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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Harriet Atkinson is a historian of art and design. Her research concerns government and official engagements with art and design; art, design and cultural diplomacy; the development and professionalisation of design practice; art, design and dress for propaganda and protest; and histories of exhibitions and world's fairs.

Harriet is currently initiating new projects. The first, funded by an Impact Accelerator Award, is a curatorial project, in collaboration with leading curator and cultural strategist Clare Cumberlidge, which develops new public engagement from her research into art and design activism in Britain, 1933-53. The second is a documentary film on the theme of women, art and activism in and from Britain, in collaboration with Red Bird Productions. The third is a new book, Lost and Found: the biography of a photo album, exploring personal photographs and the politics of memory, reflections sparked by a family album returned to Harriet by a stranger in 2022 and a viral tweet.

Harriet was Arts and Humanities Research Council Leadership Fellow and Principal Investigator (2019-2023), leading the project '"The Materialisation of Persuasion": Modernist Exhibitions in Britain for Propaganda and Resistance, 1933 to 1953'. This resulted in the book Showing resistance: propaganda and Modernist exhibitions in Britain, 1933-53 (in production with Manchester University Press, due 2024); a chapter for co-edited book British Writing, Propaganda, and Cultural Diplomacy in the Second World War and Beyond (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Academic); a chapter for co-edited book Exhibitions as Interiors (forthcoming, Bloomsbury Academic); the co-edited book Exhibitions Beyond Boundaries: Transnational Exchanges Through Art, Architecture and Design from 1945, with Dr Verity Clarkson(Brighton) and Dr Sarah Lichtman (Parsons) (Bloomsbury, 2022), an article for Journal of Design History (2021) and documentary film Art on the Streets, co-directed with Jane Dibblin, narrated by Michael Rosen and made with film charity Four Corners.

Art on the Streets launched in September 2023 and has already been shown in Berlin, Porto, Izmir, San Francisco, Brighton and London. It is due to be screened at Tate Britain from June 2024 to July 2025. View the trailer here. The film has garnered several awards at international film festivals including:

Winner, 'Best Documentary Short', Luleå International Film Festival Sweden 2023;

Winner, 'Best Documentary for Peace', Bridge of Peace Film Awards 2023;

Winner, 'Best Documentary Short', California International Shorts Festival 2023;

Finalist, 'Best Short Documentary', New York International Film Awards 2023;

Finalist, Berlin International Art Film Festival 2023;

Official Selection, Berlin Women Cinema Festival 2023;

Official Selection, Miami Women Film Festival 2023;

Official Selection, LA Independent Women Film Awards 2023;

Official Selection, Cinecity Brighton Film Festival 2023;

Nominee, Tokyo International Cinema Awards 2023;

Official Selection, History Arts and Sciences International Doc Fest 2023.

Cultural historian Professor Joanna Bourke described Art on the Streets as: ‘A documentary for our times. Aesthetically beautiful, politically gripping, and inspiring', while Financial Times Architecture and Design critic Edwin Heathcote described it as 'a life-affirming view of the capacity of art and design to provide hope in the darkest circumstances'.

Harriet's podcast series Graphic Interventions is available on SoundcloudITunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify

Scholarly biography

Harriet is on the Editorial Board of Journal of Design History (2023-8) and is Advisory Board member for the Bloomsbury Design Library. She is co-leads Knowledge Exchange activity in her School and was selected to join the first cohort of University of Brighton's Vice Chancellor's Future Research Leaders programme (2022-3). She is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She leads University of Brighton Centre for Design History's research strand on Graphic Design Histories and is a member of the University's Cross-School Research Ethics Committee.

Harriet was awarded a University of Brighton Rising Stars Award (2017-18), for a project entitled 'Information, Persuasion, Citizenship: Public Exhibitions 1914 to now'. While a Faculty Fellow at University of Brighton Design Archives (2010-13), she wrote a number of essays, reviews and her first monograph The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People (I.B. Tauris, 2012). She was section editor for 'design dissemination' for the three-volume Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design (lead editor Professor Clive Edwards, 2015) and interviewer for the major oral history project tracing the origins of Design History (led by Dr Linda Sandino).

Harriet was awarded her doctorate from the Royal College of Art and Victoria & Albert Museum's history of design programme (2006). She studied for a BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature with History of Art at University of York and for a MA in Art Museum Studies at the Courtauld Institute, University of London. Harriet has previously held a number of research awards including an AHRC Doctoral Award, British Academy Small Grant and Wingate Scholarship. Her research has also been supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, German Historical Institute Washington and Design History Society.

Harriet was Trustee and Research Grants Officer of the Design History Society (2015-2020). She regularly undertakes peer reviews for: journals including Journal of Design HistoryThe Sculpture Journal, Literature & History, Contemporary British History; publishers including Routledge, Bloomsbury Academic, Berg, Palgrave Macmillan, Manchester University Press; academic conferences including DHS, International Conferences on Design History and Studies (ICDHS), Design Research Society (DRS), International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR); and academic grant applications + awards including Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the Icelandic Research Fund and the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). 

Supervisory Interests

Harriet is interested in supervising PhDs focusing on histories of art, design and the urban environment; government or official uses of art and design, graphic design histories; art, design and dress for propaganda and protest; art, design and diplomacy; and exhibition and display histories. If you are planning a project that is connected to Harriet's research expertise, but not listed here, feel free to contact her to discuss it further. 

Harriet's current PhD students focus on themes ranging from political poster design, to protest dress, to conscientious objector art practises, to clothing production and consumption during World War Two. She has examined PhDs at University of Southampton, University of Antwerp and University of Brighton.

Knowledge exchange

Harriet welcomes media enquiries. She has extensive experience across print and broadcast media, including writing for newspapers (The GuardianThe Independent, Yorkshire Evening Post); for magazines (BBC History and British Archaeology); being interviewed live on BBC Radio 4's Saturday Live; doing pre-recorded interviews for BBC Radio 5 Live and Times Radio; being interviewed for History Extra Podcast (among other podcast appearances).

Harriet draws in her research and teaching from previous experience working on cultural policy and funding for a range of public organisations including advising ministers on National Lottery distribution at Department for Culture Media & Sport; assessing grant applications at Heritage Lottery Fund, the Museums & Galleries Commission and Greater London Enterprise; and working as Culture and Regeneration Manager with London local authorities at London Councils. She has also worked as fundraiser with a range of charitable and community organisations including as project manager for Orleans House Gallery's HLF-funded courtyard development education project and for Montpelier Community Nursery, which won a 2013 RIBA London Regional Award, a 2013 RIBA National Award and the 2013 RIBA Steven Lawrence Prize (for the best construction project under £1m).

Approach to teaching

Since 2013 Harriet has taught on the University of Brighton's History of Art and Design degrees, offering special subjects including 'The Making of the Modern Home' and 'Understanding Exhibitions and Creating Displays'. She also contributes an option on 'Critical Perspectives on Exhibitions' to the MA History of Design and Material Culture and MA Curating Collections and Heritage.

At Brighton, Harriet taught Critical & Cultural Studies to BA (Hons) Graphic Design, BA (Hons) Illustration, BA (Hons) Design and Craft and BA (Hons) Fashion and Textiles (2014-19) and Cultural Studies to Fashion Textiles and Jewellery students at Central St Martins, London (2014-16).

Harriet was Admissions Tutor for the four History of Art & Design degrees (2018-9). She has a PGCert in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education and is Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA). Harriet was External Examiner on Cert HE and Grad Cert in the History of Art & Architecture at Birkbeck College (2016-19) and External Examiner on BA (Hons) Graphic Communication at University of Reading (2019-20).

Education/Academic qualification

PG Cert, Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, University of Brighton, Centre for Learning and Teaching.

Award Date: 28 Jun 2019

PhD, Imaginative Reconstruction, Royal College of Art

Award Date: 30 Jun 2007

Master, History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art

Award Date: 30 Sept 1996

Bachelor, English and Related Literature with History of Art, University of York

Award Date: 30 Jun 1994

External positions

UKRI Talent Peer Review College

Feb 2023 → …

Member of Editorial Board, Journal of Design History

31 Jan 202331 Jan 2028

Fellow, Higher Education Academy, Higher Education Academy, UK

Jul 2019 → …

External Examiner, University of Reading

Jun 2019Jun 2020

Elected Fellow, Royal Historical Society, Royal Historical Society

2019 → …

External Examiner, Birkbeck University of London

Jul 2016Sept 2019

Executive Trustee, Design History Society, Design History Society


Associate Lecturer, Central Saint Martins, UAL

Sept 2014Jul 2016


  • NC Drawing Design Illustration
  • NX Arts in general
  • N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
  • NA Architecture