Visitor looking at artworks on the wall at Tate Modern, London

History and theory of art and design research

Explore our work in this area of expertise, one of 6 within our Art and Design: History, Theory and Practice research

The meanings of historical artefacts are not just fixed at the point of production — they change through time. Artefacts can have multiple and sometimes conflicting meanings.

Our research in the History and Theory of Art and Design locates the historical production and consumption of art and design in wider social, cultural, political and economic contexts. We have a particular interest in curation and exhibitions.

Research covers the following topics


  • History of art
  • Art history
  • Art theory
  • History of design
  • Design history
  • Design theory
  • Domestic Design
  • History of the home
  • House histories
  • Design epistemology
  • Design process
  • Semiotics
  • Perception
  • Curatorial practice


Our primary research is conducted in museums, galleries and archives on historical artefacts and related documentation. We use qualitative research techniques, such as ethnography, visual and textual analysis. We also use practice and theoretical research in curation.

Collaborations and funders

We've worked with the Wellcome Trust, the V&A museum and others to curate exhibitions using their large collections. We've also supervised of completed AHRC collaborative doctoral awards with Hampton Court Palace.

The Wellcome Collection’s exhibition ‘Brains: The Mind as Matter’, was directly informed by our research and the curatorial practice of guest curator, Dr. Marius Kwint. Marcus also co-curated the acclaimed Biennale collateral event ‘Frontiers Re-Imagined: Art that Connects Us’.

Professor Sugg Ryan is series consultant and onscreen expert to the BBC Two documentary series, ‘A House Through Time’ (Twenty Twenty Television). She was also consultant to Signify for a campaign on the EU halogen bulb ban, based on her report on 50 obsolete objects in the home.

Recent funders for our work include the British Academy, Paul Mellon Centre and the Henry Moore Foundation.

Our members

Image of Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan

Media ready expert

Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan

  • Job Title Associate Dean (Research)
  • Email Address
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor
Image of Dr Marius Kwint

Dr Marius Kwint

  • Job Title Reader in Visual Culture
  • Email Address
  • Department School of Art Design and Performance
  • Faculty Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries
  • PhD Supervisor PhD Supervisor

Discover our areas of expertise

History and theory of art and design is one of our 6 areas of expertise within our Art and Design: History, Theory and Practice research. Explore the others below. 

Research groups

We're researching the discourses of community formation and deformation through their representations in literary texts.

Interested in a PhD in Art & Design?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Art & Design postgraduate research degrees page.