Photography and Exploration

Photography and Exploration, Reaktion Books, London and University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2013

New Spaces of Exploration: Geographies of Discovery in the Twentieth Century

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

Memories of a Lost World: Travels through the Magic Lantern, Goodman Fiell, London, 2013.

Dr James Ryan
Associate Professor of Historical and Cultural Geography

Research

Research interests

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).

Research projects

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.

Grants:

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).

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