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Prof. Christina Riggs

Professor (History of Visual Culture)

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


I am a historian of photography and archaeology, with a particular interest in North Africa and the Middle East. My research has considered how different people, at different times, have imagined, studied, and represented the culture we know as ‘ancient Egypt’ – and how the fields of archaeology, art history, and Egyptology developed in tandem with colonial and imperial expansion. I see archives and museum collections not as dead legacies of these difficult pasts, but as living expressions of them which, as historians, we have a responsibility to analyze, evaluate, and confront.

Most recently, I have been working on the history of the Tutankhamun discovery and the different trajectories taken by the tomb, its 'treasures', and its archive, from the 1920s to the present day. This is the subject of my most recent book, Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century (Atlantic Books 2021; Public Affairs and Bollati Boringhieri 2022). My study of the photographic archive of the Tutankhamun excavation, including the work of Harry Burton, has been published in a book called Photographing Tutankhamun (Bloomsbury 2019), as well as several articles, catalogue essays, and as a museum exhibition.

I am now extending my research to other photographic archives, media representations, and museum collections, to inform longer-term projects on 1) the historiography of ancient Egyptian art, via the creation and circulation of visual images, 2) the photographic culture of archaeology in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia, during the construction of dams at Aswan in the 19th and 20th centuries, and 3) the role of historic photographs in contemporary culture, from digital colourization to museum and heritage displays to public art and local history.

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 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 have been a Two-Year Fellow, a Visiting Fellow, and the Evans-Pritchard Lecturer at All Souls College, Oxford University. My Evans-Pritchard Lectures were published as Unwrapping Ancient Egypt (Bloomsbury 2014), which was 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, archaeology, and visual culture. With my Durham colleague Dr Robert Witcher, I co-supervise Poppy Grima, who holds an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award in conjunction with the British School at Rome; her thesis is looking at the photographic archive of the South Etruria Survey, 1955-75. I also co-supervise Friederike Schwelle in the history department, whose PhD is looking at Jewish patrons, collectors, and scholars of Egyptian archaeology, c. 1880-1950.

Research interests

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

Research groups


Authored book

  • Riggs, Christina (2020). Ancient Egyptian Magic: A Hands-On Guide. Thames and Hudson.
  • Riggs, Christina (2018). Photographing Tutankhamun: Archaeology, Ancient Egypt, and the Archive. Routledge.
  • Riggs, Christina (2017). Tutankhamun: The Original Photographs. The Gower Press.
  • Riggs, Christina (2017). Egypt. Reaktion Books; University of Chicago Press.
  • Riggs, Christina (2014). Unwrapping Ancient Egypt. Bloomsbury.
  • Riggs, Christina (2014). Ancient Egyptian Art and Architecture: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • Riggs, Christina (2006). The Beautiful Burial: Art, Identity, and Funerary Religion in Roman Egypt. Oxford University Press.

Chapter in book

  • Riggs, Christina (2020). Archaeology and photography. In The Handbook of Photography Studies. Pasternak, Gil Bloomsbury.
  • Riggs, Christina (2020). Photographing Tutankhamun: Photo­Objects and the archival afterlives of colonial archaeology. In Photo­Objects: On the Materiality of Photographs and Photo Archives in the Humanities and Sciences. Bärnighausen, Julia, Caraffa, Costanza, Klamm, Stefanie, Schneider, Franke & Wodtke, Petra Max Planck Research Library. 12: 291-308.
  • Riggs, Christina (2018). Loose bodies: Reserve collections, curatorial reservations, and the ancient Egyptian dead. In Museum Storage and Meaning: Tales from the Crypt. Brusius, Mirjam & Singh, Kavita Routledge. 253-62.
  • Riggs, Christina (2015). Egypt. In The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture. Friedland, Elise A., Sobocinski, Melanie Grunow & Gazda, Elaine K. Oxford University Press. 552-68.
  • Riggs, Christina (2015). Discussing knowledge in the making. In Histories of Egyptology: Interdisciplinary Measures. Carruthers, William Routledge. 129-38.
  • Riggs, Christina (2013). Mourning women and decorum in ancient Egyptian art. In Decorum and Experience: Essays in Ancient Culture for John Baines. Frood, Elizabeth & McDonald, Angela Peeters. 156-62.
  • Riggs, Christina (2013). Greco-Roman Egypt. In World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: A Characterization. Hicks, Dan & Stevenson, Alice Archaeopress. 115-21.
  • Riggs, Christina (2012). Portraits, prestige, piety: Images of women in Roman Egypt. In A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. James, Sharon L. & Dillon, Sheila Blackwell. 423-36.
  • Riggs, Christina (2010). Ancient Egypt in the museum: Concepts and constructions. In A Companion to Ancient Egypt, 2 vols. Lloyd, Alan B. Blackwell. 2: 1129-53.
  • Riggs, Christina (2010). Tradition and innovation in the burial practices of Roman Egypt. In Tradition and Transformation: Egypt under Roman Rule. Lembke, Katja, Minas-Nerpel, Martina & Pfeiffer, Stefan Brill. 343-56.
  • Riggs, Christina (2008). Gilding the lily: Shrouds, sculpture, and the representation of women in Ptolemaic and early Roman Egypt. In Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko. Thompson, Steven E. & Manuelian, Peter D. Brown University. 285-304.

Edited book

  • Riggs, Christina (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Roman Egypt. Oxford University Press.

Journal Article

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

  • Riggs, Christina (2012). Ethnicity.
  • Riggs, Christina (2010). The body.
  • Riggs, Christina (2010). Funerary rituals (Ptolemaic and Roman).

Supervision students