Prof Clare Harris

Research summary

Prof Clare Harris FBA is Curator for Asia Collections and Professor of Visual Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford. She is also a Fellow of Magdalen College. Prof Harris’s pioneering work on Tibetan art, visual culture, material culture, photography and museums has effectively created a new field of study for which she has received recognition in the form of book prizes, research awards and invitations to lecture at universities around the world. Clare’s work on Tibet and its diaspora has been informed by her wider interests in contemporary art and aesthetics, the politics of collecting and representation (especially in museums, the art world, and photography), and a critical approach to the impact and aftermath of British imperialism in India and Tibet. Her doctoral thesis was published as In the Image of Tibet (1999), the first study of modernist and contemporary Tibetan art. Later books, such as The Museum on the Roof of the World (2012) and Photography and Tibet (2016) break new ground with their interrogation of the modes in which Tibet has been represented museologically, visually and politically, both by outsiders and Tibetans themselves. This work is the product of many years of research in Tibetan communities, as well as in archival contexts in Europe and North America. Clare continues to combine these methods in her latest project on the history and after-lives of photographs created in the Indian Himalayas since the colonial period. Much of her research feeds into curatorial activities at the Pitt Rivers Museum, in art galleries in the UK and Asia, and in projects with contemporary artists. Clare is very much a public-facing academic and curator who has given many talks for audiences outside academia, and has appeared on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4.


Clare Harris is an anthropologist, art historian and curator. She is also an award-winning writer whose publications on Tibetan art, museums and photography have received prizes from the Association of Asian Studies and the International Association for Ethno-History. At Oxford, she is Professor of Visual Anthropology in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, where she teaches on the postgraduate degrees in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, and supervises doctoral students. As Curator for Asian Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, she has curated exhibitions; led research projects; acquired material for the collections; worked closely with contemporary artists and museum audiences; and has hosted guests, ranging from the Dalai Lama to visiting researchers in many disciplines. She is also a Tutorial Fellow of Magdalen College and Director of Studies for the undergraduate degree in Archaeology and Anthropology there.


Clare received her BA from the University of Cambridge and studied for her MA and doctorate at the School of Oriental Studies (University of London). Her first academic position was at the University of East Anglia, where she was lecturer in the Anthropology of Art. In 1998, she joined the University of Oxford as a Lecturer-Curator. In 2014, she gained the title of Professor of Visual Anthropology.  


In July 2019  Professor Harris was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy in recognition of her outstanding research on visual/material culture of the Himalayas, Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora. In awarding the title of Fellow, the British Academy celebrates the achievements of scholars who have attained distinction in one or more fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Professor Harris's work engages with anthropology, art history and critical museology. In her analyses of art, photography, museums, collections histories, colonial and post-colonial constructions of knowledge, and the politics of representation, she has pioneered new approaches to the study of Tibet, past and present. Professor Harris is also internationally recognised for her collaborations with Tibetan artists, innovative exhibitions, digital projects and award-winning publications.


harris fba ceremony copy

Professor Clare Harris attending the admission ceremony for new Fellows at the British Academy.

Selected publications


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

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 Studies, American Journal of Religious Studies and the Art Newspaper.