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Professor Christina Riggs

Professor (History of Visual Culture)

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


I am a historian of photography, visual art, and museum and heritage practices. My research considers how photography developed in tandem with industrialization, colonial and imperial expansion (especially in North Africa and the Middle East), and ideas of heritage preservation. I view photographic archives and museum collections not as dead legacies of these pasts, but as living expressions of them which, as historians, we have a responsibility to analyze, evaluate, and confront.

My previous research focused on how different people, at different times and places, have represented the culture we know as 'ancient Egypt'. My work on the history of the Tutankhamun excavation has helped challenge conventional narratives of the discovery by drawing attention to the political contexts of archaeology, photography, and museum displays. My most recent book, Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century (Atlantic Books 2021; Public Affairs 2022) traced the different trajectories taken by the tomb, its 'treasures', and its archive, from the 1920s to the present day. I have also published the first academic study of the excavation's photographic archive, in a book called Photographing Tutankhamun (Bloomsbury 2019).

My current research considers the role of historic photographs in contemporary culture, from digital colourization, to museum and heritage displays, to public art and local history. I am working with Heba Abd el-Gawad to develop a 'counterarchive' of archaeology at Luxor, Egypt, and I am developing a new project on photographic history, the visual arts, and heritage practices in the context of 19th and early 20th century industrialization – including the Durham Coalfield in the northeast of England.

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 archaeologist and 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 am a former Fellow and Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford University. In 2012, I delivered the Evans-Pritchard Lectures at All Souls College, which were published as Unwrapping Ancient Egypt (Bloomsbury 2014) – 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, museums, and visual culture.

Research interests

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


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

Supervision students