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Personal profile

Research interests

Dr Harriet Atkinson is a historian of art, design and culture, with a particular interest in the uses of design for propaganda and protest, nation-building and diplomacy, from the 1930s to the present day. From February 2019 to July 2023 Harriet is on research leave as AHRC Leadership Fellow and Principal Investigator on the project '"The Materialisation of Persuasion": Modernist Exhibitions in Britain for Propaganda and Resistance, 1933 to 1953'. This builds on her University of Brighton Rising Stars Award (2017-18), for a project entitled 'Information, Persuasion, Citizenship: Public Exhibitions 1914 to now'. 

Supervisory Interests

Harriet is interested in supervising PhD students on a range of topics including graphic design histories; design politics and policy; design as the focus for government engagements, diplomatic exchanges, displays of 'soft power' or propaganda; the visual culture of protest; relationships between design history and design practise; the design of exhibitions and displays; the professionalisation of design; and cultures of art, design and architecture in twentieth century Britain.

Scholarly biography

While AHRC Leadership Fellow, Harriet is in the process of writing a book entitled Modernist Exhibitions in Britain for Propaganda and Resistance, 1933 to 1953 (forthcoming, Manchester University Press). She is co-editing (with Dr Verity Clarkson and Dr Sarah Lichtman) an essay collection entitled Exhibitions Beyond Boundaries: Transnational Exchanges Through Art, Architecture and Design from 1945 (forthcoming, Bloomsbury 2021). She is making a podcast series entitled Graphic Interventions (for release in 2021) and a documentary film about Modernist exhibitions in Britain in collaboration with filmmakers Four Corners (for launch in 2022). 

While a Faculty Fellow based in the University of Brighton Design Archives from 2010 to 2013, Harriet 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 major, three volume Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design (lead editor Professor Clive Edwards, 2015) and an interviewer for the oral history of the Design History Society (led by Dr Linda Sandino). Harriet was awarded her doctorate from the Royal College of Art and Victoria & Albert Museum's joint history of design programme in 2007. 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 is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. 

Harriet has previously held a number of research awards including an AHRC Doctoral Award, British Academy Small Grant and Wingate Scholarship. She is a member of the Management Board of University of Brighton's Centre for Design History and co-leads the strand on Graphic Design History with Professor Jeremy Aynsley.

From 2015 to 2020 Harriet was Trustee and Research Grants Officer of the Design History Society. She is Advisory Board member for the Bloomsbury Design Library and 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);

academic grant applications + awards including Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, the Icelandic Research Fund and the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). 

Prior to studying for a PhD Harriet worked in 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 as client 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 BA (Hons) History of Art & Design programmes (History of Art & Design; Visual Culture; Fashion & Dress History; Philosophy Politics Art), as well as Critical & Cultural Studies to BA (Hons) Graphic Design, BA (Hons) Illustration, BA (Hons) Design and Craft and BA (Hons) Fashion and Textiles. In 2018-19 she was Admissions Tutor for the four History of Art & Design pathways. She has a PGCert in Teaching & Learning in Higher Education and is Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. From 2014 to 2016, Harriet taught Cultural Studies to Fashion Textiles and Jewellery second and third year students at Central St Martins, London. From 2016-19 Harriet was External Examiner on the Cert HE and Grad Cert courses in the History of Art & Architecture at Birkbeck College and from 2019-20 she was External Examiner on the BA (Hons) Graphic Communication at University of Reading.


Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Royal College of Art

Award Date: 30 Jun 2007

Master, Courtauld Institute of Art

Award Date: 30 Sep 1996

Bachelor, University of York

Award Date: 30 Jun 1994

External positions

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 2016Sep 2019

Executive Trustee, Design History Society, Design History Society



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