Professor Clare Harris

clare harris new

Professor Clare Harris, FBA
Professor of Visual Anthropology at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography
Curator for Asian Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Fellow of Magdalen College

Research Interests and Expertise

I am an anthropologist, art historian and curator with particular interest and expertise in the following: visual and material culture in India, Tibet/China and the Tibetan diaspora, past and present; the anthropology of art and aesthetics; histories of museums, displays and collections; the politics of representation in museums and other public spaces; photography in South Asia and Tibet in colonial and post-colonial contexts; contemporary art and artists; the impact of digital technology on research in visual and museum anthropology.

Awards, Recognition and Grants

2019 Fellowship of the British Academy
2014 Visiting Professor, Global Asia Scholar programme, Leiden University
2014 E. Gene Smith prize from the Association of Asian Studies
2000 Visual Anthropology prize from the International Centre for Ethnohistory
I have received personal research grants from the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust and directed collaborative projects with funding from the AHRC, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the European Union, the John Fell Fund, and others.

Main Teaching Roles at Oxford

2019-2021 Course Director for Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology PG degrees.
Lecturer, tutor and supervisor for the MSc and MPhil in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology;
Lecturer and convenor for PG Option course: Key Debates in the Anthropology of Art and Visual Culture; 
Supervisor of DPhil students.
Director of Studies and tutor for the UG degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at Magdalen College (NB On College leave in 2019-2020).

Sabbatical leave

I will be on Sabbatical leave for Michaelmas Term 2022 and Hilary Term 2023.


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 276077 (Magdalen) or: +44 (0)1865 613009 (Pitt Rivers Museum)

Research interests

Professor Clare Harris’s pioneering work on Tibetan art, visual/material culture, photography and museums has effectively created a new field of study for which she has received recognition in the form of book prizes, research awards and invitations to lecture at universities around the world. Much of Clare’s work on Tibet and its diaspora has been informed by her wider interests in art and aesthetics; the politics of constructions of knowledge, collecting and representation (especially in relation to museums, the art world, and photography); and a critical approach to the impact and aftermath of British imperialism and Chinese interventions in Tibet. Her doctoral thesis was published as In the Image of Tibet (1999), the first study of modernist and contemporary Tibetan art. Later books, such as The Museum on the Roof of the World (2012) and Photography and Tibet (2016) break new ground with their interrogation of the modes in which Tibet has been represented museologically, visually and politically, both by outsiders and Tibetans themselves. This work is the product of many years of research in Tibetan communities (primarily in India where she has been conducting fieldwork since the early 1990s), as well as in archival contexts in Europe, North America and various parts of Asia. Clare continues to combine anthropological fieldwork, art historical analysis, and archival research in her latest project on the history and after-lives of photographs created in the Indian Himalayas since the colonial period. Much of her research feeds into curatorial activities at the Pitt Rivers Museum, in art galleries in the UK and in Asia, and in projects working in collaboration with contemporary artists from Tibet, the Himalayas, and the Tibetan diaspora. Clare is very much a public-facing academic and curator who, in addition to giving lectures and conference papers internationally, has given many talks for audiences outside academia, and has appeared on BBC Radio Oxford, Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Current Research Topics

Critical analysis of the representation of Tibet in museums, art, material culture and the visual economy from the mid-19th century to the present in transnational contexts
Tibetan contemporary art
Curatorial collaborations with artists and academic analysis of their interventions in museums
Rethinking the concept of the ‘artworld’ ethnographically in India and China
Colonial photography in Tibet and the Himalayas
Post-colonial and ‘indigenous’ photography in Tibet and the Himalayas
The ‘decolonisation’ of ethnographic museums
Postcards, print culture and the British Imperial imaginary: with reference to India and Tibet
The photographic negative as historical and anthropological source

Academic/curatorial activities in and beyond Oxford

Clare has served on the advisory boards of many journals, as well as for cultural/museum institutions in the UK and India. In 2013-2014 she was Acting Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum. She has examined more than 20 doctorates at universities beyond Oxford and acted as external examiner at Birkbeck College and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She has been an advisor for a number of research projects conducted by others, both in the UK and in other parts of Europe. Between 2010 and 2013 she was a Peer Reviewer for the AHRC. Clare has convened four major international conferences and has contributed to the organisation of several others conferences, in addition to leading panels and workshops on specific topics for them. She has curated seven exhibitions and hosted residencies for artists at the Pitt Rivers Museum. In 2018-2019 her collaboration with one of them, Nyema Droma, led to the exhibition ‘Performing Tibetan Identities’. Her projects at the Pitt Rivers Museum have often featured high levels of public engagement, such as the recent ‘My Tibet Museum’ and ‘Talking Tibetan Identities’ workshops for members of the Tibetan community in the UK.

A Very Brief Biography

Following her education in state schools in the UK and a British Forces school in Germany, Clare went on to study for her BA at the University of Cambridge and studied for her MA and doctorate at the School of Oriental Studies (University of London). Her first academic position was in the School of World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia, where she was lecturer in the Anthropology of Art from 1994 -1998. In 1998, she joined the University of Oxford as a Lecturer-Curator. In 2002, she became a Fellow of Magdalen College. In 2014, she gained the title of Professor of Visual Anthropology at Oxford.

In July 2019 Clare was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy in recognition of her outstanding research on visual/material culture of the Himalayas, Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora. In awarding the title of Fellow, the British Academy celebrates the achievements of scholars who have attained distinction in one or more fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Current DPhil students
Selected past DPhil students

Shireen Walton (2015) Camera Iranica: Popular Digital Photography in/of Iran

Imogen Clarke (2015) Is home where the heart is? Landscape, materiality and aesthetics in Tibetan exile

Ivan Costantino (2012) Becoming Urban: Space, Identity and Mobility amongst Tibetan Migrant Youths in Lhasa

Kabir Heimsath (2011) Urban Space of Lhasa

Fuyubi Nakamura (2006) Creating New Forms of ‘Visualised’ Words: An Anthropological Study of Contemporary Japanese Calligraphy

Fernanda Pirie (2002) The fragile web of order: conflict avoidance and dispute resolution in Ladakh

Selected publications


2019, Performing Tibetan  identities: Photographis Portraits by Nyema Droma, Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum

2016, Photography and Tibet, London: Reaktion Books

2012, The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet, University of Chicago Press. Winner of the E. Gene Smith Prize from the Association of Asian Studies.

2011, Generation Exile: Exploring New Tibetan Identities, Hong Kong: Rossi and Rossi and Hanart.

2005, Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads, co-edited with M. Ahmed, Mumbai, India: Marg Publications (reprinted 2010).

2003, Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936 – 1947, co-authored with T Shakya, Chicago: Serindia Publications.

1999, Clare Harris, In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959, 1999, London: Reaktion Books. Winner of the International Jury prize for the best book in Visual Anthropology awarded by the International Centre for Ethnohistory.

Research-based Website

The Tibet Album: British Photography in Central Tibet 1920-1950

An interactive website featuring 6000 historic photographs of Tibet officially launched by the 14th Dalai Lama at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, May 2008.

Selected articles and contributions to books

2019, ‘Setting the Stage for Performing Tibetan Identities: A Curatorial Commentary’ in TransAsia Photography Review, Spring Issue, Vol. 9, Issue 2

2017, ‘Photography in the “Contact Zone”: Identifying Copresence and Agency in the Studios of Darjeeling’ in Transcultural Encounters in the Himalayan Borderlands: Kalimpong as Contact Zone, ed. M Viehbeck, Heidelberg: Heidelberg University Publishing pp. 95 -120

2015, ‘An Exchange of Views: Picture Postcards from Mussoorie’ in Origins: PhotoUK-India, ed. R. Allana, New Delhi: British Council and Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, pp. 14-22

2013, ‘Digital Dilemmas: The Ethnographic Museum as Distributive Insitution’Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 5 (2), 2013, pp. 125-136.

2013, ‘In and Out of Place: Tibetan Artists' Travels in the Contemporary Art World’, Visual Anthropology Review 28 (2), pp. 152-163.

2013, ‘The Future of the Ethnographic Museum’, with M O' Hanlon, Anthropology Today 29 (1), pp. 8-12.

2013, ‘The Potala Palace: Remembering to Forget in Contemporary Tibet’, South Asian Studies Journal 29 (1), pp. 97-111.

2013, ‘In and Out of Place: Tibetan Artists' Travels in the Contemporary Art World’, In Fuyubi Nakamura, Morgan Perkins and Olivier Kirscher (eds) Asia Through Art and Anthropology: Cultural Translation Across Borders, London, New York and Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013, pp. 33-46.

2013, ‘Digital Dilemmas: The Ethnographic Museum as Distributive Insitution’, In Vito Lattanzi, Sandra Ferracuti and Elisabetta Frasca (eds) Beyond Modernity: Do Ethnographic Museums need Ethnography?, Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico 'Luigi Pigorini', Rome: Espera Libreria Archeologica, 2013.

2008, ‘The Creation of a Tibetan Modernist: The Painting of Gonkar Gyatso’, In Elizabeth Edwards and Kaushik Bhaumik (eds) Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader, Oxford and New York: Berg, pp. 351-358.

2007, ‘British and German Photography in Tibet in the 1930s: The Diplomatic, the Ethnographic, and Other Modes’, In Isrun Engelhardt (eds) Tibet in 1938-1939: Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet, Chicago: Serindia Publications, pp. 73-90.

2007, ‘The Buddha Goes Global: some thoughts towards a transnational art history’, In Deborah Cherry and Fintan Cullen (eds) Location, Oxford: Blackwells, 2007, pp. 166-188.

2006, ‘Tibet: Photography and the construction of place’, In Robin Lenman (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 626.

2004, ‘The Photograph Reincarnate: The Dynamics of Tibetan Relationships with Photographs’, In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (eds) Photographs Objects Histories, London: Routledge, pp. 132 – 147.

2001, ‘Objects of Meditation and Education: Images of Ladakh by Robert Powell’, In Michael Oppitz (ed.) Robert Powell: Himalayan Drawings, Völkerkunde Museum, University of Zurich, pp. 53-60.

2001, ‘The Politics and Personhood of Tibetan Buddhist Icons’, In Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas (eds) Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, London: Berg, pp. 181-199.

2000, ‘Alternative Centres: India’, In Martin Kemp (ed.) The Oxford History of Western Art, Oxford: University of Oxford Press, pp. 478 – 481.

1998, ‘Imagining Home: Imaging Exile. Children's Paintings from the Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie’, In Frank Korom (ed.) The Art of Exile, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, pp. 121-135.

1997, ‘Towards a Definition of Contemporary Style’, In Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood (eds) Towards a Definition of Style: The Arts of Tibet, London: Laurence King Publishing, pp. 262-271.

1997, ‘Struggling with Shangri-La: The Works of Gongkar Gyatso’, In Frank Korom (ed.) Constructing Tibetan Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, Montreal: World Heritage Press, pp. 160 - 177.


Reviews published in the European Journal of Himalayan Research, the American Journal of Asian StudiesAmerican Journal of Religious Studies, the Art Newspaper, etc.

Invited lectures

2019  Zurich Volkerkunde Museum
Public lecture on Photography and Tibet

2017  University of Manchester 
Keynote speaker: Object Lessons from Tibet Conference

2016  Aarhus University, Denmark, Precious Relics Conference
The Spectacle of Shangri-La: Tibetan Objects and Transformations of Value in the Exhibitionary Complex

2016  Rubin Museum, New York
Public lecture on Photography and Tibet and book launch

2016  Centre for Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Picturing Terra Incognita: Photography, Geopolitics and Tibet

2016  Max Mueller Bhavan, Museums in India Conference, New Delhi
The Museum of Exiled Objects

2016  Washington DC., College Art Association Conference
Contributor to ‘Looking Askance at Himalayan Art’ panel

2015  Magdalen College, Oxford,
A talk for the 14th Dalai Lama and 50 VIP guests on Photography and Tibet.

2015  Centre for Social Sciences, Kolkata, India
Remembering to Forget: The Politics of Heritage in Tibet

2014  Council on East Asian Studies and Yale Himalaya Initiative, Yale University
Lectures on the Potala Palace and Contemporary Tibetan Art.

2014  Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies Conference, Yale University
Typecast: Performing Tibetanness for the Camera in British India

2014  University of Heidelberg, Kalimpong as Contact Zone Conference (held in Kalimpong, India)
Photography in the Contact Zone

2013   The Future of Ethnographic Museums conference, University of Oxford
The Digitally Distributed Museum and its Dilemmas

2013   'From Artifact to Art: Tibetan Paintings from the Himalayan Hills', conference at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor
'An Instrument for Curing Madness': Walter Asboe's Collecting (and Coping) Strategies in the Western Himalayas

2012   University of Texas at Austin: History of Art Department and Blanton Museum
In and Out of Place: Tibetan artists' travels in the contemporary art world and Locating Tibetan Art

2012   Association of Social Anthropologists conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Convenor and speaker for panel on Anthropology in the Contemporary Art World

2012    'Himalayan Objects' Journeys and Transformations' conference, Nanterre University, Paris
Locating Tibetan art: The Ethics and Aesthetics of the Younghusband Mission to Tibet 1903-4

2011   Asian Art Archive Hong Kong
Trouble in Shangri-La: Tibetan Contemporary Art

2010   'The Work of Art in the Age of Cultural Relativism', conference at the British Council, New Delhi
Trouble in Shangri-La: Tibetan Artists in the International Artworld

2010   Rubin Museum of Art and Trace Foundation/Latse Institute, New York
Talks given on Tibetan contemporary art and participated in a round table discussion on this topic

2010    'The Afterlives of Monuments' conference, University of the Arts, London
The Potala Palace: Remembering to Forget in Contemporary Tibet

2010   'In the Image of Asia' conference, Centre for the Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia 
Keynote lecture: The Buddha Goes Global (in absentia)

2010   Centre for Research on Asia-Europe, Heidelberg University, Germany
The Invention of 'Tibetan Contemporary Art

2009    'Re-Imagining Tibet' conference, School of Oriental and African Studies, London: Keynote speaker
From Lhasa to London: Tibetan Contemporary Art

2009   'Creating the Global Image Archive' conference, Goldsmith's College, University of London
Rethinking the Imperial Photographic Archive

2009   'Where are we now?: Examining the Post-Colonial Archive' conference, Hong Kong University, Hong Kong
The Imperial Archive and its Avatars

2008   Northwestern University, USA
The Travelling Toolbox:  Fluidity, Fixity and the Multiple Locations of Tibetan Culture 

2008   Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford: Address to His Holinesss the Dalai Lama
Introduction to The Tibet Album Website

2007   Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamshala, India
The Tibet Album: Photography, Memory and 'Virtual Repatriation'

2006   International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference, Bonn, Germany
The Buddha Goes Global: Contemporary Tibetan Art and Transnationalism

2006   Cultural History of the Western Himalayas conference, University of Vienna, Austria
'The Tibet Album' Project at the Pitt Rivers Museum 

2005   Museums and Communities Conference, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok, Thailand
The Invention of the Tibet Museum: A Contribution to Cross-Cultural Museum Ethnography

2005   Latse Institute, New York
Chair and speaker for the 'Old Soul New Art: Contemporary Art in Tibet' conference

2005   British Museum Centre for Anthropology
Tibetan Art Worlds in Transition: Museum Responses

2004   University of Coimbra, Portugal
An Exchange of Views: British Travel and Photography in Tibet 1904 - 1940

2004   Latse Institute, New York: Conference on Gedun Choepel
Gedun Choepel: The First Tibetan Modernist?

2003   International Association of Tibetan Studies conference, Oxford
Plenary lecture: Seeing Lhasa: British Photography in Tibet

2003   Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, Germany
Shaking the Foundations of Shangri-La: British Museological Approaches to Tibet

2003   University of Aarhus, Denmark
Ethnographic Museums and the Representation of Tibet

2002   Bonn University, Germany
Interrogating Images: The Politics of Tibetan Visual Culture

2001   USA lecture tour speaking at: Ann Arbor (University of Michigan), Boston University, Harvard University, Swarthmore College and Columbia University.
In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959

2001   International Association of Ladakh Studies conference, Oxford
The Missionary turns ethnographer: Walter Asboe's collecting strategies in Ladakh

2000   University of Oslo, Norway
Public lecture on In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959

2000   European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference, Krakow, Poland
The Politics of Proxemics: Photo-icons in the Tibetan Diaspora

2000   UK Museums' Association Conference, Jersey
Pictures at an Exhibition: Images, texts and authority at a Tibetan Museum

1998   Beyond Art and Aesthetics conference, Canberra Australia
The Politics and Personhood of Tibetan Buddhist Icons