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Name: Clare Matthews

PhD: History of Art

Thesis Title: Classical culture and the industrial town


Thesis Description:

This project analyses the role of classical visual culture in nineteenth-century industrial Britain, focusing on Birmingham. It asks how this town engaged with the iconography and traditions of ancient Greece and Rome through public collecting practices, architecture and artistic production, and situates this within wider contexts of nineteenth-century industrial Britain. My research asks: How was classical antiquity displayed throughout Birmingham in the nineteenth century? What impact did the visual culture of Greece and Rome have on the formation of civic identity, both in relation to viewing experiences and concerns surrounding the potential edifying role of art and architecture? How far was Birmingham representative of other industrial towns in Britain in its appropriation of antiquity? And to what extent was this appropriation symptomatic of broader uses and interpretations of the ancient world?

My research challenges understandings of classical culture within Victorian Britain, specifically in the West Midlands, firstly in bringing visual culture into focus, and secondly in providing new perspectives through its relationship with the industrial city. In its interdisciplinary approach, my methodology engages with the scholarship of Classical Reception, Victorian Studies, Art History and Museology. Exploring the role of classical culture against a background of immense social and cultural change, I analyse how the ancient was viewed and experienced, and how it was engaged with as public cultural property.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 
Dr Kate Nichols (University of Birmingham)
Dr Mark Bradley (University of Nottingham)

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

2018-2019. Seminar teaching and marking of assessed essays for First Year Module: ‘Historical Concepts in the History of Art’, Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies, University of Birmingham

2018-2019. Delivering taster seminar sessions for Applicant Visit Days in the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies

June-July 2018. Participated in Midlands3Cities interdisciplinary workshop at the British School at Rome on Rome: changing physical and ideological landscapes of the eternal city

May 2018. ‘A Classical Temple for the Industrial Town’ – poster presentation at Midlands3Cities Research Festival

April 2018. ‘A Classical Temple in the Modern Age: Birmingham’s Town Hall’ – paper delivered at Echoes: A Symposium on Classic-Modern Relations, University of Birmingham

March 2018. Presentation of object case study on papier-mâché at Birmingham Manufactures and Workforce Workshop, Birmingham Museums Collections Centre 

April-May 2014: Participation in City of Rome Postgraduate Course at the British School at Rome

Work Experience:

January 2015 - September 2017. Library Assistant, Whipple Library, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

I developed my research into industrial cities and the social, political and cultural transformations of the nineteenth century working in the UK’s largest specialist library in the history and philosophy of science. Often in collaboration with colleagues in the Whipple Museum, I was heavily involved in outreach and public engagement programmes, including:

    • Special Collections exhibitions, both physical displays and online versions: 
    • Contributions to the Whipple Library Special Collections Blog:
    • Developing and delivering outreach sessions on 'Charles Darwin and the context of the Origin of Species', and 'Medicine & Anatomy in History' for GCSE, A-level and mature students
    • Exhibitions and presentations for Cambridge Science Festival and Museums at Night events and for Open Cambridge
    • Conference poster presentation on outreach activities presented at the Libraries@Cambridge annual conference (7 January 2016)


Other Research Interests:

  • History of science and the relationships between art and industry
  • Histories of collecting
  • Classical art and gender studies
  • Reception of classical antiquity

  • Victorian cultural studies

  • Nineteenth-century British art

  • History of sculpture

  • Exhibitions and museum history

  • Architecture and public spaces

  • Museums and the Heritage Sector
  • University Outreach and Widening Participation


University email address:


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