Summary

I am Head of the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Science.

My research interests lie in the historical and cultural geography of modernity and concern three overlapping fields: photography and visual culture; British colonialism and imperialism; and Anglo-American geographical knowledge and science.

Biography

I joined the University of Portsmouth in 2021 as Professor of History and Head of the School of Area, Studies, History, Politics and Literature. I was previously Head of Postgraduate Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London where I led the V&A/RCA MA in History of Design and the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme for the V&A. 

I began my career as a photographer's assistant. This was followed by my PhD Photography, Geography and Empire, 1840-1914, undertaken jointly in the departments of History and Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. I began my academic career as a Departmental Lecturer in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford and as a Lecturer in Geography at St Hugh's College, Oxford.

I subsequently held lecturing posts at Human Geography at Queen's University, Belfast and University of Leicester. From 2007-17, I was Associate Professor of Human and Cultural Geography and Director of the Centre for Geography, Environment and Society at University of Exeter. 

My research has been supported by grants from the AHRC, HEIF and EU INTERREG and Fellowships from the British Academy-Leverhulme, Huntington Library (USA) and the Institute of Historical Research (University of London). I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers). 

Research Interests

My current research is on photography, place and popular science in nineteenth-century Britain. This was the subject of my British Academy-Leverhulme Senior Research Fellowship (2014-15), focused on the Victorian photo-chemist and writer Robert Hunt. 

My research interests lie in the historical and cultural geography of modernity and concern three overlapping fields: photography and visual culture; British colonialism and imperialism; and Anglo-American geographical knowledge and science. My books include: Photography and Exploration (Reaktion Books and University of Chicago Press, 2013); James R. Ryan, Picturing Empire; Photography and the Visualisation of the British Empire, Reaktion Books, London & University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997); New Spaces of Exploration: Spaces of Discovery in the Twentieth Century (edited with Simon Naylor, I.B. Tauris, 2010). My 1997 monograph Picturing Empire; Photography and the Visualisation of the British Empire (Reaktion Books and University of Chicago Press) is still in print and has been translated into Korean and Chinese. 

I have another strand of research on the making and repair of material culture. I was Co-Investigator of AHRC large grant ‘Small is Beautiful? Visual and Material Cultures of Making and Mending’ (2010-12), which resulted in an exhibition and publications, including Visible Mending: Everyday repairs in the South West (with Caitlin DeSilvey and photographs by Steve Bond, Uniform books, 2013.

I am general series editor of Manchester University Press' Studies in Design and Material Culture series and have served on the editorial board of Journal of Victorian Culture. I peer review regularly for journals in history, geography and museology. A former member of the AHRC Peer Review College, I have also refereed for the ESRC, British Academy and National Government of Ireland.

I am an experienced PhD supervisor with 10 completions, including AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Awards and Partnerships with the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, Science Museum, Royal Geographical Society and V&A, and practice-led projects.  I have been an external examiner for 13 PhDs in Britain, Ireland, USA and Australia. 

Teaching Responsibilities

PhD supervision: Completions

Dorothy Armstrong, ‘The invention of ‘Oriental’ carpets from 1840 onwards: Re-making, re-purposing and re-imagining’, V&A and Royal College of Art) 2019

Matt Lunt, ‘Harry Penhaul and the Answer of the Real: Photojournalism in mid-twentieth-century Cornwall’ (external supervisor, part-time), Falmouth University, 2019

Emily Hayes, ‘Geographical Projections: Lantern Slides, Exploration and Popular Geographies, 1880-1920’, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, University of Exeter with Royal Geographical Society, 2016

David Paton, ‘The quarry as sculpture: the place of making’, Practice-based PhD, University of Exeter, 2015

Jenny Lee, ‘Empire, Modernity and Design: Visual Culture and Cable & Wireless’ Corporate Identities, 1924-1955, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, University of Exeter with Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, 2014

Jason Bate, ‘Photography, Facial Disfiguration, and Reconstructive Surgery in England, 1914-1920’, (external supervisor, part time), Falmouth University, 2014 

Fraser MacDonald, ‘Nature and dissent in Highland Scotland’, University of Oxford, 2003

Nicola Thomas, ‘Lady Mary Curzon, Vicereign of India: gender and empire’, University of Oxford, 2002

Stuart Franklin, ‘Photography, Sustainable development and the Beleoviesha forest’, University of Oxford, 2001

Daniel Piercey, ‘Public art in England and Wales’, University of Oxford, 1998

Media Availability

Media enquiries should be made via email: james.ryan@port.ac.uk.

You can contact the University's Press and Media team for support and advice on all media engagement, including out of hours.