Scholarly biography

Harriet Atkinson's research centres on design as the focus for communication and transnational exchange. She is winner of a University of Brighton Rising Stars Award for 2017-18 for a project entitled 'Information, Persuasion, Citizenship: Public Exhibitions 1914 to now'.

Harriet has held research awards from the AHRC, British Academy and Wingate Foundation. She is a member of the Management Board of University of Brighton's Centre for Design HistoryWhile a Faculty Fellow based in the University of Brighton Design Archives from 2010 to 2013, Harriet wrote a number of essays, reviews and her first monograph The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People (I.B. Tauris, 2012). Harriet was awarded her doctorate from the Royal College of Art and Victoria & Albert Museum's joint history of design programme in 2007. She studied for a BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature with History of Art at University of York and for her MA in Art Museum Studies at the Courtauld Institute, University of London.

Harriet is a registered PhD supervisor and welcomes applications from prospective PhD candidates with interests in the history and material culture of exhibitions and displays, of official or state-sanctioned design cultures, of design for protest, activism and contestation and of design as the focus for transnational exchange.  

Featured works and projects

Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of Design

The Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of Design

Providing entries on design from 1800 to the present day, with global coverage by leading international design scholars and historians.

Design and Diplomacy

Design and Diplomacy

Investigating design as an object of official exchange or diplomacy.

Festival of Britain

Festival of Britain

Understanding the design, meaning and legacy of the Festival of Britain and its place in postwar culture.

Research Activity

Number of items: 24.

Atkinson, Harriet (2017) The Festival of Britain In: Birrell, Rebecca, ed. Designs on Britain. Jewish Museum London, London, pp. 93-102. ISBN 9781389617461

Atkinson, Harriet and Clarkson, Verity (2017) Design and Culture journal on 'Design as an object of diplomacy post-1945' [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2016) Review of Eleanor Herring, Street Furniture Design: contesting modernism in post-war Britain (Bloomsbury, 2016) Journal of Design History, 29 (4). pp. 437-439. ISSN 0952-4649

Atkinson, Harriet and Oppenheimer, Maya Rae (2016) Design Research – History, theory, practice: histories for future-focused thinking In: Design Research Society 2016, Brighton, 27-30 June 2016.

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Review of Stephen Games, 'Pevsner: The BBC Years' (Ashgate, 2015) Visual Culture in Britain, 17 (1). pp. 128-130. ISSN 1471-4787

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Black, Misha (1910–77) [Edited Collections]

Edwards, Clive, Atkinson, Harriet, Bhagat, Dipti, Kettley, Sarah, Raizman, David and Willis, Anne-Marie (2015) Bloomsbury encyclopedia of design [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Britain Can Make It Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1946 [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Festival of Britain 1951 [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Forty, Adrian (1948–) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Giedion, Siegfried (1888–1968) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Gray, Milner (1899–1997) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Maldonado, Tomas (1922–) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Pevsner, Nikolaus (1902–83) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Review of Stephen Games (ed) and Nikolaus Pevsner 'Pevsner: The Complete Broadcast Talks' (Ashgate, 2014) Visual Studies, 31 (2). ISSN 1472-586X

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) Muthesius, Hermann (1861–1927) [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2015) ‘The first modern townscape’?: The Festival of Britain, townscape and new picturesque In: Pendlebury, J., Erten, E. and Larkham, P., eds. Alternative visions of post-war reconstruction: creating the modern townscape. Routledge, London, UK, pp. 72-89. ISBN 0415587352

Atkinson, Harriet (2014) Wartime Fashion: From Haute Couture to Homemade, 1939-1945 Taylor & Francis (Routledge): SSH Titles, Contemporary British History.

Atkinson, Harriet (2012) The Festival of Britain: a land and its people I.B. Tauris, London, UK. ISBN 9781848857926

Atkinson, Harriet (2011) Design Research Unit: 1942-72 Bloomsbury Publishing, Design and Culture: The Journal of the Design Studies Forum.

Aynsley, Jeremy and Atkinson, Harriet (2009) The Banham lectures essays on designing the future [Edited Collections]

Frayling, Christopher, King, Emily and Atkinson, Harriet (2009) Design and popular entertainment [Edited Collections]

Atkinson, Harriet (2008) London 1951 In: Encyclopedia of World's Fairs and Expositions. McFarland & Company, Inc., North Carolina, USA, pp. 316-318. ISBN 9780786434169

Atkinson, Harriet (2007) Modernism 1914-1939: Designing a new world Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press (MIT Press): Arts & Humanities Titles etc, Design Issues.

This list was generated on Thu Sep 20 13:14:09 2018 BST.

Other books, chapters, reviews and articles

Atkinson, H. (forthcoming). Essay: 'Artists, Refugees and the Festival of Britain', for Monica Bohm-Duchen (ed), Insiders/ Outsiders: Refugees from Nazi Europe and Their Contribution to British Visual Culture. London: Lund Humphries. 

Atkinson, H. (forthcoming). Essay: '"Past and future meet and discuss": the 1951 Festival of Britain as point of historical liaison' in V&A Journal special issue on 'Victorian Futures'.

Atkinson, H. (2008). Review of Iain Boyd Whyte (ed) Man-Made Future, Routledge, 2007 for Urban History, 27 February, Vol. 35, Issue 1 pps.179-180.

Atkinson, H. (2008). Essay: ‘The Aesthetics of British Reconstruction after World War Two’, Edinburgh Architecture Research, 31, pps.24-35.

Atkinson, H. (2008). Essay: ‘Festival of Britain 1951’ in John E. Findling and Kimberly D. Pelle (eds), Encyclopedia of World’s Fairs and Expositions (second ed). Jefferson: McFarland Press.

Atkinson, H. (2007). Essay: ‘Building the “magical city”? Landscaping and leisure at the 1951 Festival of Britain’, Urban Europe in Comparative Perspective, Lars Nilsson ed. Stockholm: Institute of Urban History.

Atkinson, H. (2006). Essay: ‘”The ultimate surrender to the Man of Taste”? The assimilation of eighteenth-century Picturesque ideas into British reconstruction after World War Two’, Cambridge Architecture Journal Scroope18, June, pps.134-141.


Conference organisation, conference and seminar papers


Workshop co-convenor, with Professor Cheryl Buckley and Professor Ysanne Holt for 'Entangled relations: fine art, craft and design in mid-twentieth century Britain', University of Brighton (July). 



Panel chair: Making and Unmaking the Environment, University of Oslo (September).

Panel chair: Modern Living in Asia, 1945-1990, University of Brighton (April). 

Guest seminar: '"From the planning of the kitchen to the planning of the nation": exhibiting homes in postwar Britain', for INSIDE (hi)STORIES series, Parsons School of Design The New School, New York (February).

Panel co-convenor, with Dr Sarah Lichtman and Dr Verity Clarkson, for the theme: 'Exhibitions as Transnational Exchange from 1945, Within and Beyond Euro-America' at College Art Association conference, New York (February).


Panel convenor and presenter, 'The "stateless" designer: Misha Black (1910-77) and the Professionalisation of Design Practice' at International Conference on Design History and Studies 2016, Taipei (October).

Co-convenor, with Professor Cheryl Buckley of 'Facing the World Differently? Seventy years on from Britain Can Make It', held at University of Brighton, (October). 

Strand co-convenor and panel co-chair, with Dr Maya Oppenheimer, for the theme: 'Design Research - History, Theory, Practice: Histories for Future-Focused Thinking' at Design Research Society Conference, University of Brighton (June) 

Guest lecturer: 'The designer as mediator? Mapping formations in twentieth century design' at University of Antwerp (June).


Co-convenor, with Dr Verity Clarkson, 'From "Soft" to "Hard" Power? Changing Visions of Diplomacy by Design from 1945 onwards', held at University of Brighton (November). 

Speaker: 'From Utopianism to Expediency? Shifting visions of design practice during the career of Misha Black (1910-1977)' at '“How We Live, and How we Might Live": Design and the Spirit of Critical Utopianism', Design History Society conference, California College of the Arts (September).

Invited speaker: Victorian Futures: Culture, Democracy and the State on the Royal to Olympicopolis (collaboration between UAL, Middlesex and V&A). Paper: '"Past and future meet and discuss": the 1951 Festival of Britain as point of historical liaison' (May).



Speaker: ‘Propaganda in three-dimensions’: Ministry of Information Exhibitions During World War Two’ at Design History Society conference, University of Oxford (September). 


Co-chair: ‘Designing Women Post-war British Textiles Study Day’, Fashion & Textile Museum (May).



Speaker: ‘Art and Politics in Britain’, History of Art Department, University of Cambridge (Nov). Paper: British Ministry of Information Exhibitions During World War Two.

Convenor and co-chair of Festival of Britain Symposium at Royal Festival Hall (September), event marking the final day of the South Bank Centre’s 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain.

Keynote speakers: Inside Outing Archives Event, Victoria & Albert Museum (September), ‘“A Constellation of Events”, the nationwide exhibitions of the Festival of Britain’.

Panel chair: Archiving Design Organisations, University of Brighton (June).

Invited speaker: Design Research Unit Study Day, Tate St Ives (March). Paper: ‘“Propaganda in Three Dimensions”? The exhibition design work of DRU 1942-1955’.


Speaker: ‘Networks of Design’, Design History Society Annual Conference, University College Falmouth (September). Paper: ‘”The beginning of a new world’? Memory and oblivion in histories of the 1951 Festival of Britain’.


Invited speaker: Design History and Theory Research Seminar, London Metropolitan University (February), ‘Domesticating the atom? Detecting Cold War debate in 1951 Festival of Britain exhibitions’.

Speaker: ‘Cold War Expos’, conference associated with the exhibition ‘Cold War Modern’, Victoria & Albert Museum (January 2007) Paper: ‘Domesticating the atom? Detecting Cold War debate in 1951 Festival of Britain exhibitions’.


Speaker: European Urban History Association Annual Conference, University of Stockholm (August), ‘Building “the magical city”? Landscaping and leisure at the 1951 Festival of Britain’.

Speaker: Architectural History Research Association at University of Edinburgh (April).

Speaker: Social History Society Conference, University of Reading (March)

Invited speaker: History of Design Research Seminar, Research Department, Victoria & Albert Museum (March), ‘The Aesthetics of British reconstruction after World War Two’.


Speaker: ‘New Perspectives on Cultural History 1600-2000’, History Faculty, Cambridge University (December). ‘A ‘New Picturesque?’ The Aesthetics of British Reconstruction after World War Two’.

Speaker: ‘The Place of Nature in the City in 20th Century Europe and North America’, German Historical Institute, Washington (December). ‘The Aesthetics of British Reconstruction after WW2’.

Co-convenor and co-chair, with Dr Lisa Godson of: ‘National and International Exhibitions, Festivals and World’s Fairs’ research-in-progress symposium, Victoria & Albert Museum (March) (funding received from Royal College of Art and Design History Society). 

Speaker: Culture/ Politics: Graduate and Junior Faculty Conference on British Studies, University of California, Berkeley, USA (funded by the AHRC, January). ‘Style Wars: the presentation of homes at the 1951 Festival of Britain’.

Speaker: Social History Society Annual Conference at Trinity College Dublin (January). ‘Postwar exhibitions of farming and industry’.


Speaker: ‘The Politics of Design’, Design History Society Annual Conference at University of Ulster, Belfast (September). ‘Putting reconstruction on display: post-war exhibitions of farming and industry’.

Grants and Awards 

University of Brighton Rising Stars Award for the project 'Information, Persuasion, Citizenship: Public Exhibitions 1914 to now' (2017-2018). 

University of Brighton Early Career Researcher Conference Support Fund Award to attend ICDHS Taipei (2016).

University of Brighton Internationalising Design History Research Cluster award towards holding 'Diplomacy by Design' conference (2015). 

British Academy Small Grant towards publication of The Banham Lectures (2008).

Design History Society towards costs of The Banham Lectures (2008).

Andrew Mellon Foundation conference grant for ‘Histories of British Architecture where Next?’ at Yale Center for British Art, November (2006). 

European Urban History Association conference grant to attend EUAH Annual Conference, University of Stockholm (2006). 

Royal Historical Society Travel Grant (2006). 

Arts and Humanities Research Board, UK, Full-time Doctoral Award (2004-2006).

Design History Society towards organization of the symposium ‘Histories of National and International Exhibitions and World’s Fairs’, Victoria & Albert Museum (2005).

German Historical Institute, Washington Travel Award (2005).

Wingate Scholarship, The Wingate Foundation (2004).

Royal College of Art Bursary Award (2002).


Teaching, supervising and examining

Harriet teaches across all levels of the BA (Hons) History of Art and Design programme, as well as Cultural and Critical studies to BA (Hons) Graphic Design, BA (Hons) Illustration, BA (Hons) 3D Design and Craft and BA (Hons) Fashion & Textiles. Previously she taught Cultural Studies at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London. Harriet is Admissions Tutor for the BA (Hons) History of Art and Design Programme at University of Brighton. She is a registered PhD supervisor, was examiner of a PhD at University of Antwerp (2016) and is currently external examiner of the Graduate Certificate and Certificate of Higher Education in History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London for 2016 to 2019.


Supporting teaching, learning and research in design history

Harriet has a strong interest in supporting teaching, learning and research in design history. She is a member of University of Brighton's Centre for Design History, which brings together a number of colleagues within the University and beyond to work on themes of mutual interest. As Research Grants Officer and Executive Trustee (2015-2021) of the Design History Society (DHS), the leading organisation that promotes the study of global design histories and brings together and supports all those engaged in the subject, Harriet engages with the future of the discipline. She leads the research grants area of the Society’s work and carries out peer reviews for the DHS’s various prizes, events and research awards. 

Harriet regularly attends design historical conferences and events internationally, including the DHS’s annual conference (Belfast 2004, Falmouth 2008, Oxford 2014, San Francisco 2015, Middlesex 2016, Oslo 2017, New York 2018). She convened a panel at the International Conference on Design History and Studies (ICDHS) in Taipei, 2016; she co-chaired a tri-panel strand on future-focused histories of design at the Design Research Society conference in Brighton, 2016. Harriet is regularly invited to peer review proposals for design history, theory and research conferences including DHS, ICDHS, DRS and International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR), as well as applications for awards in design and related areas from grant givers such as Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the Icelandic Research Fund. Harriet also acts as peer-reviewer for journals (Journal of Design History, The Sculpture Journal, Literature & History, Critical Studies, Contemporary British History); and publishers (Bloomsbury Academic, Berg, Palgrave Macmillan, Manchester University Press).


Harriet acted as curatorial consultant to the Southbank Centre's 'Museum of 1951', April to September 2011, advising on loans, archives, potential interviews and writing exhibition text. She was research assistant to Jacob Simon on 'The Art of the Picture Frame' exhibition at National Portrait Gallery (1995-6), co-curated a show about weather at The Courtauld Gallery in 1996 and the exhibition 'Eyes Abroad' at the Wellcome Gallery in 1994. She has also interned at The Wallace Collection, Sir John Soane's Museum, Tate and the V&A. 

Writing and editorial work

Harriet has written for a range of newspapers and magazines including obituaries for The Guardian and Independent, articles and reviews for Midcentury magazine, British ArchaeologyThe Twentieth Century Society MagazineArt News, The Yorkshire Evening Post and Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture. She was section editor of the major three-volume Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design (2015), commissioning over 300 entries. She was editorial assistant and listings editor for Art Monthly (1994-5) and while an undergraduate at University of York co-founded Point Shirley magazine of arts and politics (winner of The Guardian's Impact Prize at the Student Media Awards, 1993). She is currently editor of University of Brighton's History of Art and Design course blog.

Previous work and community engagement

From 2002-4 Harriet was project manager for the new Coach House education centre at Orleans House Gallery, Richmond, commissioning Patel Taylor Architects and raising £1m from Heritage Lottery Fund and other funders. Prior to studying for her PhD, Harriet held various policy and grant-giving roles for cultural organisations: in central government (at Department for Culture, Media & Sport), in local government (at Association of London Government) and at government agencies (the Heritage Lottery Fund and Museums & Galleries Commission). From 2010 to 2013, Harriet was Trustee of Camden Community Nurseries (a charity operating three community nurseries in North London), acting as client while AY Architects rebuilt Montpelier Community Nursery, Kentish Town. She helped fundraise for a new building and landscaping, receiving grants from central and local government, trusts, foundations, local businesses and private donors. The project was winner of the RIBA National Award 2013, the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Award 2013 and the Society of Garden Designers Community Garden Award 2013.

Citations and Reviews

Reviews of The Festival of Britain: A Land and Its People (London: IB Tauris, 2012):

‘…impressive, incisive and insightful’. Twentieth Century British History.

‘Superb…a feat of research’. Contemporary Review.

‘Splendidly illustrated…a meticulous and well-sourced account’. Contemporary British History.

'Fascinating and entertaining.' Geographical.

'Harriet Atkinson provides an excellent account of a key event in twentieth-century British cultural history.' David Matless (author of Landscape and Englishness).

'Most studies of the Festival of Britain have concentrated on 'the Festival style' (atoms and whimsy), or on the ways in which the buildings of the South Bank exhibition introduced visitors to modern architecture for the first time. Harriet Atkinson's book is about something deeper: the relationship between the 1951 exhibitions across the country and 'love of land and history', a modern urban version of the Picturesque which aimed to reconcile tradition and modernism and in the process reconstruct British identity after the disfigurements of war. The book is original, well-researched, judiciously illustrated and very revealing. The Festival of Britain will never seem quite the same again.' Christopher Frayling.

‘A rich account…drawing on substantial archive research’. Cassone.

‘Replete with previously unpublished plans, sketches and photos, this is a superb account of a positive “tipping point” in British History’. The Good Book Guide.

‘…a fascinating history of post-war Britain picking itself up…The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People is a detailed survey of a country rebuilding itself and provides a vital chapter in the history of British design.’ Creative Review.


Reviews of The Banham Lectures (Oxford: Berg, 2012):

‘[This] volume…shows that [Banham] influenced several generations of scholars, designers and architects emphatically and has not ceased to do so’, form.

‘Even with Banham as the touchstone, the essays tackle an enormous range of topics, from Flash Gordon to the design of corporate logos to theories of urban development to industrial design. They…will inspire those unfamiliar with Banham’s work to explore it more deeply’, Muse Journal of Technology and Culture.

‘Collectively, these essayists, and thus The Banham Lectures book, provide a highly engaging and, at times, reassuringly idiosyncratic yet valuable complement to existing collections of Banham’s own writings…’, Journal of Design History.


Reviews of The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design (London: Bloomsbury, 2015):

For a range of reviews follow this link

Back to top