analyse and critique your own discipline is invaluable, the academic rigour of study and assessment in the historical and critical studies elements of courses can sometimes be negatively perceived as distinctly separate from, or even unnecessary to, the practice of making. As part of action research into student practitioners’ perceptions of this aspect of their art and design programmes, undertaken as part of the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, I examined what students value about Historical and Critical Studies. This research, presented at the 2013 Design Research Society conference in Oslo, published in Design and Culture journal, and the subject of the keynote lecture in Glasgow School of Art's 2015 CHEAD-funded seminar on The Role of Critical and Cultural Studies in Art School Education, led me to reflect on the division that is sometimes constructed between theory and practice. Where, traditionally, theory might be understood as ‘objective’ and design practice as ‘subjective’, this research emphasised that a personal, subjective engagement with the object of study is as vital to the study of history and theory as it is to creative practice. Despite enduring myths to the contrary, the ‘I’ is essential to reflective learning and teaching in history and theory.

Originally inspired by student observations, this research later returned to the classroom to invigorate teaching practice. Through experimenting with new seminar content and encouraging embodied writing practices, this research has been utilised to bring separate elements of course provision into closer and more productive proximity.

Case Study 3 - Current and local: History of Art and Design on the streets

The core challenge of teaching history is how to make a necessarily distant subject of study relevant. New ways of thinking about the past are nowhere more visible in the everyday life of Brighton than in the latest trend for all things old. Brighton’s identity as a site for retro and revival fashion and design provided the inspiration for the module I designed entitled The Past in the Present. Available as an option for undergraduate students on the History of Art and Design programme, this teaching capitalises on the resources on our doorsteps to provide an accessible means of engagement with contemporary ways of understanding history. Through matching historical understanding to current practices, students can exercise their knowledge of popular culture to explore the everyday ways that the past is reinterpreted – whether as sacred memorial or cheap commodity, whether cherished as heritage or dismissed as obsolete. Through this kind of teaching, which engages with the rich material culture of the immediate locale, students bring what they already know to the classroom as a resource. Through theorising their experiences, they can learn to act as cultural critics and historians of their own time.


As an active researcher, much of my teaching is underpinned by my own first-hand studies, whether through the regular refreshment of lecture content, the design of specialist module provision or, in the case of research projects, through directly sharing research resources with students in archives and collections. This is particularly the case at Masters and PhD level, where student researchers frequently acquire both their subject knowledge and their methodological toolkits through the example of their tutors’ case studies. In these contexts, I teach research through teaching my own research. In turn, in the crucible of the classroom, information does not flow one way; my thinking is stimulated and challenged by the input and inspiration of my students. 

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of the Arts London

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Research Output 2007 2020

Art without Frontiers: The British Council Collection

Pollen, A., 2020, (Accepted/In press) London: Art/Books.

Research output: Book/ReportBook - authoredResearch

British Council
British Art
Cultural Relations
Exhibition History

The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift [encyclopaedia entry]

Pollen, A., 2020, (Accepted/In press) Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements

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


The Mirrors in the Archive: Photography's Mise en Abyme

Pollen, A., 2020, (Accepted/In press) Photography Off the Scale.

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


Inside Out

Pollen, A., 2019

Research output: Other contributionResearch

Open Access

Objects of Denigration and Desire: Taking the Amateur Photographer Seriously

Pollen, A., 1 Jan 2019, (Accepted/In press) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Photography Studies. Pasternak, G. (ed.). London: Bloomsbury Academic, 31 p.

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

Amateur Photographers
Amateur Photography

Activities 2008 2019

MIT Press (Publisher)

Annebella Pollen (Reviewer)

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workPublication Peer-review

Objects Unwrapped: Memory of Clothes

Annebella Pollen (Organiser)
1 Jun 2019

Activity: EventsConference


Pitt Rivers Museum Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology

Annebella Pollen (Presenter)
25 Oct 2019

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

Uncovering Material Knowledge

Annebella Pollen (Presenter)
30 Aug 201931 Aug 2019

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk

The Social Photo

Annebella Pollen (Presenter)
2 May 2019

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk