Professor James R Ryan
Associate Professor of Historical and Cultural Geography
Peter Lanyon A091
Peter Lanyon Building, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Treliever Road, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
After graduating from the University of Exeter in 1989 with a BA (Hons) degree in Geography I completed a PhD in the Departments of Geography and History at Royal Holloway University of London in 1994. Subsequently I held academic posts at the University of Oxford (1994-1999), Queen’s University Belfast (1999-2004) and the University of Leicester (2004-2007) before joining the University of Exeter in 2007. I have received research funding from a range of organizations including the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Geographical Society. I have given invited presentations on my research to several international research institutions including Harvard University Art Museums and the Yale Center for British Art. In 2014-15 I was awarded a British Academy-Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship for research on the work of the Victorian Cornish photographer, geologist and folklorist Robert Hunt.
Broad research specialisms:
My core research interests are in the historical and cultural geography of modernity, and concern three overlapping fields: photography and visual culture; British colonialism and postcolonialism; and Anglo-American geographical knowledge and science. My research is based mostly on archives and collections. Drawing interdisciplinary approaches to visual images and material culture, I seek to contribute to debates across a range of disciplines, including cultural and historical geography, history, anthropology, art history, photography and visual culture.
Research group links
Photography and Exploration, Reaktion Books, London and University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2013
New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (IB Tauris, London, 2010)
Memories of a Lost World: Travels through the Magic Lantern, Goodman Fiell, London, 2013.
Much of my research concerns the contested meaning and practice of photographic representation and the power of photographic media to shape human understandings of the world. Previous work has explored the ways in which photography was used within projects of British imperialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century (see Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualisation of the British Empire 1997), as well as the evolving relationship between photography and the geographical imagination (see, for example, Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination, 2003, co-edited with Joan M. Schwartz).
Place and Popular Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Work and World of Robert Hunt (1807-1887)
Supported by a British Academy-Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship in 2014–15, this on-going research examines the connections between place and popular science, particularly early photography, in nineteenth century Britain through the significant but often overlooked work of the Cornish chemist, photographer, geologist and folklorist Robert Hunt (1807-1887). A number of articles in refereed international journals are underway to further disseminate this research to scholars in geography, history and Victorian studies.
Photography and Exploration
This research investigates historical and contemporary uses of photography in exploration, from Victorian voyages into the landscapes of ‘Darkest Africa’ to modern space travel. Drawing on a range of recent, interdisciplinary scholarship I argue that while photographic media has long been associated with the human conquest of space the actual meanings of exploration photographs have changed in response to dynamic currents of history, culture and geography. This research was supported by a Small Research Grant from the British Academy. See Photography and Exploration, Reaktion Books, London and University of Chicago Press, Chicago, in press, 2013.
Small is Beautiful?
This project, with Caitlin DeSilvey (PI) and photographer Steve Bond, investigates the material cultures associated with the making and mending of everyday objects in the South West of England. The research was funded through a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2010 – 2012, £80,762), and created a Blog (Small is Beautiful? Visual and material cultures of making and mending), a website (www.exeter.ac.uk/celebrationofrepair), and a book (Visible mending: Everyday repairs in the South West).
Historical Geographies of Exploration
I have a long running interest in the history and geography of exploration. Recent work in this area led to the volume (co-edited with Simon Naylor) of New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (IB Tauris, London, 2010).
I also have research interests in the creation and dissemination of popular images of geography, exploration and empire, notably through early visual technologies aimed at mass audiences, such as the lantern slide show. See for example: James R. Ryan, Introductory Essay, in Charlotte Fiell, Memories of a Lost World: Travels through the Magic Lantern, Goodman Fiell, London, 2013 www.carltonbooks.co.uk/books/products/memories-of-a-lost-world.
Note for prospective postgraduate students:
I am always pleased to hear from researchers in related fields. I welcome proposals from anyone interested in pursuing PhD research in the history of photography and visual culture, history of geography and exploration, and British colonial history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Extended Programme. £150k for three PhD bursaires 2008-2013 with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Cornwall. (With colleagues Dr Catherine Brace and Dr Nicola Thomas).
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College
- Investigating Social and Spatial Environments
- Culture and Nature
- Environment and Empire
- Research Toolkit
- Independent Study
- Independent Work-Based Learning
- Virtual Fieldclass
James Ryan is Director of the MSc Sustainable Development.
Information not currently available
Supervision / Group
- James Downs (Department of English) 2014- Ministers of the ‘Black Art’: the uses of photography by the clergy in Britain, 1839-1909
- Adam Flitton ESRC South West Doctoral Training Centre studentship (Centre for Ecology and Conservation) 2015- The cultural evolution of economic growth and political stability
- Stephen Hickman (Management Studies, Business School) 2013- ‘Photography and ethnography in the making of occupational communities and cultures of work’
- Matthew Lunt (part-time, Photography, University of Falmouth) 2011- Harry Penhaul and the Answer of the Real: Photojournalism in mid-twentieth-century Cornwall
- Jason Bate ‘Photography, Facial Disfiguration, and Reconstructive Surgery in England, 1914-1920’, (external supervisor, part time, Falmouth University) 2014
- Emily Hayes ‘Geographical Projections: Lantern Slides, Exploration and Popular Geographies, 1880-1920’, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Royal Geographical Society, 2016
- Jennifer Lee Empire, Modernity and Design: Visual Culture and Cable and Wireless’ Corporate Identities, 1924-1955, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, 2014
- David A Paton ‘The quarry as sculpture: the place of making’, Practice-based PhD, 2015