Professor Clare Harris

Clare Harris

Professor of Visual Anthropology at ISCA and at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Fellow of Magdalen College

Visual and material culture in South Asia and Tibet/China; the anthropology of art and aesthetics; histories of museums, photography and collections; contemporary art; colonialism, display and the politics of representation; the impact of digital technology on objects and museums. Please contact Clare if you wish to pursue doctoral research in any of these areas.

Teaching at Oxford

MSc Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology; MPhil Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology; ‘Cultural Representations’ lecture series; ‘Introduction to Anthropological Theory’ lecture series; Lecturer and convenor for PG Option course: Key Debates in the Anthropology of Art and Visual Culture; Director of Studies and tutor for the UG degree in Archaeology and Anthropology at Magdalen College (see Magdalen College web site); DPhil students

Current Editorial and Advisory Board membership

Editorial Board: Asian Ethnologist (2013 – onwards); Advisory board: Museum Worlds (2011 – onwards); Board of the Bharat Kala Museum, Varanasi, India; Advisory board: The Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), Leh, India


Telephone: +44 (0)1865 276077

Clare Harris has held a joint post at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and the Pitt Rivers Museum since 1998. Prior to that she was lecturer in the Anthropology of Art at the School of World Art Studies, University of East Anglia. She trained at the universities of Cambridge and London (School of Oriental and African Studies).

From the age of 18, when she worked as an English teacher in a school for Tibetan refugees in the foothills of the Himalayas in India, Clare has had a passionate interest in India and Tibet. Since then, she has travelled to India repeatedly and has also conducted research in the Tibetan-speaking regions of the People’s Republic of China, Nepal and the globally dispersed Tibetan diaspora.  Her research primarily focuses on visual and material culture in those areas using theories and methods derived from anthropology, art history and museology. Following multiple research trips to the Himalayas in the early 1990s, she wrote In the Image of Tibet (1999), the first study of ‘modern’ Tibetan art. It won the jury prize for best book in Visual Anthropology from the International Centre for Ethnohistory in 2000. Her fieldwork in the Western Himalayan region of Ladakh also led to a co-edited book. A second strand of Clare’s research is more closely connected to her curatorial role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and to working with historic objects and archives. She has created exhibitions such as ‘Seeing Lhasa’ (Pitt Rivers Museum 2003) and ‘Generation Exile’ (Hanart, Hong Kong, 2011) and directed collections-based research activities, such as the AHRC-funded ‘Tibetan Visual History’ project from which The Tibet Album website was produced. The website, featuring 6000 photographs of Tibet taken before 1950, was launched by the 14th Dalai Lama in May 2008. Further examples of Clare’s engagement with photography in and of Tibet can be found in the book Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital (2003) and several articles. For her new monograph, The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet Clare combined the two approaches mentioned above – fieldwork in contemporary Tibetan communities and the detailed analysis of museums and their contents - to make a powerful argument about old and new forms of colonialism and their impact on the representation of Tibet in museums, photography and art from the mid-19th century to the present day. The foundations of this book were established when she was awarded a British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship in 2006-2007.

Clare continues to investigate many of the topics described above and they often feature in her teaching, curatorship, talks, conference papers and publications. Research projects currently underway include: preparation for a new book on Tibet and photography, ongoing ‘participant observation’ in the burgeoning field of ‘Tibetan Contemporary Art’ and an innovative study of the visual and material cultures of British colonialism in Himalayan hill stations. An edited volume based on The Future of Ethnographic Museums conference that she convened with Michael O’Hanlon in July 2013 is also in development.

Clare has given many talks for the public and has appeared on BBC radio 3 and 4.

The Tibet Album: British Photography in Central Tibet 1920-1950

A research-based, interactive website officially launched by the 14th Dalai Lama at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, May 2008

Ivan Costantino (2012)
 Becoming Urban: Space, Identity and Mobility amongst Tibetan Migrant Youths in Lhasa

Kabir Heimsath (2011) Urban Space of Lhasa

Fuyubi Nakamura (2006) Creating New Forms of ‘Visualised’ Words: An Anthropological Study of Contemporary Japanese Calligraphy

Fernanda Pirie (2002) The fragile web of order: conflict avoidance and dispute resolution in Ladakh


2016, Clare Harris, Photography and Tibet, London: Reaktion Books

2012, Clare Harris, The Museum on the Roof of the World: Art, Politics and the Representation of Tibet, University of Chicago Press.

2011, Clare Harris, Generation Exile: Exploring New Tibetan Identities, Hong Kong: Rossi and Rossi and Hanart.

2005, Clare Harris and Monisha Ahmed (eds), Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads, 2005, Mumbai, India: Marg Publications (reprinted 2010).

2003, Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya, Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936 – 1947, 2003, Chicago: Serindia Publications.

1999, Clare Harris, In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959, 1999, London: Reaktion Books (Winner of the International Jury prize for the best book in Visual Anthropology awarded by the International Centre for Ethnohistory in 2000).

Selected articles and contributions to books

The Museum on the Roof of the World by Clare Harris

2013, Clare Harris, ‘Digital Dilemmas: The Ethnographic Museum as Distributive Insitution’Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford 5 (2), 2013, pp. 125-136.

2013, Clare Harris, ‘In and Out of Place: Tibetan Artists' Travels in the Contemporary Art World’, Visual Anthropology Review 28 (2), pp. 152-163.

2013, Clare Harris and Michael O'Hanlon, ‘The Future of the Ethnographic Museum’, Anthropology Today 29 (1), pp. 8-12.

2013, Clare Harris, ‘The Potala Palace: Remembering to Forget in Contemporary Tibet’, South Asian Studies Journal 29 (1), pp. 97-111.

2013, Clare Harris, ‘In and Out of Place: Tibetan Artists' Travels in the Contemporary Art World’, In Fuyubi Nakamura, Morgan Perkins and Olivier Kirscher (eds) Asia Through Art and Anthropology: Cultural Translation Across Borders, London, New York and Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013, pp. 33-46.

2013, Clare Harris, ‘Digital Dilemmas: The Ethnographic Museum as Distributive Insitution’, In Vito Lattanzi, Sandra Ferracuti and Elisabetta Frasca (eds) Beyond Modernity: Do Ethnographic Museums need Ethnography?, Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico 'Luigi Pigorini', Rome: Espera Libreria Archeologica, 2013.

2008, Clare Harris, ‘The Creation of a Tibetan Modernist: The Painting of Gonkar Gyatso’, In Elizabeth Edwards and Kaushik Bhaumik (eds) Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader, Oxford and New York: Berg, pp. 351-358.

2007, Clare Harris, ‘British and German Photography in Tibet in the 1930s: The Diplomatic, the Ethnographic, and Other Modes’, In Isrun Engelhardt (eds) Tibet in 1938-1939: Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet, Chicago: Serindia Publications, pp. 73-90.

2007, Clare Harris, ‘The Buddha Goes Global: some thoughts towards a transnational art history’, In Deborah Cherry and Fintan Cullen (eds) Location, Oxford: Blackwells, 2007, pp. 166-188.

2006, Clare Harris, ‘From Lhasa to London: Gonkar Gyatso’, Art Asia Pacific (50), pp. 110-113.

2006, Clare Harris, ‘Tibet: Photography and the construction of place’, In Robin Lenman (ed.) The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 626.

2006, Clare Harris, ‘Reshaping Tradition: The Life and Work of Nawang Tsering’, In Monisha Ahmed and Clare Harris (eds) Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads, Mumbai, India: Marg Publications, pp. 82 – 93.

2006, Clare Harris and Monisha Ahmed, ‘Introduction’, In Monisha Ahmed and Clare Harris (eds) Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads, Mumbai, India: Marg Publications, pp. 11–19.

2004, Clare Harris, ‘The Photograph Reincarnate: The Dynamics of Tibetan Relationships with Photographs’, In Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (eds) Photographs Objects Histories, London: Routledge,, pp. 132 – 147.

2003, Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya, ‘Seeing Lhasa: British Photographic and Filmic Engagement with Tibet’, In Clare Harris and Tsering Shakya Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936 – 1947, Chicago: Serindia Publications: Chicago, USA,, pp. 1–76.

2001, Clare Harris, ‘Objects of Meditation and Education: Images of Ladakh by Robert Powell’, In Michael Oppitz (ed.) Robert Powell: Himalayan Drawings, Völkerkunde Museum, University of Zurich, pp. 53-60.

2001, Clare Harris, ‘The Politics and Personhood of Tibetan Buddhist Icons’, In Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Thomas (eds) Beyond Aesthetics: Art and the Technologies of Enchantment, London: Berg, pp. 181-199.

2000, Clare Harris, ‘Alternative Centres: India’, In Martin Kemp (ed.) The Oxford History of Western Art, Oxford: University of Oxford Press, pp. 478 – 481.

1998, Clare Harris, ‘Imagining Home: Imaging Exile. Children's Paintings from the Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie’, In Frank Korom (ed.) The Art of Exile, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, pp. 121-135.

1997, Clare Harris, ‘Towards a Definition of Contemporary Style’, In Jane Casey Singer and Philip Denwood (eds) Towards a Definition of Style: The Arts of Tibet, London: Laurence King Publishing, pp. 262-271.

1997, Clare Harris, ‘Struggling with Shangri-La: The Works of Gongkar Gyatso’, In Frank Korom (ed.) Constructing Tibetan Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, Montreal: World Heritage Press,, pp. 160 - 177.


Reviews in the European Journal of Himalayan Research, the American Journal of Asian StudiesAmerican Journal of Religious Studies and the Art Newspaper.

2013   The Future of Ethnographic Museums conference, University of Oxford
The Digitally Distributed Museum and its Dilemmas

2013   'From Artifact to Art: Tibetan Paintings from the Himalayan Hills', conference at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor
'An Instrument for Curing Madness': Walter Asboe's Collecting (and Coping) Strategies in the Western Himalayas

2012   University of Texas at Austin: History of Art Department and Blanton Museum
In and Out of Place: Tibetan artists' travels in the contemporary art world and Locating Tibetan Art

2012   Association of Social Anthropologists conference, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Convenor and speaker for panel on Anthropology in the Contemporary Art World

2012   University of Texas at Austin: History of Art Department
In and Out of Place: Tibetan artists' travels in the contemporary art world

2012    'Himalayan Objects' Journeys and Transformations' conference, Nanterre University, Paris
Locating Tibetan art: The Ethics and Aesthetics of the Younghusband Mission to Tibet 1903-4

2011   Asian Art Archive Hong Kong
Trouble in Shangri-La: Tibetan Contemporary Art

2010   'The Work of Art in the Age of Cultural Relativism', conference at the British Council, New Delhi
Trouble in Shangri-La: Tibetan Artists in the International Artworld

2010   Rubin Museum of Art and Trace Foundation/Latse Institute, New York
Talks given on Tibetan contemporary art and participated in a round table discussion on this topic

2010    'The Afterlives of Monuments' conference, University of the Arts, London
The Potala Palace: Remembering to Forget in Contemporary Tibet

2010   'In the Image of Asia' conference, Centre for the Humanities, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia 
Keynote lecture: The Buddha Goes Global (in absentia)

2010   Centre for Research on Asia-Europe, Heidelberg University, Germany
The Invention of 'Tibetan Contemporary Art

2009    'Re-Imagining Tibet' conference, School of Oriental and African Studies, London: Keynote speaker
From Lhasa to London: Tibetan Contemporary Art

2009   'Creating the Global Image Archive' conference, Goldsmith's College, University of London
Rethinking the Imperial Photographic Archive

2009   'Where are we now?: Examining the Post-Colonial Archive' conference, Hong Kong University, Hong Kong
The Imperial Archive and its Avatars

2008   Northwestern University, USA
The Travelling Toolbox:  Fluidity, Fixity and the Multiple Locations of Tibetan Culture 

2008   Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford: Address to His Holinesss the Dalai Lama
Introduction to The Tibet Album Website

2007   Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamshala, India
The Tibet Album: Photography, Memory and 'Virtual Repatriation'

2006   International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference, Bonn, Germany
The Buddha Goes Global: Contemporary Tibetan Art and Transnationalism

2006   Cultural History of the Western Himalayas conference, University of Vienna, Austria
'The Tibet Album' Project at the Pitt Rivers Museum 

2005   Museums and Communities Conference, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok, Thailand
The Invention of the Tibet Museum: A Contribution to Cross-Cultural Museum Ethnography

2005   Latse Institute, New York
Chair and speaker for the 'Old Soul New Art: Contemporary Art in Tibet' conference

2005   British Museum Centre for Anthropology
Tibetan Art Worlds in Transition: Museum Responses

2004   University of Coimbra, Portugal
An Exchange of Views: British Travel and Photography in Tibet 1904 - 1940

2004   Latse Institute, New York: Conference on Gedun Choepel
Gedun Choepel: The First Tibetan Modernist?

2003   International Association of Tibetan Studies conference, Oxford
Plenary lecture: Seeing Lhasa: British Photography in Tibet

2003   Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, Germany
Shaking the Foundations of Shangri-La: British Museological Approaches to Tibet

2003   University of Aarhus, Denmark
Ethnographic Museums and the Representation of Tibet

2002   Bonn University, Germany
Interrogating Images: The Politics of Tibetan Visual Culture

2001   École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, France
Conference on Visual Culture and the Politics of Authenticity in South Asia: Discussant for papers on contemporary art and photography

2001   USA lecture tour speaking at: Ann Arbor (University of Michigan), Boston University, Harvard University, Swarthmore College and Columbia University.
In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959

2001   International Association of Ladakh Studies conference, Oxford
The Missionary turns ethnographer: Walter Asboe's collecting strategies in Ladakh

2000   University of Oslo, Norway
In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959

2000   European Association of Social Anthropologists Conference, Krakow, Poland
The Politics of Proxemics: Photo-icons in the Tibetan Diaspora

2000   UK Museums' Association Conference, Jersey
Pictures at an Exhibition: Images, texts and authority at a Tibetan Museum

1998   Beyond Art and Aesthetics conference, Canberra Australia
The Politics and Personhood of Tibetan Buddhist Icons

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